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How Loren Peterson Drove The Success Of A Drug Development Startup

Image courtesy of Loren Peterson

Loren Peterson’s path to a successful startup company began on a Nebraska farm. It was a half-mile from the nearest neighbor, 1 mile from where his Swedish ancestors homesteaded, and several miles from the closest town of 600 people. He spent a lot of time hanging out with his two siblings, stacking hay and irrigating cornfields in 100-degree heat, and reading books from the school library and the Bookmobile.

Loren graduated from the University of Nebraska with an accounting degree and found a job at a big accounting firm. He left to become the chief financial officer of a St. Louis pharmaceutical company — and found the industry in which he would make his mark.

After leaving the big pharmaceutical company, he moved to increasingly smaller companies. First, he headed and sold a respiratory drug company. Then, he was hired by a venture capital firm to turn around a struggling startup that was developing enzyme therapies for lysosomal storage diseases. He raised much-needed funding in a round led by Wisconsin-based investors and, as a requirement of their investment, moved the startup to Milwaukee. Five years later, in 2010, Loren led the sale of Zystor Therapeutics to BioMarin Pharmaceutical for $22 million, plus as much as $93 million more if certain milestones were met.

Here are Loren's tips for other entrepreneurs:

  • The biggest problem a life sciences startup faces is getting its development, regulatory and financing strategies working hand-in-hand. If you don’t have all of these aligned, you won't have a successful business.
  • Most startups can’t afford to have all the expertise they need in-house, so be networked in your industry and have relationships with people who have the in-depth knowledge necessary to help the company advance the scientific and regulatory aspects of the business.
  • Have a well-thought-out financing strategy and spend time executing it every day. There are any number of great life science technologies that never made it to market for lack of funding.
  • Don't overreact. Always stay calm and have the attitude that "this too shall pass." Even though it is a 24/7 job and problems can arise anytime, you need to be able to relax and enjoy the ride. If it’s not fun (at least most of the time) — it’s not worth it.
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