Superstar scientist fund Ahren closes over £200m to invest in tech startups

Ahren has assembled brains trust to advise science fund whose investors include Sky, Aviva and Unilever

Ahren, the technology fund supported by eight of Britain’s superstar scientists, has closed over £200m in funding.

The fund sees itself as different to venture capital because it is led by some of the finest scientific minds in Britain and is prepared to hold investments for a long time. Scientists involved include Sir Gregory Winter, who won the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 2018; Sir Shankar Balasubramanian, the chemistry professor who invented what has become the main technology used to decode DNA; and Lord Martin Rees, former president of the Royal Society and Astronomer Royal.

Investors who have backed Ahren’s vision include Sky, Unilever and Aviva, as well as individual investors including Montreal-based Andre Desmarais of Power Corporation and Peruvian billionaire investor Carlos Rodriquez-Pastor. This is the first time that Sky has taken a stake in a tech fund as opposed to making individual investments in tech companies.

Scientific breakthroughs

“The main thing that appeals to us is that we gain exposure to some of the big scientific breakthroughs in fields such as quantum computing that are just over the horizon but will affect our industry,” Sky chief operating officer Andrew Griffith told the Financial Times.

So far, Ahren has invested in around $35m in six companies, including a a $10m stake in Cambridge Epigenetix, a biotech company developing tests for gene activity in disease; cell therapy developer Mogrify; and Graphcore, one of Britain’s $1bn-plus valuation unicorns, which has developed a computer processor that delivers up to 100x current hardware speeds.

The founder and managing partner of Ahren is Alice Newcombe-Ellis, a Cambridge university maths and physics graduate turned fund manager, who persuaded eight of the city’s best-known research leaders and scientific entrepreneurs to join as “science partners”.

Newcombe-Ellis said: “We feel privileged to have an LP base of exceptional individuals and institutions sharing Ahren’s vision and values. We consider this our valued ‘family’ of thought-leaders.”

“We now focus our attention on actively supporting entrepreneurs to achieve their ambitions. We are very selective in identifying outstanding opportunities, but once we invest, we are deeply committed to helping ensure their success.”

Balasubramanian said: “The best entrepreneurs look to raise capital from groups they trust, respect and want to be like; and groups that can have a differentiated impact on their success. We aim to inspire, create, nurture and build great enterprises.”

Lord Rees said: “Our founding and limited partners have long-term investment horizons and together take an active role in shaping the future, supporting breakthrough technologies that will offer improvements in human lives, and a more sustainable world.”

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