I had the privilege this last Wednesday of attending the first inaugural Biotech San Diego Entrepreneur Exchange (SDEE) which was founded by current Biotech entrepreneurs to help other upcoming Early stage Biotech start ups bridge quite possibly the most challenging step, transitioning from an idea at the bench/office to a functional company!

The event was held at the Sanford Burnham institute (a pioneering Biotech research institute based in the San Diego area which has spun off numerous successful technologies and biotech companies) and the panel consisted of a group of tried and tested Biotech entrepreneurs:

  • Scott Thacher, CEO of Orphagen
  • Richard Lin, CEO of Explora Biolabs
  • Gonul Velicebi, CEO of CalciMedica
  • Jiwu Wang, President and Ceo of Allele Biotech
  • Douglas Lappi, President/CSO of Advanced Targeting systems

Each of these CEO’s shared their experiences in founding their Biotech companies which were a mix of service companies, biotech supplies and in the case of CalciMedica human drug development. Each was at a different stage of development but all were now established companies that were either profitable or had raised venture capital (in the case of Calcimedica).

One of the major themes that came through from the panel discussion was just how agile all of these entrepreneurs had been in minimizing initial outgoings and cash burn, they used mixtures of NIH/SBIR grants, negotiating terms with suppliers (partial cash payments and partial equity payments and even getting many things for free, including bartering with services instead of cash for lab space) and generous terms with creditors (with very extended financing terms and low interest rates).

Douglas Lappi, the President of ATS even brought up an interesting point that it’s a common misnomer that entrepreneurs are risk loving, he actually believes that entrepreneurs are risk adverse, they (we) only take the jump when they (we) feel the chances of failing are minimized. In Douglas’s case he was able to spin off the intellectual property (IP) of cytotoxic reagent from his previous employer and use that technology his new company’s first product line (which he then grew to include many more product lines).

These type of events that share stories and experiences from the trenches are an invaluable resource for early stage Biotech entrepreneurs and in particular this great SDEE supported event provided an invaluable insight into what it takes (warts and all) to build a biotech from the ground up. It seems that regardless of when an entrepreneur decides to embark on the path of building a biotech, whether 20 years ago or today in the shadow of the great recession, it will always be challenging (perhaps more so than in the tech space) but for those with enough belief and the ability to do more with less the message from the event was that it’s still a great time to create a game changing company with a little help from your biotech friends!