Unconventional investors

In the Bay Area, investors are a dime a dozen. Credentials for the job must come as part of the Successful Entrepreneur Gift Pack handed out after an idea nets a 9-figure payday.

Relax. I’m only (half) joking.

Investors are the lifeblood of the startup culture. But just because their numbers are strong doesn’t mean that getting even 30 seconds of their time is easy, as I found out first-hand while peddling my own idea a few years back. But I was one of the lucky ones. No, my idea didn’t get funded, but I was fortunate to have a few seconds of their time and make a pitch.

Some would view my experience as a failure. But as I see it, I met some of the brightest minds in the investing community, people who gave me honest feedback, and helped me figure out how to strengthen my proposal.

There’s an increasing trend where investors, both angels and VCs, are staffing their firms with people who have advanced scientific degrees -- PhDs and MDs. As a business-naive scientific mind, I found it often helps to have someone in the meeting room during the pitch meeting who chewed the same dirt that you did. No matter how skilled of a communicator you are, there will always be things that fall through the cracks as you try to convince the people with the money why your idea will revolutionize healthcare, medicine, or biotech. And I’m thinking that the advanced degrees in the room are there to not only prevent the investors from funding a project that doesn’t have legs, scientifically speaking, but to also make sure that a really sound idea doesn’t get lost in translation.

There’s a cool news update at Xconomy that talks about Milena Adamian, an MD/PhD cardiologist who’s been a venture capitalist at Easton Capital since 2007. Aside from her VC work, she was heavily involved in the earlier stage angel investing community since moving to the Bay Area four years ago.

But when she recently transferred to her firm’s NY office, she found the angel investing community she loved was non-existent on the east coast. So what does an investor who’s been in the thick of the Bay Area startup scene do when something she wants doesn’t exist? Damn right, she says screw it and forms her own company. Adamian now serves as the Director of her own angel investing forum, the Life Sciences Angel Network (LSAN), that operates in collaboration with the New York Academy of Sciences.

The idea of LSAN is to give NY-based life science entrepreneurs the fuel they need to get their ideas off the ground, at a time before most VCs would even shake your hand let alone hand you a single dollar bill.

Adamian is a facilitator. And in my mind that means that there's been times she's had to put lab rats born without a business bone in their bodies in their place, backhanding them for thinking ROI means Risk of Infection. And on the flip side, I'm guessing she's had to dropkick a penny-pinching, tightwad investor or two as they start thumbing through Wikipedia on their smartphone during a meeting to find out what in situ means.

Yeah, yeah, I know it’s easy for the formerly jaded scientist who now sits in the peanut-gallery roadside grandstands where the science and media information highways meet to say how great this initiative will be. But in all seriousness, with people flummoxed over the idea that we may be producing too many PhDs, it’s cool to see people pushing the bounds of what’s been considered “non-traditional” jobs for advanced scientific professionals.

Photo via Flickr / stevendepolo

Brian Mossop is currently the Community Editor at Wired, where he works across the brand, both magazine and website, to build and maintain strong social communities. Brian received a BS in Electrical Engineering from Lafayette College, and a PhD in Biomedical Engineering from Duke University in 2006. His postdoctoral work was in neuroscience at UCSF and Genentech.

Brian has written about science for Wired, Scientific American, Slate, Scientific American MIND, and elsewhere. He primarily cover topics on neuroscience, development, behavior change, and health.

Contact Brian at brian.mossop@gmail.com, on Twitter (@bmossop), or visit his personal website.