Friday, January 28, 2011

Enough about me. What do you think about me?

This installment is a summary of a number of recent events, many of which, for the purposes of full disclosure, I had something to do with. Sorry for the self-serving plug, but I just had to – the events were really good! In chronological order:

Biotech Breakfast Club Annual Holiday Party

As many of you know, I run a small breakfast club of professionals in the life sciences industry. We meet every other month to discuss emerging trends or current hot topics in the industry. Every year, instead of our December breakfast meeting, we host a holiday party for leading executives in the Boston area. The event is “free” to the extent that we don’t charge anything to get in, but we do suggest a donation to a local charity. This year we raised over $1,500 for the Worcester County Food Bank. Interestingly, it was a bit lighter than last year’s raise, but part of that may have been because we were frankly not as well organized about collecting donations this year.

What was most interesting to me was that this year fell on the same night as another important seminar right down the road – one that I wish I could have attended. Just as the speaker would have been taking the stage, I noticed a swarm of people coming into our party. I asked someone about it and they admitted that a group of them left the seminar early to come to the party. I like to think it was because of the rarefied atmosphere at our soiree, but maybe it was just for the free beer…

Totally self serving, but it was really a great event.

Our “Grand” Genome

The next night (no, I wasn’t drinking when this scheduling was decided) The Bioscience Network, where I serve as a founding member of the Board of Directors, hosted a panel discussion with George Church, Phil Reilly and Kevin Davies centered on the topic of Kevin’s latest book, The $1,000 Genome. As I said to the audience when I introduced the panel, if you don’t know who these folks are, you’re probably in the wrong room (or reading the wrong blog). This one was really a winner. Kevin set the stage brilliantly (and the book is a great read, btw), and he, George and Phil followed with a very interesting and, at times, provocative, discussion. I confess that I had some difficulty getting one audience member off a particular topic, but other than that it was a lively discussion with lots of audience participation.

I took the moderator’s privilege and asked the panel if they agreed with my notion that since all the action will ultimately end up with proteomics, is whole genome sequencing the fax machine of molecular medicine (I made the analogous argument in my blog on biofuels). They didn’t necessarily disagree, but didn’t really agree either. Leave it to a bunch of PhDs to waffle on a question…

Pre- JP Morgan

Prior to The JP Morgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco, the Super Bowl of life sciences conferences, there’s a skiing boondoggle at Squaw that I managed to get invited to this year. It was great fun to see so many young professionals out of context. For you snow fans, one of the days was the best snowboarding I’ve had in two years, which includes trips to Banff and Kitzbuhel. The background of my Blackberry is now a visual reminder of this epic morning with the clouds hanging gingerly over Lake Tahoe, perfectly groomed slopes and the sun rising above the mountaintops. Sorry to rub it in.

Not that I didn’t suspect so prior to the trip, but it was nonetheless noteworthy how a relaxed atmosphere can completely change the tenor of a meeting. Without going into too much detail, I had a particularly great interaction with a person who had been particularly prickly prior to the trip. Riding with a bunch of Type As is a trip in itself, but when you have the opportunity to laugh and relax, the business end of the networking just kinda falls off the bone.

JP Morgan

There are certainly lots of ways to measure how JP Morgan stacks up on any given year, but I tend to prefer a back-of-the-envelope method. Since 2009, which was a funeral, the mood has grown successively more upbeat. This year’s events were energized, with lines (!) to get into some of them. The Cooley event appeared to be the hottest ticket in town, but plenty of other events were buzzing, and the volume level at “the clock” was as high as it’s ever been. Despite the worst travel experience I’ve ever had trying to get back to the east coast during the blizzard of ’11 (which included a charming experience at a sketchy hotel near the Philadelphia airport), it was a fantastic trip with lots of new leads.

For a more concrete measure, my good friend and colleague, Doug MacDougall of MacDougall Biomedical Communications, reported very encouraging news. As a courtesy to their clients, they rent a couple of floors at a hotel near the St. Francis for the clients to meet with investors, bankers or other financial types. The same number of clients availed themselves of the service this year as last, but they experienced a 30% increase in the number of meetings. Perhaps the money is starting to flow after all.

Startup Downhill

Last one.

On January 26, the first annual Startup Downhill took place at Wachusett Mountain. This one was knocked out of the park if I do say so myself. At the risk of totally blowing the lid off what is an exclusive event, my fellow organizers (Doug Macdougall and Jon Eddy of Silicon Valley Bank) and I worked tirelessly to get this off the ground. (Thanks also to our other sponsors: Chris Denn at Goodwin Procter, Michael Barron at DLA Piper and the Crowleys at Wachusett.) I wish I could take full credit for the idea, but I shamelessly borrowed from others, and had the expert counsel of Doug and Jon, and we managed to pull off a great day of networking, and more importantly, deal making. As with the trip to Squaw, the relaxed atmosphere greatly facilitated interactions and constructive outcomes.

The weather cooperated well, but the coming storm scared off a few folks (they should have listened to me and not the weatherman). Still, we ended up with about 40 entrepreneurs and investors sharing ideas and making connections on the slopes at Wachusett. We’ve received nothing but positive feedback from participants, and are already planning next year’s event. If you need your life sciences company funded in New England, this was the place to be. Leading VCs, good food, a perfect venue, and some fun on the slopes. The non-skiers even had a productive and fun day.

Sorry to ramble on about how great I am. Maybe you can comment how great I am…

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