Venture philanthropy is a huge opportunity within the red-hot life sciences community in North Carolina and throughout the South that needs alternative sources of capital.
Last week, executive search firm Carlyle and Conlan among other sponsors partnered with the North Carolina Biotechnology Center and the Center of Innovation Network to renew the Life Sciences Forum, a quarterly event for networking and trending industry discussions among life sciences leaders, an event that ran from approximately 2003-2013.
As the panelists mentioned, venture philanthropy is a great way to de-risk some of the early expensive research into solutions for specific patient populations that the typical life sciences investors might steer away from. And despite the potential upside, finding angel investors in the life sciences is getting harder and harder.
This was a very impressive panel in front of a sold-out crowd. Christy Shaffer is a well-known life sciences executive from her days at Inspire Pharmaceuticals and is now with the Hatteras Venture Partners. Two of the panelists were distinguished executives with important foundations involved with venture philanthropy. Robert J. Beall, Ph.D, former president and CEO of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation was one of the people credited with starting the Venture Philanthropy model. Another panelist, Joshua Sommer, cofounder and executive director of the Chordoma Foundation, was actually diagnosed with skull-base Chordoma in 2006 and joined the staff of a lab at Duke University for two years, which explains his North Carolina connection. The third panelist was James Rosen, now deputy director with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Previously he was an active executive with Intersouth Partners, a Durham venture capital fund. I saw him at this event and at the CED Life Sciences Conference the following day, and he made it clear he was happy to feel welcomed back home to North Carolina.
In recent years the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation invested in a Research Triangle-based nanotechnology company called Liquidia Technologies cofounded by Joe DeSimone and other talented Triangle-based researchers. Not just a small angel investment, but a $10 million investment as part of the $50 plus million that Liquidia Technologies raised.
So you read that right, a nonprofit invested in a for-profit startup in a new trend called venture philanthropy. This concept got some controversy in a New York Times article pointing out a potential conflict of interest between the nonprofit and investing for gains.
I think we all need to be reminded that venture philanthropy is now an option, especially outside of the park area, as we try to grow the life sciences sector throughout North Carolina and the South.