He reminded attendees at the 2nd Annual Tri-Valley Life Science Summit earlier this month that last year he said he wanted the area to be known as the Silicon Valley of Life Sciences. That’s a truly BHAG (big hairy audacious goal), but the foundation already has been laid with more than 100 life science companies headquartered here and a fertile environment for new start-ups. Several companies have been founded here, grown and then acquired by larger firms.
At the summit hosted by Veeva Systems in Pleasanton, once the formalities of recognizing sponsors and contributors were finished, speakers offered real world experience to attendees. For people building their own companies, I suspect there was plenty of very good information and tips from people who had been down the road themselves. For non-professionals, such as yours truly, lots went right over my head.
That wasn’t true of Lauren Moone’s update on the investment landscape (she’s the executive vice president of Mirador Capital Partners and studies the Tri-Valley economy). The same goes for Mitch Levinson’s talk on “Mommy, Where do start-ups come from? and Ted Lamson’s “The Valley of Death—Stories You Never Hear.” Lamson is founder and chief technology officer of Neotract, which makes a minimally invasive, non-surgical treatment for enlarged prostate glands—a condition that many men face as they age.
Both his talk and Levinson’s contained true stories—sometimes humorous and telling on what the entrepreneurial journey is like in life sciences. Lamson founded his company and served as CEO until it reached a key milestone in 2009 and needed a different skill set and experience in the top job. He stepped aside and serves as chief technology officer to this day. The company was sold to Teleflex as it was preparing for an initial public offering. He shared how close they were on more than one occasion of falling into the “Valley of Death.”
Levinson cited four start-up stories. One started when an ear, nose and throat physician met a businessman at a Bar Mitzvah. They got to talking about fibrin sealant that he used and how the nozzle on the applicator quickly plugged up when the two materials were mixed. They figured out a way to use a vacuum to remove the plug and that technology now is on the market.
You’ve likely heard of Levinson’s next example: cool sculpting—the revolutionary use of cold therapy to remove body fat. The key technology was owned by Massachusetts General Hospital which set up a bidding process to determine what company (ies) were best equipped to bring it to market. Pleasanton-based Zeltiq resulted from the licensing and was sold to Allergan, an Ireland-based pharma company, for $2.4 billion in 2017.
In his summary Levinson noted that frustration was the initial motivation to fulfil a clinic need. The four companies charted different paths, but all involved key partners and investors who were attracted to their groundbreaking creative insight.