Magazine Article | April 7, 2017

Are We Encouraging The New Pharma Entrepreneurs?

Source: Life Science Leader

By Rob Wright, Chief Editor, Life Science Leader
Follow Me On Twitter @RfwrightLSL

In this month’s issue you will find a feature involving Vivek Ramaswamy, founder and CEO of Roivant Sciences. I begin telling the story of the interview by describing my rumination on two sayings: “Invest in what you know” and “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” These are just a two of the many pieces of wisdom (probably picked up from my father) that I have imparted to my two children over the years. I imagine they would tell you that my approach to sharing such advice involves an inordinate amount of repetition. Well, apparently it worked, because during the holidays both of these now young adults used these (and other) phrases while sharing about their recent semester experiences. Now, I will readily admit to taking great delight when hearing these phrases parroted back and have actually gotten much better at biting my tongue and not saying, “I told you so.”

These recent conversations must have been rolling around in the back of my mind as I sat waiting to interview Ramaswamy — an entrepreneur perhaps 25+ years younger than those I typically interview. At 31 years of age, Vivek Ramaswamy is (in my opinion) young. However, being youthful does not by default imply being unwise. Because, though there is much to be said for the wisdom one accumulates from having “been there, done that,” there are also some major benefits to the contrary. Let me explain.

Earlier in the day (prior to meeting with Ramaswamy), I attended one of the keynote lunches at the 35th Annual J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco. Randomly picking a table near the back of the room, I struck up a conversation with the person seated next to me. Nicolas Roelofs, Ph.D., introduced himself as a serial corporate board member. During our discussion, I told him about one of the projects I was currently working on (i.e., the “Journey To The Board Room” series, Part 2 of which can be found on p. 22 of this issue), and soon we exchanged business cards. As we chatted about the differences between corporate board service and working as a company executive (something the former Agilent SVP now serving on about seven different corporate boards should know a thing or two about), Roelofs shared a rather profound insight. As a board member he noted there is a significant difference between working with a founder of a startup who is young versus one a bit older. According to Roelofs, board members, and perhaps even investors for that matter, are more likely to support those founders with a great idea who may be a bit less seasoned, for they have much less understanding of the mountain they are about to climb.

In support of Roelofs’ supposition, many of the company founders I’ve spoken with often admit that had they known how difficult starting a biopharmaceutical company would be, they would have likely never embarked on the journey in the first place. So rather than burden such budding entrepreneurs as Ramaswamy with skepticism and doubt cloaked in “words of wisdom,” maybe we could be a bit more encouraging.