Biotech in a Garage: It Can Work


(Editor’s Note: Carl Weissman submitted this in response to a feature story about entrepreneur Johnny Stine, who clearly relishes building a biotech startup without venture capital.)

Stickin’ it to the VC Man? I am not so sure. Different businesses require different business plans. Some of those business plans support venture capital backing, others are more appropriate for angel investors, and some work best when they are bootstrapped by the founders.

In addition, those different business types also require different characteristics of the folks that found, run, and work in them.

Few people may know or remember this, but the company currently called Life Technologies was bootstrapped out of a garage, largely by a guy named Joe Fernandez who long ago left the company. They were profitable early and stayed that way, scaling their business as they went along.

Johnny Stine has found a business that he can bootstrap. Johnny has the guts, determination, and personality to roll up his sleeves, dig in, and not only be the guy isolating antibodies but also the guy who is hanging sheetrock, mudding, and painting.

His is not a business that would work well for traditional venture capital. And he knows it (and maybe revels in it…). Google Ger van den Engh and his company Cytopeia that he built in basically a “garage” in north Seattle. His company got purchased by Becton-Dickinson for what I promise you was a significant amount of money (I know Ger, and I know he would never give up his independence unless it was an offer he could not refuse). Cytopeia was also a business not easily suited to traditional venture capital, although I am sure his angel investors did very well.

Who knows if Johnny’s company North Coast Biologics can become the next Life Technologies. Or the next Cytopeia. But as I said months ago, I would not bet against Johnny.

But stickin’ it to the VC man? I don’t think so. Johnny has found a business model where VC’s should not get involved. And it suits him well. Good for him. We should all be so lucky.

Carl Weissman is senior advisor to Accelerator, a joint investment vehicle in Seattle backed by a syndicate of venture capital firms, and was previously Accelerator CEO and chairman. Follow @

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One response to “Biotech in a Garage: It Can Work”

  1. A bit touchy, aren’t we, Carl? I guess Healionics doesn’t fit the VC model either?
    Here, on the other hand are a few companies that do fit the model: Action Engine, Ambric, Tzero…