I Was Infected At The WBBA!

7/11/11

In the spring of 2010 I was minding my own business, doing a bit of consulting, board work, lollygagging around, when I received a call from Chris Rivera, the president of the Washington Biotechnology & Biomedical Association. The WBBA had had a strong focus on capital appreciation and on helping its members grow and prosper, and in that context had created a position of commercialization consultant. The consultant at the time, Dick Haiduck, had done a phenomenal job in this capacity, but had grown tired of commuting up to Seattle from the Bay Area. Hence, an opportunity: a one day a week gig to interact with the area’s entrepreneurs, helping them deal with strategic issues, financing issues, etc. One day a week, at the end of which I could leave THEIR problems at the office.

Chris inquired as to my interest. I said yes. My parents, of the generation that can’t believe anyone would NOT want to work 80 hours a week if they were less than, say, 85 years old, misunderstood the resulting press release and thought I had taken a full time job. “Hallelujah, our derelict daughter has finally found gainful employment,” my mother rejoiced. Her misunderstanding corrected, she still credits the WBBA with saving her daughter from a life of sloth with disastrous consequences. (And maybe she’s right…)

So, thus began an amazing several months of meeting and interacting with a plethora of life sciences entrepreneurs. And here is what I learned:

1. The entrepreneurial spirit is incredibly alive and well in the Seattle area. The fabric is rich, diverse, and exciting. I worked with more than 50 emerging companies over the several months at WBBA. Their areas of focus included medical devices, point-of-care diagnostics, consumer-oriented healthcare products, re-engineered therapeutic products, and basic biological drug development, among others. Some of these “companies” consisted of an entrepreneur and an idea. Others were fairly well-developed, with seed funding. A few were close to product launch and even achieved that in the course of my time there. Some entrepreneurs needed extensive help with their business planning, strategy, human resources, etc.—more than one person can do in a day a week. Others had done yeoman’s work but needed a pat on the back or a sympathetic ear. It’s lonely at the top…

2. There is a really supportive, burgeoning community of consultants and service providers who see the value of supporting early stage projects with services priced at less than market rates. This community is really invaluable to the emerging companies, and the WBBA has been a great “clearinghouse” for such services. Realizing that there is only so much pro bono or less than market rate support these individuals or firms can do, the results indeed are impressive. To me, it speaks of the strategic understanding on the part of the community that individual company success means collective success for the community, and significant benefits can accrue as a result.

3. Similarly, the entrepreneurs I came to know were always willing to share ideas and tips with each other.

4. The angel community has really stepped up in the area and has taken advantage of a number of investment opportunities that in the past might have been made available only to the venture capital community. WINGS and the Innovation Showcase program through the Technology Alliance are enabling angel investors to share diligence and get early insights into promising companies.

5. WBBA’s VIP (Venture Investment and Partnering) Forums are great tools for introducing emerging companies to a variety of investors and business development contacts, as well as opportunities to practice presenting the story in a concise and professional way. It always amazed me that we had to occasionally beat the bushes for candidate companies to present to these audiences, especially since assistance with presentations was offered as a tandem benefit.

And finally, it was impossible not to get infected by the sheer passion and excitement of interacting with these amazing entrepreneurs, and impossible to leave their stories and issues, as it were, at the office after my “one day a week” ended.

So, infected and afflicted with no cure in sight, I chose to move back to a full time position (much to my mother’s happiness!). I still keep in touch with a number of the entrepreneurs I met in the context of my time at WBBA, but the current Commercialization Consultant, Chris Porter, brings an amazing wealth of experience and knowledge, particularly in the device arena, that I’m sure is providing great benefit.

Stewart Parker is the CEO of the Infectious Disease Research Institute in Seattle. Follow @

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