Biotech Pioneer Steve Gillis on Life as a VC, How Today’s Entrepreneurs Can Make It, and Seattle’s Future in Life Sciences (Part 1)

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mandated by others or regulations, and at least part of the time, doesn’t really create a hell of a lot of value for anybody.

So, I wanted to do something different. Bob Nelsen had been dogging me for several years to come to Arch. I thought if I came, at least that would stop [grins]. Bob convinced me, as did the other partners, that Arch still believed that the best science will create the best products and the best companies. There really wasn’t any substitute for that. It certainly struck a chord of agreement with me. I think a lot of VCs maybe haven’t abandoned science, but certainly haven’t placed science at the level that I think it needs to be. They are looking for quicker fixes. Starting companies around assets that are discarded by others. That’s not something I really enjoy. It’s also not something Arch does a lot of. We’re certainly open to in-licensing assets, but only when they fit with a particular platform.

I like platforms. When I say platforms, I don’t mean tools, but I mean a base technology from which multiple products could flow. Those are the types of companies Arch likes to fund, and the type of companies I like being involved in. So it made sense to come.

I initially started as a venture partner, and the goal was that I’d work something like four days a week and screw off the rest of the time. But I found myself liking it. So I wound up working five, six, seven days a week. Soon after that, I became a managing director.

I do still enjoy it. The thing that I enjoy the most is the variety. And the exposure that I have to lots of areas of science that I certainly didn’t have when I had day-to-day responsibilities of running a public company.

X: Do you think you’re more of a natural for venture capital, at least to the extent that it appeals to the scientist within you more than being a CEO?

SG: No, I don’t think so. For where I am in my career, it’s almost a logical extension. I serve as chairman of a number of companies, so that keeps me fairly close to operations. Helping companies with financing, helping with dealmaking, making introductions, thinking about acquisitions those companies might be involved in. Adding technologies. I get to keep my hand close to operations, without having to do some of the dirty work or some of the things I don’t enjoy doing, like writing performance evaluations or all the trappings you have to do when you’re CEO, because there’s no one else to do them. Now I don’t have to.

X: Is it sort of like being a grandparent, where you get to go visit the grandkids, but the parent has to wake up at 3 am?

SG: It is a little bit, but by the same token, we have our money in these companies. So it’s not like you can just shut the door and say, “Oh, well, never mind.” You have to mind. That’s your money … Next Page »

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2 responses to “Biotech Pioneer Steve Gillis on Life as a VC, How Today’s Entrepreneurs Can Make It, and Seattle’s Future in Life Sciences (Part 1)”

  1. Evidently, Mr. Gillis knows nothing about Fleischmann, Pons and cold fusion. Their discovery was not a “goof up.” It was replicated in hundreds of major laboratories such as Los Alamos, China Lake and BARC. Thousands of papers have been published describing these replications, including 1,200 in peer-reviewed journals, which I copied from the library at Los Alamos.

    Gillis should read the scientific literature on this subject before commenting on it or reaching a conclusion.

    Our web site,, has a bibliography of 3,500 papers and about 1000 full text papers on cold fusion.

  2. shrikant Deshpande says:

    It was good to read the article about Steve Gillis. I liked him very much when he was at Corixa where I worked.