Bio Innovation Conference | Entrepreneurship Track – Human Resources as a Strategy – Building a Team to Ensure Success to Attract Investors
Maryland Life Sciences Bio Innovation Conference Entrepreneurship Track – Human Resources as a Strategy – Building a Team to Ensure Success to Attract Investors. Missed the live conference? Watch and read more about the panel.
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Session B – Entrepreneurship Track

Session B – Entrepreneurship Track

Entrepreneurship Track – Human Resources as a Strategy – Building a Team to Ensure Success to Attract Investors


  • Moderator:
    • Sally Allain, MSc., MBA, Head of JLABS, Washington, DC, Johnson & Johnson Innovation – JLABS
  • Speakers:
    • Ellen Hukkelhoven, Ph.D., Managing Director, Perceptive Advisors
    • Claire Leurent, Ph.D., MBA, Principal, Venture Investments, Johnson & Johnson Innovation
    • Ken Mills, President & CEO, REGENXBIO, Inc.


This panel of colleagues and others across Maryland is really going to look at the topic of human resources as a strategy, building a team to ensure success, and to attract investors. What this session will discuss is how to build a team to ensure success. We’re going to focus on the key roles within startup companies, developing boards, what to look for when partnering with investors and other companies, and the shift of expertise when transitioning from an early stage company to a public company.


QUESTION. What are the key roles you see within startups and what are you looking for to invest?

It really depends on what stage the company is at, and what is important to get them to the next stage. If it’s a private company or an earlier stage company, they have a lot of preclinical data maybe from an academic really early on and so they have to make sure that data can get transferred to in-house labs and that they can plan the next preclinical experiments. Having strong scientists who have had some experience doing that is important.

One area that a little bit later stage companies who are starting to do the clinical development really struggle with is finding good clinical developers, because a lot of them are in pharma companies. A lot of the ones who’ve had experience in biotech, it’s hard to recruit those to early stage, small companies and so I think when a company does have someone who has experience and not just experience but actually success in that area, like understands how to set up clinical trial sites and how to drive enrollment and really get things moving is really important, so that you don’t get delays to those first proof of concept data sets.

I’m always thinking, what’s the probability of success? How can we de-risk that probability of technical success? Having very strong experts who have experience in that field is helpful and ideally ones who can recruit a good team underneath them because often as an investor, I don’t have visibility to the lower rank people so having someone having a strong leader in place is key.

CEO and CFO. You need a road to grow the finance, as well as to grow the enterprise. You really need somebody in charge of compliance very early. Like in data science, for example, and Chief Medical Officer may be needed for some companies early. Others can just make it as a Chief Scientific Officer.


QUESTION: What are some of the failures that you’ve seen with companies building an early stage company?

Not focusing on that clinical development part enough and not hiring the right person. Time is money and so if they make promises and are generally over-promising and under-delivering on timelines. Because of that, and those are really intertwined. And that can be very frustrating. We as investors, especially if we’re looking at public market companies, we’re usually used to getting guidance and you better get guidance on that timeline. If you didn’t, that’s a big red flag. In early stage companies, in early clinical development, they don’t know how to recruit patients well. They don’t know how to recruit the right patients. It’s also very important that you get patients who are sick enough to show a benefit but not so far gone that you can’t show a benefit because the therapy can’t do anything anymore. Walking that line can be so difficult and finding someone who’s really good at it, and has done it before and has interacted with clinicians to really guide the enrollment and not just push it through speed-wise but also the quality, is something that is really important.  

As investors, we need to have confidence not just in a person but in that person’s ability to put a team together that trusts one another.

The CEO is extremely important. It’s important that this person understands both the business and the science. You need a good manager who can hire the right CFO and the right CMO. Understanding all those aspects is really critical.


QUESTION: Early stage companies and startups, with limited budgets can only bring in certain roles into the company, versus outsourcing or using consultants. What do you think is critical? If we were to make trade-offs here. What would you trade off to potentially outsource or use a consultancy?

At the beginning, a good Chief Scientific Officer, or if we’re talking tech, CTO, the CIO, or product manager, if you’re going marketing so it depends on the company’s core. And so the other functions can definitely be consulted or it can be some time, where, when the company is really early can be advisors, sometime not paid.

You might be strapped and not have a lot of cash but you have the equity in the company. If you have articulated a strong vision, and have assembled a good team of people and advisors around them, you should be able to recruit some of these top positions and lure them in with generous equity compensation.


QUESTION: What are some of the considerations in developing an advisory board and board membership?  

It’s important to have people on the board that were able to go through strategic, more abstract exercises they’re synthesizing through. While the work is going on with management, you needed a group of people who are able to play a role that was not just approving things but also listening and providing feedback.

Fewer board members is always better. People of diverse backgrounds, people who you know maybe they had worked on different types of projects and different experiences in different ways. Five people out of the gate is a good critical mass to get enough diverse thinking, enough backgrounds of experience and sort of breadth of understanding to be able to navigate.  


QUESTION: Any advice that you offer companies in your portfolio to in regard to board advisors?

The board is basically the investors and the CEO, which is fine to some degree, it depends on who they are and they can add helpful expertise to the boardroom conversations. It’s important to get industry experts on the board early and to try to get independent board members. But not too many. You don’t need nine board members. Even from scheduling standpoint it can really be a problem. So, try to limit the number to a small handful.

I will call them up and I will ask, what are the boardroom dynamics because when we’re writing term sheets, we don’t have capacity or perceptive to take a lot of board seats I’m completely maxed out at six. If I get a red flag about the board dynamics and what may or may not happen then I might not even make the investment. So, one of the concerns that’s kind of high in my mind is, you know, if the for example if we’re coming in at a series C or D like we did with Ken Ken’s company REGENXBIO. The early investors might be at the end of their fun life, they might be and they might control the board and so they might want to sell the company for what for them is a huge step up from the price that they got to the company but for me is small and you know I see the vision of this company is becoming really large and that’s why I’m doing this late stage investment and so I’ve had that happen once or twice, and since then I’ve learned it’s really important to be present for those, you know, for those situations and take a board seat and have a little bit more control than one where that’s less of a problem. So, I think that that’s something common for for kind of the later stages crossover type round investments.


QUESTION: Should small companies bring in someone with large biopharma experience or would this be a culture clash?

The culture clash is less of an issue. You’re just pulling on their expertise and their networks for the company It’s a little bit of a transition and you need to find someone who really has that entrepreneurial drive. And there are a lot of good executives out there who actually have gone from leading organizations in pharma to wanting to go into smaller companies and lead organizations there and have been really successful because they do know how drug development is done.


QUESTION: With regard to those looking to step into the biotech equity space. What are the essential skill sets and steps that are needed to be there?

So there’s a lot of different routes. Get a job on the sell side at a major bank and get trained there because you’ve got to learn some of the business. But a lot of it is pretty easy to learn on the job. Another easy thing to do which is helpful on this, while you’re doing your postdoc or your Ph.D., there are usually programs in lots of cities that help early stage startups raise money. Build your network while you’re there trying to get a job in equity research, whether it’s the sell side first and internship at a buy side place can always also help at a fund. The other route that sometimes people go is consulting. Also, having a Ph.D. or an MD as a background is now almost a requirement.


QUESTION: Are there some thoughts you have there about what you see across the ecosystem here in Maryland with opportunities for postdocs?

The ecosystem around here is interesting; places like the NIH and Hopkins and the academic institutions. We’re actively seeking people, and we’re going to those campuses and working with a number of others in the area to communicate that there are work opportunities for postdocs in the industry.