When you want the life sciences industry to show up, having two former FDA commissioners, who now both work for Duke University, is a sure way to fill a room. The annual CED Life Science Conference had a packed agenda to promote the future of the state’s economy with startups that any state would love to have.
CED and the North Carolina Biotechnology Center have been working overtime to attract out-of-state capital for the innovation economy in North Carolina, and that means working with investors from California, Boston and beyond. In their annual Innovator’s Report, they were proud to announce 27 investments into North Carolina companies from California in 2016. Of course, also announcing there have been 40 exits helps prove the case of the entrepreneurial talent in North Carolina.
This is a far cry from the 1950s when new North Carolina Secretary of Commerce Anthony Copeland said, “North Carolina was the second poorest state in the United States.” Soon after, the Research Triangle Park (RTP) was developed to retain the brainpower from the universities to now become the second most educated city in the country. The RTP attracted the EPA and IBM and the rest is economic development history that now attracts 25 cities per year to ask how it was done. Both the CED and the NC Biotech Center are also now more than 30 years old and are invaluable resources to entrepreneurs in North Carolina.
Easier to talk about basketball than the downsides of tobacco on Tobacco Road
Today is the beginning of March and in this state, this state is now all about ACC basketball. While there were several basketball rivalry jokes, former FDA Commissioner Rob Califf said the employees of the FDA are much like referees in basketball who are simply enforcing the rules that already exist.
Califf gave an informative 10-point slide presentation about his experience leading the mysterious FDA. The FDA regulates 20 – 25 cents on every GDP dollar. The FDA regulates aspects of everyday life from cosmetics, drugs, medical devices and protecting the security of the food supply.
Califf was very clear about his concerns about the impact of tobacco on the health of Americans. Califf is a cardiologist who is now a professor of medicine at Duke. He is very concerned about young Americans using electronics as the delivery mechanism for nicotine.
The second former FDA Commissioner to speak at the event, Mark McClellan seemed to be on a fast break that Coach K would have been proud of as he plowed through 85 slides without even inhaling for more oxygen. McClellan is now the director and professor at Duke’s Margolis Center for Health Policy.
Strategic corporate venture capital is needed
If you are going to have a life sciences conference, the other necessary component is venture capital but more specifically strategic corporate venture capital.
The midday panel included investors from Novo Ventures, Lilly Ventures, Johnson and Johnson, and Illumina Ventures. Charles Merritt of Hatteras Ventures did a great job of moderating the complexities of the business models of these funds within large corporate structures.
For other useful insights, the investors also said they like to get milestone memos from entrepreneurs about their progress towards success while trying to attract capital. The investors also said that VC’s like to have one or two strategic corporate investors as part of the syndication to finish a round of capital for the companies.
NC State puts spotlight on alumni entrepreneurs
In a pre-conference seminar, NC State University did a nice job of raising its profile in a busy space. They gave the spotlight to four startups in their Alumni Entrepreneurs Network and the new Wolfpack Investor Network to get more funding for the innovation and commercialization efforts through the university.
There certainly was a buzz in the room with the final speaker when Matthew Breen spoke about his work as CEO of Sentinel Biomedical. The key work around Sentinel Biomedical is how household dogs often suffer from cancer 10 years before their human owners show signs of cancer and how to seek the potential environmental causes of cancer in these geographic regions.