For example, the executive who has a PhD in molecular physics from the University of Leeds was part of the founding team at Ambicare Health, an oncology medical device company, and was later chief executive of biotech company Fixed Phage before joining Eos in 2017.
The company – whose top team includes record cyclist Mark Beaumont – was founded in 2014 and invests in four key areas of activity: disease diagnosis, prevention and treatment; Energy security, climate change and pollution; Food and water security; and sustainability of industrial processes and infrastructure.
Register to our daily newsletter
The i-newsletter cut through the noise
Last week it announced it had added the 14th investee to its portfolio and led a £ 1.2million round in Wobble Genomics – the first investment from the newly formed Eos EIS Innovation Fund, which alongside the Eos Syndicate invests. Eos is also actively building a venture partnership model, Eos Venture Partnership, and announced its first collaboration with US-based Kineticos in February.
“As a scientist, I have always believed in the ability of science to shape our world positively,” says McNeill. Image: Stewart Attwood.
Can you explain what your role entails?
My role is very broad. I spend a lot of time working with scientists and engineers who start businesses to make sure we fully understand what they are doing and how they could affect the world. A scientific background helps enormously when looking at technologies in areas as diverse as genomics or microfluidics. Deciding which companies to invest in is fundamental to the role.
There is another key element in this process, psychology. It is the team that delivers success. I spend a lot of time with the founders and management and evaluate the team as a whole.
Once we’ve decided on an investment, the next part of my job is structuring and evaluating the deal. Although early-stage equity investments are very similar, there are always key differences. All of our investments are knowledge intensive businesses as opposed to consumer brands.
For Eos, the conclusion of the investment deal is more like the beginning than the end of the journey, he also says. Image: Stewart Attwood.
Hence, it can be difficult to work out the path to market and capital travel. Therefore, proper valuation of the company in the seed phase is crucial.
Record athlete Mark Beaumont talks about changing lanes to a company car …
For Eos, closing the investment deal is not the end of the journey, just the beginning. We are focused on supporting our businesses after investment and helping them grow. For me, another important part of my role is supporting the portfolio; This can be working with them at board level, introducing introductions or helping to shape the strategy.
The last part of my role is working with our investors. Eos draws its funds from a variety of sources but ultimately there are a number of people, not just in Scotland but around the world, who share our values and trust Eos to make the right investment decisions. So an important part of my role is spending time with these investors, understanding what they want to do, and building relationships.
One final thought on my role, which also applies to the entire Eos Advisory team – we all want to use our time to make the world a better place. We don’t see any divergence in investments that are both positive for the world and offer great commercial returns.
The company described the last 12 months as “transformational” earlier this year, even though it coincided with the pandemic. Can you provide details on how you managed this time and how Covid-19 has shed light on the role of science in society?
It’s pretty notable that Eos has really gained momentum on several fronts over the past 12 to 18 months. We have expanded our team, the amount we have invested has increased significantly and several companies in the portfolio have made great strides.
Investments in the seed phase at the time of establishment are generally not generating sales. So we invest in them knowing that it can take some time to reach sales and even longer to reach profitability.
It is clear that Covid-19 has had a significant impact on how the general population perceives science, and this has directly had a significant impact on investor interest. As a scientist, I’ve always believed in the ability of science to make our world positive – and it’s now much easier to have that conversation with investors in a way that wasn’t as present before the pandemic.
Eos aims to scale its early stage investments and support over the next year and has three investment pillars: the Eos Syndicate, the Eos Innovation Fund and the Eos Venture Partnerships. What is your outlook for Eos for the next 12 months and what are the opportunities?
Eos focuses its investments on early stage projects and only when the company is targeting a problem with a global perspective. We have spent a lot of time developing a strategy to support our companies in the longer term.
We originally started as the Angel Syndicate in St. Andrews and have grown into a thriving community of individuals. About three years ago we decided to set up the Eos Innovation Fund, which sits next to and co-invests with the Syndicate.
Philosophically we have always tried to invest with others and for every £ 1 our consortium put into the portfolio, we have invested another £ 5 with others.
In the last 18 months we have tried to formalize this co-investment model and established so-called venture partnerships. These are investors from around the world willing to invest in early stage Scottish companies through transactions led by Eos.
They highlighted the challenge of commercialization to showcase Scotland’s innovation on a global stage. How can Eos help address this and what can, more broadly, be done?
Scotland has historically been excellent at science, invention and innovation, but perhaps less successful at commercializing these ideas. We believe there are many reasons for this, but most importantly the lack of capital access and commercialization experience.
At Eos, we are already making our contribution to access to capital through syndicate, fund and venture partnerships. But we’re also expanding the concept of venture partnership to build an ecosystem of individuals and companies who have the skills and experience to support the commercialization and growth of these companies. And this network is global.
You have a scientific background; How do you use this in your work at Eos?
I started my career as a research assistant in a physics laboratory. We worked with plastic electronics, items that looked like credit cards and emitted light, in collaboration with the dermatology department at the local hospital. The dermatologists there used large, stationary lasers to treat skin cancer, but we made wearable, light-emitting adhesive patches to treat the disease, and it worked!
A company was formed and we raised venture capital from an investor in London. I learned a lot at this company.
Then I moved to a leading scientific position in another young science company. I was able to use my acquired skills in the translation of early stage research, but this time in a management and leadership role.
Then I switched to a managerial position at a biotech company. It was then that I met Kevin Grainger, who founded the Eos Investment Syndicate in St. Andrews. We shared a love for science and a belief that it could be commercialized to have a positive impact on the world. I knew my way around an investment deal and valued both sides – founders and investors.
Who do you admire in business?
Time and again I am amazed and admire the entrepreneurs who have the courage to step out of what they do and start businesses.
The company has made some high profile appointments such as Chris Brinsmead and Mark Beaumont. To what extent do they strengthen your offer?
They come from very different backgrounds, which embodies the variety of experiences with our entire board. One was the chairman of a multinational pharmaceutical company and the other an athlete who had the will to break world records again and again. This diversity of opinion fundamentally improves the quality of our decision-making.
The most important part of the investments we make at Eos is making good decisions; the decision to support science, the decision to invest in a founding team. Both Mark and Chris are deep thinkers and use this skill to help us make the right investment decisions.