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This ex-bank worker needed to assist a good friend who had lupus. Now he heads a BioTech firm on the verge of a groundbreaking COVID therapy.

January
14, 2021

7 min read

In this ongoing series, we share advice, tips, and insights from real entrepreneurs who run business battles on a daily basis. (The answers have been edited and compressed for the sake of clarity.)

Who are you and what is that to you?

I had a 32 year career at JPMorgan and was vice chairman of the private bank. After I left, I invested in BioIncept because of my interest in developing therapeutic treatments with such great potential for treating the growing number of autoimmune diseases, including a very close friend with lupus. I have been asked to take on the role of CEO with a mandate to successfully advance BioIncept's pipeline for patients and commercial success. They are obviously closely related results. My bank clients, and now BioIncept investors, respond well to getting things done in a great way.

Bioincept is focused on developing drug therapies and diagnostic skills that impact their treatment areas. They can be viewed as bothersome, but I prefer to see them as "enabling" – enabling recovery from serious illnesses or improving the success rates of the in vitro fertilization cycle and potentially more general health problems for women.

Was there a certain moment that started this company?

BioIncept is based on the discovery of the earliest biomarker of pregnancy – and the understanding that maternal immune acceptance is initiated by the embryo rather than the mother. Today we are utilizing synthetic versions of the molecular drivers of immune system protection that an embryo uniquely enjoys in the interplay of mother and fetus in clinical and preclinical development programs that could benefit a range of patient populations, including those with autoimmune and cell damage related ones Diseases.

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When COVID hit we found that much of the damage to tissues and organs was due to the body's strong immune response. We recognized that our approach has the potential to both reduce COVID-induced disease symptoms and uniquely promote the repair of tissue damage to the heart, neurological and pulmonary systems that occurs in the majority of survivors.

We made the decision to conduct a clinical trial to treat long-distance COVID drivers. This term refers to the large and growing population of survivors with persistent symptoms. We expect that most patients treated with our therapy will recover faster and more robustly. This is a unique therapy. We are very excited to be moving this clinical trial forward as soon as possible.

From a business perspective, the decision to double up the fight against COVID was one of several ways we could allocate our resources, which is always a little tricky. Fortunately, the work we are doing on COVID also directly supports our broader platform and will also benefit patients in the other disease areas that we target.

What advice would you give to entrepreneurs looking for funding?

Look everywhere. Most importantly, when you start a business, you work very hard to find others who share your commercial vision or have a similar passion to make a difference and involve them where possible. Investors identify with topics and mostly with companies or technologies that they understand. Funding is more than a full-time job for a CEO. While the introductions you may get from backers may or may not ultimately affect an investor's decision to invest – always expect them to exercise complete care – it is so valuable to even step in the door to get your voice to speak story.

How do you recommend entrepreneurs to approach the pitch process?

Have your first few conversations with the least likely prospect you can find so that you can improve your news. They can come from general investor forums, family office groups, etc. – this is great practice and can give you feedback. Try to understand what is of interest to the prospective investor beforehand so that you can tailor your pitch to their interests.

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As you move up to become more curated prospective investors, do all of your homework, not just some. This includes the fund website, previous investments, industry experience, and a hypothesis about why your investment opportunity is particularly relevant to them. You may think this is obvious, but you would be shocked at what investors sometimes face … so get your attention! If they're interested, try to understand why so that the next interaction can be better informed. While it's harder to read your personality in the days of video conferencing, it's easier to get a "slot" and get involved. Overall, the goal should be to understand what you did well and how you can improve on what didn't go well.

Identify potential investors targeting your company or end product. If your product has the potential to expand into new markets, consider who could benefit from it and if they have any reason to invest. If your product or service is complementary to another, it can increase sales of both or lead to cross-selling.

What was your biggest challenge during the pandemic and how did you turn to overcome it?

In February, as we were advancing our studies at two universities in Baltimore, Maryland, we realized that COVID would cease most drug development activities that were not relevant to COVID. It was a coincidence that our drug had the potential to treat and repair the damage caused by the virus, but it proved essential that we started our pivot on the same day and quickly realigned our resources while we were still before shutdown. Typically, as an entrepreneur, if you have a momentary gut feeling to pan, you should because the quickest first step has a lot less friction and more optionality.

Where do you see this company in a year? In five years?

In one year we will better understand the course of the disease from COVID-19, and in five years we will probably be able to help many patients, stopping and, most importantly, recovering from challenging autoimmune diseases have enabled a transformation in IVF success. And we'll be able to speak openly about some other exciting topics we're currently working on under the radar.

If successful, we should have completed our clinical trials and developed some of our therapies closer to patient use. We should also have become a trusted partner for IVF centers to help them deliver success to their patients.

In many ways, as with technology development in other areas, participating in a clinical trial will flash before your eyes for the next several years, both because you need to choreograph where the results could take you and because you need to be ready to to take a different path than planned.

What does the word "entrepreneur" mean to you?

Entrepreneur means you are all there. You have little time for other things and you have to work up a sweat on the details. You have to plan for success, but most importantly, be creative and resilient when something goes wrong. As a small biotechnology, resilience, rebounding, and moving forward are the most important skills for survival.

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Is there a specific quote or saying that you use as personal motivation? Explain how it inspires you.

"When you come to a fork in the road, take it," by Yogi Berra. The development of new technologies is not always straightforward. It's intellectually challenging. Staying sharp, facing facts, and adapting to challenges is critical to survival and success. It's very motivating to work hard to find the right path.

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