San Diego’s Connect Names Pharma Executive Greg McKee as CEO

Xconomy San Diego — 

Connect, San Diego’s nonprofit program that supports technology innovation and entrepreneurship, today named Greg McKee, a healthcare and financial industry executive, as CEO. He is the fourth leader at Connect, an organization founded in 1985 to help innovators start and build new biotech and technology companies.

McKee, 50, succeeds the late Duane Roth, who led Connect for nearly seven years. Roth died Aug. 3 from a head injury he sustained while bicycling in the Cuyamaca Mountains east of San Diego.

Like Roth, McKee has spent most of his career in the life sciences industry. In a statement released this afternoon, Connect says McKee was a co-founder of Global Bio-Link, a specialty pharmaceutical company that worked to commercialize new drugs in markets outside the United States.

McKee’s LinkedIn history shows he’s been working more recently as the founder and chairman of GMcK Ventures, a La Jolla investment and advisory company focused on healthcare and technology innovation—and as a managing director at STS Capital Partners, an international investment banking firm in La Jolla.

Greg McKee

Greg McKee

Before starting Global Bio-Link in 2012 with former executives of Genzyme’s international division, McKee served as the chairman and CEO of Akela Pharma and its predecessor company, Nventa Biopharmaceuticals. Akela officially ceased operations last year. Previously, McKee held roles as the head of corporate development at Valentis, and in senior management roles with Genzyme Corporation in the U.S. and Asia. He lived and worked in Singapore and Japan for nine years and speaks fluent Japanese.

ViaCyte CEO Paul Laikind, who is currently chairman of the Connect Foundation, said in the statement from Connect: “Finding a strong, visionary new leader for the organization after Duane Roth’s tragic accident was a challenge. With the appointment of Greg McKee as Connect’s CEO I believe that challenge has been met. I look forward to seeing Connect continue to thrive under his capable stewardship.”

Ted Roth, the president of Roth Capital, Connect board member, and brother of Duane Roth, said just as San Diego’s innovation ecosystem enabled Duane to succeed, “I have no doubt that same system will be there to support Greg, bringing CONNECT and our region to new heights.”

McKee’s deep experience with healthcare and the life sciences industry, however, raises at least some questions about his ability to help San Diego strengthen and diversify its innovation ecosystem on the tech side—especially in the local software sector.

“Connect’s selection team was very aware of the need to find someone who could reach out to all parts of the community,” says David Titus of the San Diego Venture Group.

David Hale, a renowned San Diego biotech entrepreneur who served on Connect’s search committee, agreed, saying, “It is something we talked endlessly about.

“We were looking for the best candidate for the job, whether that was on the tech side or life sciences,” Hale added. Connect also has a strong working relationship with tech industry organizations like CommNexus, as well as staffers who came out of the tech industry, an equivalent mix of tech and life sciences programs, and good representation on its board from Qualcomm and other tech companies, Hale said. “I’m sure [McKee] will reach out to the tech side and build on the outreach that Duane developed.”

Brant Cooper, a leader in San Diego’s startup community who was critical of Connect in a provocative blog post last year that became known as “Brant’s Rant,” said by phone this afternoon that McKee has his work cut out for him. “We’re here to help and support him on the tech side.”

“It must have been a tremendously challenging task attempting to replace Duane Roth,” writes Jeb Spencer of TVC Capital, a San Diego private equity firm that specializes in software investments. “Though he was irreplaceable in so many ways, it is impressive that the Connect team was able to find such an experienced and knowledgeable individual to build upon Duane’s legacy.”

CommNexus CEO Rory Moore writes in an e-mail this afternoon that he did not know McKee before Connect’s CEO search process. Moore described McKee as “a very likable fellow” and says, “He comes in with a nice understanding of the pharma space. I look forward to working with him. He has a lot of energy too.”