Versant Ventures’ Partner Cuts Back on Biotech Work to Spend Time With Family. For Real

11/28/11Follow @xconomy

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they weren’t happy with what they saw. Their son was “sitting in the corner, rolling cars down a ramp, all day long. Turns out he’d been doing that most of the summer,” Samuels said.

Since the condition is so poorly understood, the Samuels family realized they needed to get more involved. “The therapists need their care coordinated and updated, there are new therapies to explore every day, and parents need to stay on top of (even the best) schools to make sure the curriculum is optimized for Luke.”

Like any VC, Samuels is one very busy woman. She is currently on the board of four companies, which creates a fair bit of travel, in addition to fundraising, scouting new investments, and networking with potential acquirers of her companies. All that looks manageable when everything’s OK at home, she says, but this diagnosis changes things.

Samuels says her oldest son “is sad and anxious a lot—and his primary source of calming is cuddling with his mom—so my travel has been a big problem.”

The concerns with her son were coming together at a point this fall as Versant started planning for its next fund, and needed to find out which partners were ready to commit for a 10- to 15-year time frame to manage all the new investments. That all seemed like too much for Samuels, at least for the short-term. So while she’s going to keep her board seats, she says she’s cutting back to half-time at Versant through 2012. She says she may join a couple of nonprofit and public company boards as well.

Some VC peers have told Samuels they think she’s picking a good time to back off on her busy schedule, given how lousy the economy is for biotech. She says she disagrees.

“I think now is a fantastic time to invest, and I would love to be working full time investing,” Samuels says. “But I have the rest of my life for biotech—while the early intervention window for Luke is going to close in two years.”

Maybe Samuels will be in a position to use her expertise and contacts to help lead the charge to create a new therapy for her son and other children struggling with autism. If that happens, she could end up accomplishing what biotech is really all about in the first place—using the latest in science to create new medicines for people in need.

Whether that happens or not, Samuels’ time with family will be time well spent.

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