5 Questions with Bill Snider, Partner, BroadOak Capital Partners

“5 Questions With…” is a weekly BioBuzz series where we reach out to interesting people in the BioHealth Capital Region to share a little about themselves, their work, and maybe something completely unrelated. This week we welcome Bill Snider, Partner, BroadOak Capital Partners.

Bill Snider is a Partner at BroadOak and leads the firm’s growth capital investing activities. Mr. Snider has more than 25 years of institutional investment experience. Prior to BroadOak, he was a general partner and co-founder of Emerging Technology Partners (ETP), LLC, a life sciences-focused venture capital firm. Before ETP, Bill was a vice president and portfolio manager at T. Rowe Price, where his responsibilities included managing $2 billion of mutual fund and institutional client portfolios. He currently serves on the boards of Codex DNA, Halo Labs, Science and Medicine Group, and the MdBio Foundation. He has made more than 50 growth capital investments while at BroadOak and looks forward to making 50 more.

Bill holds the Chartered Financial Analyst accreditation and graduated without honors, twice, from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania: once to earn a B.S.E. in Finance, and later, an M.B.A. However, his golf game hasn’t improved in the last 20 years, and he suspects he might be better at tennis. Bill has been dedicated to youth rowing since his children entered high school; he discovered his passion for crew when he walked onto the team at Penn.

1. Please introduce yourself to our audience with a look back at your education, training, and career.

I have spent my whole career in finance, but with a few twists. As a kid, I was always intrigued by money and started collecting coins when going through my earnings as a paperboy. I also liked math (not the hard stuff, more like problems and puzzles), so finance, markets, and company financials seemed like a good convergence of the two. I told my parents about my interest in business, and they gave me the name of a school I had never heard of. So I applied to only one college, Wharton (University of Pennsylvania), and shockingly got it in; this set the course for the rest of my life.

At Penn, I was completely over my head in every way, but I embraced it and tried not to wear my fear on my sleeve. I decided to take advantage of being tall and skinny (at the time) and went out for the rowing team, which I had no idea was a national champion. The experience had a long-lasting impact on me; crew is the quintessential team sport, and it pushed me to my limits. My classes were extremely practical and exposed me to a lot of opportunities in finance.

During my freshmen year, I did something unheard of today. I wrote a letter on a yellow pad to the CEO of T. Rowe Price and asked him for a job. He said no. So I wrote him another letter a few months later. He said no again. Then I got lucky when someone in the bond department was sailing with the CEO and mentioned something about needing an intern. He must have replied, “I know one” because next thing I knew, after being turned down twice, I got a call with an offer from T. Rowe Price, and that’s how I broke into the world of finance with my first job where I worked supporting the bond traders at the Baltimore office. But after 12 years, I decided to take a giant leap and become an entrepreneur in the biosciences industry, which I had to learn from the ground up.

Today at BroadOak, I am responsible for the firm’s investing activities, including raising funds, meeting with prospective investments, making investment decisions, and supporting our portfolio companies by providing access to our network and our team’s accumulated knowledge about niche bioscience topics like tools for Cell and Gene Therapy, and NextGen Sequencing.

2. You’ve been a Partner with BroadOak for 15 years. For our readers who aren’t familiar with your organization, please share a little of its history.

About 15 years ago, we founded BroadOak as two partners and one associate to build a “merchant bank” in life sciences.  We have the same industry focus (research tools, diagnostics, and services) and business model (we are investors and advisors) that we conceived on day 1. Since we started, we’ve grown from managing $0 to over $150mil today and having completed investments in 50+ companies.

Our investment approach is unique, making it more interesting for everyone at the firm and making us a lot more active in the marketplace than traditional venture capital or private equity firms.  While we are hyper-focused on our industry niche and require the private companies we work with to have some level of revenue (no start-ups), we are largely unconstrained on the balance of what we consider.  We will make investments that are small or large, of debt or equity, into IP-driven companies or provide commodity services. And if the company isn’t looking for capital, we provide exceptional boutique investment banking services.

BroadOak might be the most active firm in the niche.  In the past 10 years, we have made over 50 investments and completed nearly as many M&A transactions. Most of our peers are focused on larger opportunities, but we have done well working in what most refer to as the “lower middle market.” We are particularly successful with companies trying to be capital efficient, i.e., not raise a lot of money from investors, because of our willingness to “go small” and be the last round before profitability.

3. You’re a board member in a few organizations from biohealth education programs to labs. Talk a little about what you do with those organizations.

I try to limit my board positions to companies in which we hold a substantial position.  It’s an excellent opportunity to share your insights and provide advice or a second opinion to CEOs,  but it’s also a great way to learn. Each company is an expert in its field and is gaining intelligence about the market, the customers, and their competitors.  It creates an awesome feedback loop for board members.

My experience with Learning Undefeated (fka MdBio) has been phenomenal. Brian Gaines transformed that organization with a great team that gets the most out of every board member by tapping into our networks to expand the foundation’s reach, which provides them access to resources and new potential donors. Learning Undefeated’s mission is to “provide life-changing STEM experiences for high needs communities by providing equitable access to education and inspiring students to imagine their own success.” And we have been doing this for 20 years. Kids who never thought of a career in science have gone on to Ph.D. programs that changed their lives and will change the field by increasing the diversity of thought. The challenges of a non-profit are very different than a life sciences research tools company, and I have learned a bunch.

4. What advice do you have for companies that could be coming to you and Broadoak Capital Partners in search of investments and guidance?

  • Do your homework. Make sure you are talking to the right firm and know what types of investments we target. Come in prepared for the pitch and be able to make connections with what you are trying to do with past companies we have worked with; this is surprisingly effective.
  • Don’t assume an investor is anxious to “put money to work.” Instead, consider that we are a steward of someone else’s capital and that you have to earn our trust to transfer control of that capital from our fund to your company.  It’s not just valuation or getting a good deal; it’s about being in business with the right people for many years.
  • Be completely transparent.

5. What songs would you put on the playlist of your life and why?

This is a tough one because a lot of my favorites can be a little vulgar and probably have a double meaning I don’t even know about, so I need to think about this. For me, it’s contextual and generally old school:

  • To capture my years growing up in a steel town outside of Pittsburgh, it would be  “Allentown” – Billy Joel
  • When I think about my 25+ year marriage to my wonderful wife and how my four kids must see me as a cringe-worthy dad, it’s “Parent’s Just Don’t Understand” – DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince      
  • When I became an entrepreneur armed with more guts than brains, it would be “Ready or Not” – Fugees
  • When you ask me about how things are going, I try to stay optimistic, so that would be “I’m a Believer” The Monkees (and Shrek)
  • When companies are asking for money and find that we can’t fund every request, it’s “You can’t always get what you want” – Rolling Stones (this one also applies to parenting)

Thank you to Bill Snider, Partner, BroadOak Capital Partners for participating in the “5 Questions With” BioBuzz series, and stay tuned for more interviews with others from across the BioHealth Capital Region and beyond.