06 Oct Session C – Entrepreneurship Track
Entrepreneurship Track –Business Resiliency for the Unexpected and Expected
- Murat Kalayoglu, M.D., Ph.D., President & CEO, Cartesian Therapeutics, Inc.
- Pete Buzy, President, Gene Therapy, Catalent
- Kazem Kazempour, Ph.D., President & CEO, Amarex Clinical Research
- Michael Ruff, President and CEO, Creative Bio-Peptides
QUESTION: Give us an example of a case where you you’ve encountered an unexpected difficult situation, how you overcame it for.
You need a lot of resiliency on the financial side. You need to be really scrappy and I think locally, a lot of entrepreneurs are scrappy as far as getting government funding, getting funding customers. I think what I learned that really helped me the rest of my career is the importance of cleanup; pulling together kind of a senior team to make it happen. And with a lot of emerging biotech companies, you may not get the perfect candidate or perfect executive, and a lot of very talented people are in pharma and stay in pharma. So you’ve got to pick and choose who you hire and that might be someone in the second part of their career. And that can be very helpful but it’s important to find the right balance. The takeaway is that it’s ungodly critical to be able to hire a very strong senior team, when you do not have the technical expertise.
QUESTION: I would like to talk about resilience from a slightly different perspective. I want to come at it from a little bit more of the personal side. And I thought maybe there are some lessons or pointers that I could bring forward that would be helpful and instructive.
So we’re all going to be confronted with challenges and stresses. What comes forward well first, is an acceptance of reality for the biotech entrepreneur that means accept the challenge, you’re going to have a challenge and you have to accept the challenge.
The second thing the literature speaks to is a deep belief that life is meaningful. I interpreted that in the biotech context as well. This is an ongoing commitment to your mission, and your mission is what gives you purpose and meaning and your mission is an important statement of your company and you want to have a company statement.
And the third thing that everybody spoke about is the ability to improvise. Improvisation means that you can regain control of a situation by taking action, and as the executive of your company, you’re the person who is in charge. So, these are the internal elements with resistance. Many of them were not part of my persona, but you can learn them. I think this is a natural kind of human response, so you want to name the challenge, you want to put words to it, you want to accept it, you want to begin to act on it.
The other thing that I would say is the nature of reality. Reality is fungible. That’s true from a physics point of view, it’s true from a metaphysical point of view, and it’s true from a personal point of view. There’s no reality except what you bring to it. And so, as the leader of your company, you can control a narrative and you can reframe the reality, and even a big disaster is not the end of your dream. I’ve had death of a partner, I’ve had bankruptcy, I had crooked CEOs, if you could name it, I probably experienced it. So, here I am. I’m still here. The disaster is not the end of your dream. Discipline is remembering what you want. So stick to your mission, stick to your dream, remember what it is you set out to do. And then continue to act upon it to bring it into reality.
The failure, the rejection, the setbacks are temporary and as bad as they seem, you need to stabilize yourself, and then get to work on it. Identify the problem, and you will prevail. You need to have personal courage. You want to support your inner work warrior, not your inner critic. We’re going to make mistakes, we’re going to make errors, you can’t dwell on them. You need to put those behind you, and you need to always be focused forward.
I didn’t wake up one day having any of these skills. I had to put myself into what were perhaps personally uncomfortable situations and kind of grow through that and move through that.
If you want to have resilience and make a success of your company, you need to learn how to be a leader.
Another aspect relates a little bit to the current idea is, be prepared to jump to the moon. Sometimes you will not know what’s on the other side of the door. You will need to take a leap of faith. You’re going have to commit yourself to your organization. And that’s what I mean by courage, it’s a leap of faith. I think all of us that are probably starting companies have experienced that sometimes, you just have to jump, you just have to go.
QUESTION: How did you obtain financing?
I had to get on top of that and being involved in three prior companies gave me a knowledge base to be able to do that. I’m a researcher, I felt I can speak to my project, I could speak to the science but I didn’t have a lot of experience in running or being the business guy so I had to get help. One of the first things I did in forming a business was to try to meet people and try to build a network of people who would help me. The Maryland Tech Council has something called the Venture Mentor Service. I was introduced to Pam Lubell who put me into the program: It’s like, you’re on my team, others are on my team. That has been powerful for me. It’s given me a safety net. I could take a leap and felt that I had people around me.
Striking up conversations was a challenge for me, I had to force myself to do it, I would go to these business conferences and force myself to walk up to people and introduce myself. And through this now, I could walk up and talk to anybody. I’ve kind of overcome whatever fear or resistance that was but that was important. It took me about a year, but I met someone who was a scientific officer in a big company, and he came to me one day and said, we got a bunch of money we need to get rid of at the end of the year and your project seemed like they could be helpful and you know we’d like to give you a slug of dough and I’m like that sounds great. I also now have collaborators from Temple University have collaborators from UCLA and collaborator from Colorado State.
QUESTION: What do you look for to determine if you need to pivot from your original strategy. So in other words, to determine whether you’ve given your original strategy enough time.
I don’t think there’s a magic answer to that. One big piece that drives this is financing because to build capital over any biotech company, any early stage company, is critical. So, I think that really drives it quite a lot. Like for example, funding is moving toward COVID, and funding may be moving away from other things like, say, cancer so that may make the decision for you.
Also, it’s been important to follow the technology. My sense has been the technology is always evolving and expanding and I still feel I’m at the leading edge. So even though I’ve been doing this for a couple of decades, I still feel the work is at the leading edge so it needs to be kind of like a harsh analysis.
That can be a real crisis of the soul. We don’t want to give up. I would say, don’t give up, find your way forward.