SDEE’S Get to Know Your Neighbors – Featuring Jay Lichter

San Diego Entrepreneurs Exchange (SDEE) organized also this year a very successful Get to know your neighbors event on March 10, 2020 at The Alexandria in the Torrey Pines area. A big thank you to the many SDEE supporters: Alexandria, Morrison Foerster, Struthers Family Trust, Biomed Realty, Brex, J.P. Morgan, Ted Jacobs, Duane Morris, Longfellow, MaxCyte, Marsh & McLennan Agency, Takeda, Wagenknecht IP Law Group, and Union Bank. Great food and drinks were served during the networking reception, which was also a great opportunity to talk to the exhibitors, some of whom have been attending the event for years.

After Marilyn Ferrari spoke about SDEE’s mission and committees and 14 local entrepreneurs gave their 30 second pitch, Jay Lichter, PhD, took the stage and described his career journey and the lessons he learned along the way. Jay is currently the CEO of COI Pharmaceuticals, Afraxis, and reVision Therapeutics and has cofounded 25 companies so far.

COI Pharmaceuticals

COI stands for Community of Innovators and, true to its name, it is an aggregate of multiple - 16 at the moment - small innovative companies. Under the COI umbrella, the scientists and employees have the benefits of a large organization. COI offers human resources, information technology resources, lab space, office space, and C level executives so that the scientists can focus of the science. COI was funded in 2007 by Avalon funds and, over the years, some companies turned out to be winners, some losers, while the fate of others is still unclear.

Winners and Losers

Among the winners were Sequana Tharapeutics and Sytera; they made successful exits and good returns for the investors. Sitari Pharmaceuticals, focused on celiac disease, spent little money and was sold last year to Glaxo. Synthorx in the immune-oncology space was another winner: the bidding war between 2 companies that wanted to acquire it led to a high valuation and a good return on the investment. Carolus, instead, was a failure due to bad business decisions. Cellular Approaches had a drug to boost the immune system but changes in the market led to the company’s demise. Avelas Biosciences may or may not succeed. The technology is the combo of a fluorescent drug and a device to detect it. The visualization of cancerous cells during surgery allows a complete removal of cancerous tissue and, thus, reduces dramatically the probability of a second surgery. Unfortunately, the drug/device combo makes for a difficult exit strategy. Other companies that Jay founded are Aratana in the veterinary space and Calporta Therapeutics, focused on lysosomal health for Parkinson’s disease.

Jay Lichter, PhD

Lesson Learned

Wins and failures teach valuable lessons. Assess not only the technology, but also the market. Understand the weaknesses and limitations of your technology, as every technology has some. If you have a personal reason to start a company, evaluate the science and the company objectively. You may need a lot of cash, so diluting the company is a good option if it leads to the goals that you need to reach. Have an exist strategy in mind and consider that an IPO can lead to an acquisition. Timing is important and know when to sell. Finally, hire good people.

Key Traits and Skills of Entrepreneurs and Start-ups

An entrepreneur is somebody who organizes and operates a business taking on a greater than normal financial risk. Amongst the important traits for an entrepreneur are drive, passion, persistency, and lack of fear. An entrepreneur needs technical and people skills, needs to acknowledge failure, and needs to understand that the journey is a rollercoaster ride.

A start-up has to have an innovative product that serves an unmet need; a clear path to value creation; an advantage that differentiates it versus the competitors; a doable development plan; attractive pricing; co-investor interest; clear understanding of who will buy the product.

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