Kytopen is working on an adaptive cell therapy in which a person's own cells can be engineered to fight diseases such as blood cancer and genetic disorders. The company recently raised a more than $32 million Series A round led by North Pond Ventures. How Paulo Garcia, the company's CEO and co-founder, balances the need to fund the venture and the need to spend time on the development of the venture and its key technology is "the billion-dollar question."
"You need to work on your technology to be able to attract capital," he says. "You need to be able to demonstrate scientific advances to be able to generate some commercial traction, and they work together. We've been very lucky to be able to advance all three in parallel but I will say that can only be done by really spending time recruiting a team that you trust and that can help you get the technical work done, advance the science so that as a CEO you can brag about all of the results that the team is generating."
The funding round was led by Northpond Ventures, a firm that's focused on life science and technology. Garcia says North Pond was the company's top firm in part because they have expertise in diagnostics, in platforms and tools and also in therapeutic companies.
"That network that they have built in terms of companies that we could potentially collaborate with is one of the key aspects that is attractive to us," he says. "In addition, they have been tremendously helpful in connecting us with other investors, which is really critical when you're trying to close out a round. And so they led a round, they connected us to multiple high-caliber investors and they continue to open their doors to help us think through the strategy and the deployment and execution of what it takes to maximize the likelihood of success because they have done it before and they have worked with many other companies in similar and synergistic technologies. We're extremely excited to have them on board and continue to get their guidance in the process."
While the capital a potential investor can provide is important, so is the knowledge, experience and background that they bring to the table. But more than the money, it's the individuals that can tip the scales.
"When you're talking about a therapeutic collaboration or an academic collaboration or partnership, it's all about the other individual that you will be working together," he says. "And that relationship has to be there, and there has to be an additional reason than just the funding if that is an opportunity for the company. Certainly, we were looking for a partner that can share our vision — our vision is a long-term vision of impacting patients' lives, specifically with the engineer cell therapy approach. That's a long horizon. Alignment, in terms of what it will take to be successful from the early stage, is important. All of our institutional investors understand that, they support it and that makes for a really good collaboration moving forward to really hit those metrics and impact patients' lives, which is what is driving us."
Raising money, he says, takes a significant amount of energy and effort. Entrepreneurs must be cognizant of that and prepare for a journey that could take six to nine months to close. Because of that, he says you need other team members to keep advancing the science.
"Don't underestimate the amount of time and effort that fundraising takes, irrespective of the size," he says.
It's also important to continue developing relationships with investors along the way because when you're ready to raise the money, there are already relationships there that offer a place to start or some friendly advice.
"We received some advice early on as to what were some of the things that the investors wanted to see, so we went out and achieved those things and then went back to the investors and it worked out really well," he says. "Don't be afraid to finish some of those conversations with, What would you like to see the next time that we talk? because it's all about showing progress and gaining momentum. That's what the investors like to see."
Garcia spoke earlier this year at the Boston Smart Business Dealmakers Conference about Kytopen, it's progress and how he balances fundraising with advancing the business. Hit play aboce to catch the full conversation.