Dr. Ali Behbahani – Venture Capital in Medicine (Episode #20)

On the 20th episode of the Penn HealthX Podcast, I sat down with Dr. Ali Behbahani, who led a workshop on “Thinking Like a Venture Capitalist” at our 2017 Penn HealthX Conference.

Dr. Behbahani earned his undergraduate degree in Biomedical Engineering, Electrical Engineering, and Chemistry from Duke University. After graduation, he worked in healthcare investment banking at Lehman Brothers and venture capital at Morgan Stanley Venture Partners. He then attended the University of Pennsylvania, where he earned a dual MD/MBA degree from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and the Wharton School. After graduation, he went to work for New Enterprise Associates, where he is now a partner on the healthcare team.

Here are some key takeaways from the discussion:

1. Don’t be afraid to take time to explore your interests

Dr. Behbahani took an unusual path to medical school. Throughout undergrad, his goal was to attend medical school. As graduation approached, he stumbled across the world of investment banking, where he ended up working. After two years of investment banking, he was accepted to medical school and planned to attend. However, an opportunity to work in venture capital arose, so he deferred his medical school acceptance to take the job. Had he simply taken the straightforward path and gone directly to medical school, Dr. Behbahani might never have known about venture investing. He stressed that it is okay to take a year or two to explore something you love doing, especially early in a career, and that taking such a break set him on his ultimate career path. However, he eventually had to make a decision that did close some doors. While it is possible to balance certain fields like medicine and research, it is challenging to be really good at both clinical medicine and investing. This reality further highlights the value of taking time early in a career to explore various interests – it is much easier than trying to change careers later in life.

2. Venture investing lets him make an impact on a societal level

Working as a physician is an amazing way to impact lives one at a time. However, research and venture capital work together to change the way medicine is practiced, creating change on a societal level. Bringing a novel therapeutic to market requires a large amount of capital, which venture capital can provide. A large part of Dr. Behbahani’s work involves attending conferences and meeting with thought leaders in various fields of medicine. He stays abreast of changes in medical practice, and with each investment into a new field, Dr. Behbahani learns about new diseases and treatment that were not covered in medical school. Thus, his career in venture investing is one of lifelong learning.

3. Venture investing gives insight into the “bleeding edge” of scientific innovation

Dr. Behbahani spends his days evaluating cutting edge medical technology. He splits his work between seeking new investment opportunities, performing due diligence on investments he is considering, and managing companies in which he has made investments. When approaching an investment, he gets much more excited about companies that could change the way medicine is practiced than those that make incremental improvements on what already exists. We are living in an era with a proliferation of nontraditional therapeutics which are changing medicine and helping patients like never before. It is an exciting time to work in venture capital, where he sees therapeutics when they are still in the lab and works to bring them to the clinic.

 

You can learn more about NEA and Dr. Behbahani at NEA’s website, http://www.nea.com/.

– Logan is a second-year medical student at the Perelman School of Medicine. He was the co-VP of curriculum for Penn Health-X in 2017, and is an occasional co-host of the Penn HealthX podcast, and a contributor to the Penn HealthX blog. You can contact him at  john.brock@uphs.upenn.edu –

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