Kristina Burow, Arch’s Rising Star in SF, Spots Big Ideas in Biotech, Cleantech

7/16/10Follow @xconomy

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about the structures of chemistry seemed similar to architecture in some ways, but this was a better fit for Burow. “It was like a love affair. I don’t know how else to explain it. I had the text for the class, plus two other textbooks I’d do all the problems from,” she says.

But like most love affairs, it didn’t really last forever. She did go on to get her bachelor’s in chemistry from Berkeley, and a master’s in chemistry from Columbia University. She scored a big coup, landing in a Ph.D chemistry program at The Scripps Research Institute in San Diego, working for a future Nobel Laureate in K. Barry Sharpless, a pioneer of “click chemistry.” Six years went by, and she had her name on a couple of important scientific publications. But as her 20s went on, Burow realized she didn’t want to become a professor, didn’t want to run an academic lab, didn’t want to become an ultra-narrow specialist in an obscure corner of the chemistry world. “I was interested in big picture, how everything fits together,” she says. “I just didn’t want to spend my 20s doing that. I wanted something bigger and more exciting.”

The problem was, how to pursue that? The pharmaceutical industry didn’t seem like the place either.

Then, she had some good fortune—call it being in the right place at the right time. Peter Schultz, the prominent chemist at Scripps, was busy lining up what looked like a dream scientific operation at the time, the Genomics Institute of the Novartis Research Foundation (GNF). There would be huge budgets, access to some of the top minds in Big Pharma, combined with academic freedom. Burow, then in her 20s and a couple years away from getting her PhD in chemistry, decided to drop her academic career to become employee No. 15 at GNF in the heady days of 1999.

“The GNF opportunity was once in a lifetime thing,” Burow says. “There aren’t many opportunities when you get to work with Peter Schultz at a brand new institute that is heavily funded by a major Swiss pharam company. I knew Pete, and I knew that if you were talented and worked hard, he’d give you the reins. And he did.”

The GNF experience was “amazing,” Burow says. The institute grew from 15 employees to 400. Still in her 20s, Burow was one of three people given responsibility for most of the chemistry programs there, she says. Burow was involved in the spinoff of a couple of venture-backed companies, Kalypsys and Phenomix. The experience taught her an important lesson: she likes to get things off the ground, but managing things on autopilot once they’re flying wasn’t her thing.

So after GNF’s heady early days, it was time to move on. Burow got to meet venture capitalists through the GNF experience. She met people who helped her get in the door at … Next Page »

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