What is an Entrepreneur in Residence and why does Endicott have one? Read on to meet Gary Magnant, CEO and Co-founding Partner of Triple Sharp Venture Engineering, and learn more about the role he plays in bringing biotech startup success to the Endicott campus.
What is your position here at Endicott and how did you arrive here?
A few years ago when I was the CEO of Sage Science, I realized that students at teaching colleges were not receiving the same opportunities to learn to use the latest high end scientific instrumentation as students at grant funded institutions. I reasoned that students who were trained on the most advanced tools would receive high quality internships and would have a competitive advantage when apply for jobs. I conceived a collaboration between several colleges, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and numerous companies to help the colleges purchase high end machines. Dr. Wylie was the first college president to embrace the concept, and he convinced his peers. Dr. Wong then coordinated a multi-institution effort to receive a $5M grant from the Mass Life Sciences Center and enable each institution to have a specific center of excellence within which students can be trained. We received the top score and the full grant. It was this funding that led to the purchase of the DNA sequencers and related instrumentation in Endicott’s sequencing lab. After this success, Dean Wong and Dean Page asked if I would consider the role of Entrepreneur in Residence. I was honored to accept.
Tell us about the Biotechnology start-ups on campus here:
I am close to two of the biotechnology startups here at Endicott as they are about to become Triple Sharp funded and guided portfolio companies. SeqWell, which is led by Drs. Joe Mellor and Jack Leonard, is working on revolutionary new DNA sequencing technologies that are ultimately expected to lower the cost of clinical sequencing and dramatically expand the number of sequencing applications possible. We believe that SeqWell’s technology platform will work, and ultimately help millions of people. Prospective Research is being led by Dakota Hamill and Jake Cotter, two young and brilliant entrepreneurs who are developing a new drug discovery platform based on the screening of millions of microbial environments. The basic premise is that a new antibiotic or anti-cancer drug may be discovered in your backyard. They are offering a kit to microbially mine dirt samples from microenvironments the world over and plan to share in the financial rewards if a drug is discovered in a customer’s dirt samples. Exciting stuff!
What is the venture engineering fund?
In traditional venture capital (VC) funds, the general partners take large salaries. For larger funds (>$500M) annual salaries are $1 million to $1.5 million or more for each general partner – whether or not the fund is successful. The VC’s place large bets on their portfolio companies in the hope that each bet might return their entire fund or more. Of the few successful funds, the dogma is that 1 investment in 10 will deliver a big win, but 7 or 8 will fail altogether. For the past 15 years the venture capital industry as a whole has failed to return the invested capital, let alone show a profit. For the rare VC investment that does succeed, the scientific founders are often so diluted down that their rewards are very poor relative to the earnings of the VC’s and their investors. It is time for a new venture model to emerge and compete with VC.
Triple Sharp’s Venture Engineering fund model is markedly different from that of VC. In our VE fund model, each fund is small (~$15M) and the general partners, or venture engineers as we like to call ourselves, are paid modest wages. They work side-by-side with the scientific founders of each company during the early stages of the investment. They first take the founders into the field to interview 100’s of people – every constituency of relevance to their business. We call this the 100 Sharp Minds process.
All of these interviews lead us to the best plan, and most important customers and strategic relationships. We end up constructing the management team from the relationships we build. By the time we have completed the 100 Sharp Minds process, we know who the best strategic partners, customers, and buyers are for the company. We have other ‘secret sauce’ venture engineering processes that further reduce risk and optimize each outcome. Our goal is to create a lot of value quickly in each company, then lift them up into the hands of larger companies who have the distribution channels and other skills to rapidly take the new technologies to market. Lastly, we structure each investment using a principle of parity, so that everybody wins – the scientific founders, and the venture engineers and their investors each win approximately equally. We hope that VE will become the new VC in the coming decade. We hope that VE will enable thousands of new technologies to be successfully commercialized to help a world in need. We hope that our new VE model will help create wealth and shared prosperity for everyone who participates. And it will be pioneered right here at Endicott!
This model is being replicated around the world – what is so special about it, and can you tell us a little about the replication?
There are a couple of Silicon Valley funds focused on software, IT, and related technology that have used similar, hands-on approaches with great success. One such fund helped Google get off the ground. To the best of our knowledge, Triple Sharp is the first life science fund to adopt this model. We believe we are also the first to adopt the VE fund name and model in the life sciences. We hope and expect that over the next 2-3 years our first few VE funds will generate returns on par with the best VC funds. If so, then we expect to globally scale our model, placing several small VE funds in technology centers across the US and eventually the world. The first step is to prove the model and generate great returns.
What’s your favorite thing about being the Entrepreneur in Residence here at Endicott?
Just being a part of the Endicott community is a joy. The faculty and staff are amazing. The students are curious, courteous, and capable. I love hearing new ideas for businesses and guiding young entrepreneurs to greater success. I am especially grateful to Dr. Wylie, Dean Paige, Dean Wong and all the faculty, staff and students at Endicott for their support and kindness.
How can students connect with you and get involved?
It depends on what students are looking to do. If they are seeking internships within our life science portfolio companies that should probably reach out to their internship coordinator first. I should note that we need all kinds of interns, not just biology interns. Help with our marketing communications, PR, 100 Sharp Minds projects, IP and competitive due diligence, etc. are all needed. I am working with Eric Hall, the Dean of Endicott’s Internship and Career Center, to coordinate Triple Sharp’s internship outreach. I expect that we will soon have a system to interview and engage interns. Lastly, like many entrepreneurs, I often work late and can be found in the Callahan dining hall having dinner. I would welcome the opportunity to meet with students over dinner and chat about their business or internship ideas. I can also sometimes be found in Gerrish 349 where Triple Sharp rents a conference room. If I am not too busy, I am always open to meeting new folks and making new friends.
GARY PAUL MAGNANT, MS, CEO and Co-founding Partner of Triple Sharp Venture Engineering in Beverly, MA. Age 53. Married 28 years with 3 children. Mr. Magnant served as the founding CEO of Sage Science and Thrive Bioscience, both located in Beverly, MA. He also co-founded and served as CEO of Owl Scientific (currently a Thermo Fisher company – NYSE) which was acquired by Erie Scientific, a division of Sybron International (NYSE) in 1995. Mr. Magnant also served as the founding CEO and President of Merlin Technologies, a developer of antibiotics, which later changed its name to ActivBiotics (Lexington, MA). Magnant is also a co-founder, former CEO, and Chairman of ThermoCeramiX (Montreal, QC), an advanced materials company. He also served as the Vice President of MJ Research, a premier manufacturer of thermal cycling instruments for genomic research, which was acquired by Bio-Rad. He is connected at senior levels throughout the biotools industry.
Magnant currently serves on the Board of NetBio and Sage Science. He is a past Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Stoneridge Children’s Montessori School (now Harborlight-Stoneridge) in Beverly, MA. In June 2012, he received the Hallowell Award, given to one member of the Stoneridge community in recognition of exceptional efforts and support of the school. Magnant received a BS in Biology from UMASS-Dartmouth (formerly Southeastern Massachusetts University – 1982) and a Master’s in Microbiology from Montana State University (1985).