Plural lures mRNA vaccine and AI pioneer to become its newest partner

Some say the European tech startup ecosystem lacks investors who have been “operators,” as in former entrepreneurs. And indeed, that has been the case for many years. However, it’s good to see that this has been changing, even if the pace has been slow.

One of the newest VC funds to wear its “former operators” badge on its sleeve is Plural, a VC we covered last year on its launch of a €250 million early-stage venture fund. To date, it has consisted of Taavet Hinrikus (co-founder of Wise), Sten Tamkivi (co-founder of Teleport), Ian Hogarth (formerly Songkick) and Khaled Helioui (a former tech CEO).

That changes today with the addition of another former operator to its list of “peers” (their in-house term for what everyone else in VC-land calls general partners) in the shape of Carina Namih, a pioneer in mRNA technology and former CEO of HelixNano.

HelixNano is an AI-driven biotech company that develops mRNA vaccine technology, and which, among other things, tackled the fight against COVID and cancer.

Namih, started HelixNano in San Francisco in 2013. She later left the Y Combinator-backed company, moving to a board role (which she will be maintaining). Between 2018 and until Summer 2022 she worked with U.K. fund Episode One doing B2B seed-stage investing as a general partner.

A trustee of the Alan Turing Institute, Namih says she is joining Plural because of the collective operational experience and the "scar tissue" of the founders.

“Since leaving HelixNano, I’ve been in the U.K. for a few years, investing in different founders. When I met the guys at Plural we realized we’d been in similar businesses, investing in similar founders. When they started talking to me about the idea of joining Plural, I felt that it was really unique and really needed in Europe. Having a place where a group of genuinely experienced founders with real scar tissue coming together as peers and backing the next generation of epic European businesses is just something that, until now, been really lacking in Europe.”

“I think ex-operators understand businesses in a way that VCs often can’t. When we started HelixNano, it was visionary founders and operators, people like Eric Schmidt and Sam Altman, who gave us our first go. It was not the VCs,” she explained to me over a call.

She added: “I like finding really talented contrarian founders who can see a structural shift coming, whether it's technical or behavior change before others, and that's really what we did with HelixNano, you know. We were applying AI and computational approach to mRNA long before that became clearer to the wider world.”

As an angel or VC Namih has so far invested in Omnipresent, the remote work platform; Phasecraft, the quantum software company spun out of UCL; Robin AI, a generative AI company for the legal sector; and AtlasML, tools for the machine learning community, acquired by Meta AI.

In a statement, Ian Hogarth, Plural Unemployable, added: “With her scar tissue from HelixNano and experience as an investor, Carina brings great wisdom and impeccable judgment to our group. She knows, firsthand, how to hire exceptional talent, how to find product-market-fit in a monopolistic and opaque industry with entrenched incumbents and how to commercialize a general purpose technology. Carina can empower founders to achieve their ambitions and we’re thrilled she is a part of Plural.”

Plural has also appointed four legal, IR and operations professionals to scale its offering: Daniel Tarver, head of Investor Relations, Kate Connolly, chief of Staff, Tamsin Ashworth Reeves, general Counsel and Verner Uibo, head of Finance.