San Diego Entrepreneurs Exchange Provides Networking, Support for Early-Stage Startups

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he was talking with other CEOs about Small Business Research Innovation Grants (SBIR). The grants are invaluable to companies that are too early stage to attract venture capital, Thacher says. Venture-backed companies generally are not eligible for the grants, but there are proposals in Congress to ease that restriction. Such a change would intensify the competition for funds, Thacher says.

This is an issue that places very early-stage firms at odds with venture-backed startups. “The problem is that to a larger firm, SBIR funding is a nice add-on, whereas for Orphagen, we would not be here without it,” he says.

SDEE has a broader mandate than SBIR funding. “I see it as strengthening the wagon train,” says Scott Struthers, an SDEE member and founder of Crinetics Pharmaceuticals, a San Diego-based startup working on drugs for endocrine diseases. Like the pioneers who settled the West, “we are separate but we are traveling together,” Struthers says. “If someone needs water or has a wheel break, we help each other.”

The kickoff meeting begins at 5 p.m. on March 10 at the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute auditorium. Panelists Richard Lin, CEO of Explora Biolabs; Gonul Velicelebi, CEO of CalciMedica; Jiwu Wang, CEO of Allele Biotech; and Douglas Lappi, president of Advanced Targeting Systems, will discuss their startup experiences.

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Denise Gellene is a former Los Angeles Times science writer and regular contributor to Xconomy. You can reach her at Follow @

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