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P | P | P – our chat with The Conscious Fund

We caught up with Henri Sant-Cassia, founding Director at The Conscious Fund, a global investor in early-stage ventures within psychedelic medicine, helping deliver better outcomes for mental health, addiction, and pain.

The purpose of article series ‘Product | People | Potential’ is to feature and showcase the very best UK start-ups with great potential, truly inspiring businesses that are shaking up their sector. We capture and share the stories behind the name. We collate authentic peer to peer real-talk, while celebrating the growth and success thus far and gather a glimpse of what’s ahead.

Jazz @ ADLIB: Can you please introduce yourself, what The Conscious Fund does, what stage you are at currently and what makes your offering unique?

Henri: Hi I am Henri, Co-Founder of The Conscious Fund. The Fund began 2 years ago when we took a leap of faith and set up a company focused on supporting the psychedelic medicine industry. My partner, Richard, and I recognised what had happened globally with cannabinoids and understood psychedelic compounds so were in the position to recognise the potential of the psychedelic market. Richard and I were put in touch by a VC as we shared the same goals, we then spent a year understanding the early influencers within the market. We spoke to those people who carried the torch during the war on drugs who shut down research. We spoke to eccentrics on both sides of the argument, grey market producers, chemists, VC’s and wealthy families in order to get an understanding of the industry. These conversations, both exciting and concerning, often made us question ourselves and what we were doing.

When lockdown happened, we recognised that we couldn’t just wait and see, so we held the largest psychedelics conference in the world, over three days with 105 speakers and over 1500 attendees. Off the back of this event the Fund began to raise money, and that was the start of this hyper acceleration, we made 7 investments and we structured the Fund.

We now do a mixture of early-stage investment, – putting money down when companies are barely past the idea phase – and work with founders helping them raise more money, looking at their messaging, helping with their PR and budgeting. We help in any way we can, providing it is legal.

And then we also do a lot of incubation because it is a new industry:

  • we set up the Psychedelic Medicines Association, psychedelic medicine education by doctors, for doctors.
  • we have launched the first Psychedelic Medicines SPAC – a special purpose acquisition company to be listed on a senior Canadian exchange.
  • we set up HIVE mental health clinics.
  • we have a cancer-related anxiety drug discovery project that is going into Clinical Trials.
  • we have two other drug discovery projects, dementia and Menopause, the menopause trial is run by an all-female team.

Where there was a gap, or something was needed, we didn’t wait, we just built it – got the money, raised it, scaled it, and now some of those companies are ready to go public.

We are now closing off a $60million fund, from which we will make roughly 50 or 60 more investments.

Jazz @ADLIB: Wow, it seems that The Conscious Fund has grown really quickly, have you found that COVID helped or hindered the speed of development?

Henri: COVID has absolutely increased the speed at which businesses and development has happened in the industry. I would even suggest that the pandemic has made things four times faster, particularly as we are an international organisation. There are fewer requirements to fly and travel for meetings and conferences, now that this can all be done virtually we have saved not just time, but an enormous amount of money. The area that COVID did not help was Clinical Trials, most trials either slowed down or stopped entirely.

Jazz @ ADLIB: Can you share the story behind the origin of The Conscious Fund?

Henri: Fundamentally we are addressing the needs of a very large group of patients globally, that spans mental health, addiction, and chronic pain. These patients are not getting better on conventional therapies and rate of new drug development in this field is very low. Psychedelic compounds are exciting because in many cases there is extremely strong evidence that these compounds will help many of these patients – depending on whose numbers you believe this could be as many as 1.5 billion people worldwide benefitting from psychedelic medications. The compounds are so efficacious that the likelihood of positive outcomes is high.

The point of what we are doing is to move the needle for those patient groups. It is driven by failure, disgust, and annoyance at the current treatment landscape.

Jazz @ ADLIB: Firstly, lets address People, can you share some challenges you have faced, are facing, or are anticipating around scaling and growing your team? Do you have any top tips you could share with businesses faced with the similar challenges?

Henri: Tip number one, is ‘go with your gut’ with regards to personality and cultural fit. The key ingredient in the team is not qualifications or personal networks, it is the ability to work with, and motivate, others. Individuals must have the psychological skills to bond with the team properly.

Tip number two is to bring people together at the right time, build from the top down. It in unreasonable to throw a disparate group together and expect them to gel, the team must be built in a step-by-step process.

Thirdly, I think that the more unconventional the channels that you use to find candidates the better fit you might get. Using personal networks and releasing material to gauge interest may result in people who are more passionate and interested.

And finally, look to hire people who can pivot very adroitly. If nothing else, the last few years should have taught people that the only thing that can be assumed is change. Companies and individuals must be able to change direction suddenly and dexterously without falling over.

Jazz @ ADLIB: Moving to Product, you work within a niche market with companies addressing sensitive, and prominent issues within Healthcare, what would be your advice regarding understanding the market and product market fit?

Henri: When we put companies together, or when we advise companies, we always look at the different types of market fit and when they will occur, as well as why they exist.

For example, when looking at bringing out a new treatment for a condition, all the patients in the world with that condition need to be considered; what treatment they currently use and what the outcomes are likely to be, what the different markets are worth and what patients pay for that treatment in each geography. You then have to explore what you are delivering, and where. You may be able to bring different product fit to different areas – then work out what are the short-, mid- and long-term goals. Explore why those patients need treatment and the differences between different patient groups.

To understand the market fit a lot of questions must be asked about who you are servicing and when and how much it is going to cost to service that market, and, most important, why that market exists. Once you know why a market exists you know what is driving the market.  

There cannot be a formulaic approach to product market fit.

Jazz @ ADLIB: And then Potential, can you share some common challenges or barriers experienced when scaling or starting a company, and what should be done to overcome them a create a service offering with potential?

Henri: Simply, raise enough money! In a start-up environment you have got to be good at two things; firstly, producing miracles from nothing, creating stuff on zero budget – grit, sweat, creativity and ingenuity will allow for success on non-existent or razor thin budgets. Simultaneously, an understanding is needed that when you are funded you must pay for things to be done to the highest standard possible, hire the best possible people to get the job done as well as possible. To scale requires capital – if you cannot raise funds, you are wasting your time. The companies that make a long-term impact will be well capitalised from the start.

Ultimately it is common sense; don’t do anything daft, raise money off the right people, spend the money wisely, have the right team, have the right culture, work every hour you can. The scaling process is iterative – you just need grit and determination to go through each iteration. 

Jazz @ ADLIB: Investment can often be a challenge for start-ups & scale-ups. Do you have any piece of wisdom you could share around best approach?

Henri: Get investment early! The earlier you buy in to a legitimate investment the better. The reality is that most investors go in very late in the cycle.

There is no piece of advice that is going to obviate the need for hard work and good investment.