Dr. Michael Salgaller, Janice Garlitz and Gerry Preville

What does it take to build a successful biotech company? More than just innovative biotech, as an audience in Maryland discovered recently.

Last week I had the pleasure of participating in a panel discussion at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Rockville, Maryland. The discussion was part of a graduate course titled ‘Building a Biotechnology Company,’ which is given by the Foundation for Advanced Education in the Sciences (FAES) at the NIH.

The objective of the course is to provide NIH research fellows with insights into the life cycle of a biotech company as seen through the eyes of the executives, consultants and advisors to these companies. Each class presents a panel discussion given by three or four individuals experienced in one of the many disciplines related to the greater biotech enterprise.

Joining me on the panel was Dr. Michael L. Salgaller of the Technology Transfer Center at the National Cancer Institute, and Janice Garlitz, a business attorney and principal at Janice E. Garlitz, P.C.  We had an engaging discussion on the challenges of building a biotech firm from scratch, including the significant number of finance, accounting and legal issues that must be addressed along the way.

One issue addressed was the scarcity of both time and cash in a new venture. Many young ventures face a continuous need for cash to fuel the growth.  At the same time, the demands on an entrepreneur’s time increase rapidly. The to-do list gets longer, with increasing demands from sources both inside and outside the firm. The challenge is to find ways to put items on the “not-to-do” list, for example, to delegate more tasks as the company grows larger and more complex.

One of the main takeaways will not be a surprise to many in the business world, but it may have been an important lesson for the attendees to hear: However great your science and technology, it takes much more than that to build a successful company, which will demand competent and professional management in many functional business disciplines.

This was the third year that I participated in this class and it’s always a rewarding experience. Special thanks to Steve Ferguson and Jennifer Catalano at FAES and to Dr. James Hawkins, Managing Director at FOCUS Investment Banking for putting the panel together.