How to Attract Smart People, Smart Ideas, and Smart Money

Opinion

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a process that grew a brick as durable as conventional clay bricks, but with a significantly smaller impact on the environment—no digging up the land for raw materials, no using heat to fire at high temperatures. Once she was able to show that this process could be replicated, she went on to attract attention from investors with an interest in sustainability, including Acorn Innovestments in Durham, Cherokee Investment Partners in Raleigh, and architect William McDonough, who sponsored a national contest that BioMason won.

Last year, Dosier was the grand prize winner—$670,000—in an international competition sponsored by Richard Branson, the entrepreneurial founder of Virgin Airlines.

BioMason, with help from Acorn Innovestments and the North Carolina Biotechnology Center, is opening an expanded lab in Raleigh and further increasing the team. And her bricks will get their first commercial application this year in San Francisco.

Novan Therapeutics

Here is one more story of a company with the right founder, big potential market, and the right connections.

Nathan Stasko was a Ph.D. candidate in chemistry at the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill, working in the lab of a professor with an entrepreneurial bent who was studying how nitric oxide could be used to treat a number of serious illnesses. In particular, these researchers thought that nitric oxide could be an effective replacement for some antibiotics that were encountering resistance from bacteria, and co-founded Novan, Inc. to tackle this huge public health threat.

Upon graduation, Stasko took the path less traveled and became the first employee of Novan Therapeutics as its president. Stasko enrolled in CED’s FastTrac class to learn the basics of forming a company, where he met other entrepreneurs and connected with a larger professional network.

As Stasko was just in his late 20s when he formed Novan, it would have been a challenge for him to attract investors on his own. Through the Research Triangle Park area network, he met industry leaders and other entrepreneurs who shared his vision. One of them became an investor and joined the board as Novan’s chairman, helping the company attract more than $20 million from an excellent pedigree of investors. Currently the company operates in a 20,000-square-foot facility in Durham and employs close to 40 full-time and contract employees.

It takes a long time to get a new drug to market, but Novan is making great progress. One of its products just received positive results from a phase 2 clinical trial, an essential step to winning FDA approval. The company also received top recognition from the U.S. Small Business Administration this year for effectively using $7 million in Small Business Innovation Research grants. And at the big BIO industry conference in San Diego, Stasko presented as one of four companies recognized as the “Buzz of BIO.”

The Rise of the Rest

Each of these deals represents a series of relationships built on trust, history, sector expertise, and timing. While the myth may be that a great entrepreneur does it all by him- or herself, that’s really not the case. It takes a great network, an understanding of how ideas can turn into products or services that people will buy, and some luck.

You can come see some of North Carolina’s rising stars at this year’s CED Tech Venture Conference 2014, Sept. 16-17 at the Raleigh Convention Center. And mark your calendar for the Life Science Conference, March 3-4, 2015.

When you meet our entrepreneurs, you’ll start to understand why the Triangle is a prime example of “The Rise of the Rest.” This is the notion that Silicon Valley, Boston, and New York do not have a lock on entrepreneurship and innovation. Raleigh and Durham join other “rising” cities like Austin, Seattle, and Denver with environments where great companies can form and grow—attracting smart people, smart ideas, and smart money.

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