Panelists discuss funding startups, attracting talent

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Below are excerpts from the panel discussion at the May 3 Life Sciences Power Breakfast.

focus-pb-panelists.pngMike Sherman: We have an ecosystem here of very capable life science leaders. I think as we give them the experience of running a smaller shop without a safety net, those teams then will pick up the next thing and capital will follow. I’m seeing that on the heels of [the sale of] Endocyte; investors are following where we go next and what we do, and they want to be part of that.

Marietta Harrison: I think that Purdue itself is very interested in startup companies and commercialization of our faculty’s ingenuity. And so we have an organization called The Foundry where we actually have $14 million. There are three funds, but the biggest is in life sciences, and that may be the one that’s most interesting. So we co-invest that money with some of our faculty startup companies to attract venture capital into the university and into our research parks.

Ben Pidgeon: In angel investing, there’s a common thought that 50 percent of whatever checks you write are going to just go to zero—you’re going to lose—and the other 50 percent need to make up for the difference. But there’s some research out there that actually suggests that a previous founder with success that has raised money and then exited and returned capital to investors has a five times more likely chance of returning funds to investors. So that’s kind of why you see that storyline of, success breeds success.

John Spegele: It’s a tragedy in my mind for all the graduates that we are producing that are either Hoosier natives or those who have come to our academic institutions for them to go either to the East or to the West Coast to find employment. … We are attracting some of that talent back, particularly into Covance but also I think in other organizations as well.

Ketan Paranjape: At Roche about three years ago, we did a survey and found that about 15 percent of our employee base that worked on instrumentation, medical devices, biomedical devices, technicians, were within five years of retirement. And so naturally you have to fill in that gap. One of the ways we did [that] with the University of Indianapolis was [to] look at people from raw sciences—physics, biology, chemistry—and get them trained.

So our first cohort starts the internship I think this summer, and I think the first batch of eight students joins Roche full time starting in the fall of 2020. So I think there’s definitely potential to start looking at your workforce needs, and universities are open [to] looking [at] how to blend folks in raw sciences and bringing them into technology and engineering and biomedical.

Derek Small: Just look at Assembly or any of these public biotechs over the last eight, 10 years—it has been extremely volatile, and I think there’s a number of contributing factors. I think a lot of the investors look at small biotech and, you know … kind of oversimplify things. So they will look at larger public company metrics and try to apply that to smaller companies and these things certainly kind of get out of whack.

Sherman: I think while we bring folks in from outside of Indiana, there are a number of leaders sitting in this room that are going to be CEOs of the next biotechs as well. I’d love to engage with them and support them in that process because I think there’s plenty of technology out there, and as much as we have technology in Indiana and Purdue, there’s technology all over the globe that would be interested in finding a home here and I think we’ve got the leadership to do that.•

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