San Diego Celebrates Its Breakout Companies of 2008

2/27/09Follow @bvbigelow

The San Diego Venture Group hailed three local companies for their breakout year in 2008, then put an executive from each company on stage yesterday with a newspaper reporter asking them to explain how they did it. It could have made for a hesitant and stilted panel discussion, but the format actually was informative and engaging—and it even yielded some news.

Novalar Pharmaceuticals, which was named as San Diego’s breakout life sciences company, is launching its first product—a drug that accelerates the reversal of dental anesthesia following routine dental work. Novalar, which Luke profiled in November, is announcing the availability of its drug phentolamine mesylate (OraVerse) today at the 144th Chicago Dental Society Midwinter Meeting. (More details on that are below.)

The venture group organized the event to recognize the local cleantech, life sciences, and technology companies that prevailed in meeting financial goals and other milestones despite the worsening economy and financial conditions of 2008.
Venture capitalists, media, and service providers nominated companies in each category, and the venture group’s board selected the winners. Two companies were highlighted alongside Novalar:

—In Cleantech, the breakout company was Sapphire Energy, which raised $100 million from Bill Gates’s venture fund and others in September. Sapphire provided the algae-based biofuel used in the January 7 test flight of a Continental Airlines Boeing 737—a first in North America.

—In Technology, the Active Network, a web-based company that provides online registration and information for recreational and sporting events, was selected for its breakout performance in 2008. The private company raised $80 million in a venture round led by ESPN, and completed seven acquisitions in 2008.

Active Network CEO Dave Alberga provided some of the most colorful quotes when moderator Terri Somers, a biotech reporter for the San Diego Union-Tribune, asked him to explain an earlier comment about some acquisitions he’d made that he wouldn’t do over again.

“I spend more time now thinking about who the founders are (of acquisition targets) and whether they’re going to be a distraction,” Alberga replied. “There are some factors like that, where I didn’t throw somebody down a flight of stairs soon enough. I’m famous for that. I’m famous for saying you can never fire some people too soon.” Alberga added: “What makes startups work is … Next Page »

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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