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operating company and are fully funded to support both our operations and seed investments in companies we found. We therefore have the resources and flexibility to spend time on the heavy lifting that’s involved in translating academic innovation into commercial products. Given our structure and focus, our interests are completely aligned with our academic co-founders.
We see ourselves more as an institutional entrepreneur focused on starting companies, rather than a venture fund that typically invests in companies.
X: How many new companies do you expect to launch in 2011?
DZ: We have about six companies in formation right now and typically form between two to four companies a year.
X: How do you find technology with which to form companies?
DZ: We review about 800 academic technologies each year according to therapeutic or theme areas and we primarily look at the strength of the “pure technology” rather than the management team or business model. We form these companies with the leading academic experts in that theme or therapeutic area and then we manage the company’s initial scientific milestones until we are convinced that the technology is viable. At that time we will bring in external funding sources or partners and build out the permanent management team. Once that happens, our role transitions to a board role in the company, similar to a traditional venture fund.
X: What are some of the emerging fields that PureTech is looking into nowadays?
DZ: We have been working very intensively exploring ways to measure and modulate the human microbiome (or the billions of microbes that live in our bodies) that can impact a number of therapeutic areas. We believe that this emerging field may potentially be as important as the human genome was and we are working with the leading people and have multiple new companies in formation in that space. [Editor’s note: See more details on the firm’s work in the microbiome field in our recent Vedanta story.]
Another area we find exciting is the application of device technology to areas that have been traditionally addressed through drugs.
X: Which venture firms in the Boston area are investing in brand new biotech startups?
DZ: I’m not sure what the strategy of other firms is. There are a few that say that this is what they do but I have not been tracking their investments closely enough to say whether that is indeed how they are investing.
X: Do you find it’s tougher for PureTech to find other VC firms to help fund your startups?
DZ: Not at all. We usually have our choice of competing syndicates of venture funds we can work with for any company we form. We are doing a lot more with strategic partners directly, like we are with Enlight Biosciences and other initiatives. I am not sure that venture capital is always the most attractive source of funding for entrepreneurs. (I have talked about this concern before on Xconomy in my “Venture Model Makeover and Diet Plan” post.)
X: What are your feelings about the intense interest in Follica and its technology?
DZ: It’s understandable because it’s an area that has a significant unmet need. Follica has great technology and the leading people in the world involved. Everything is being managed to the highest standards with a focus on doing rather than talking.
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