Look up and down the Route 1 corridor. Lots of businesses, yes? And lots of them biotech, pharma, and health-related. So it follows that there must be some solid investment happening for new health science businesses in and around Princeton.
Well, there is, just not so much as you might think. Keep in mind, the Princeton region’s economic health, even in the face of the worst recession in a century, is largely due to the presence of a particular university and its investments in the area. Beyond Princeton University, though, there’s not as much investment into healthcare and health science startups by angels as it might seem, given Princeton’s title as the nation’s pharma capital.
Investors from outside Princeton have noticed the disparity, and they want to change it. Investors like Dana Callow, founder and managing partner at Boston Millennia Partners, see the potential for Princeton to tap into its growing prominence in all-around healthcare businesses, especially through technology-based businesses that can incorporate all this data flying around and apply it in a more targeted way to individual patients.
Callow was scheduled to join Katherine O’Neill, executive director of Jumpstart Angel Network, and Yaniv Sneor, co-founder of Mid Atlantic Bio Angels, to speak at the New Jersey Technology Council’s “Meet the Health Related and Life Science Funders” event on Thursday, June 23, at 5 p.m. at TRI Princeton, 601 Prospect Avenue. Cost: $40. Visit www.NJTC.org. Frank Silva, senior associate at Boston Millennia Partners, will take Callow’s place.
Princeton vs. elsewhere. What Boston Millennia Partners sees in Princeton is a surprisingly open market. Yes, Callow says, there is obviously solid investment in tech and healthcare startups here. It’s just not as much as in some other parts of the country.
As investors are increasingly looking east of Silicon Valley, they’ve found much success in helping to launch startups in North Carolina’s Research Triangle, the Midwest, and in Austin, Texas, Callow says. Austin took years to get going, but its government lobbied to get investors to the city, and even regularly sent representatives to New England to see investors, he says.
What’s made for successful investing and growth, Callow says, is having paid attention to the entirety of the tech business when investing. It wasn’t just capital: Investors in growth areas looked at companies that had thought through who their advisors would be and sent out representatives to help find the right talent and, most importantly, the right leadership.
Princeton, he says, could benefit from a little boots-on-the-ground work from investors, and a little more drive from local and state governing bodies — which have, he admits, been getting more involved. There’s just so much more that could be done.
What investors are looking at. It’s hardly news that healthcare and the way it’s practiced have changed. Treatments and costs have changed, pricing and revenue structures have changed, and the Affordable Care Act is here for keeps.
“It’s not going away,” Callow says of the ACA. “It may get changed, yes, but we’re not going back.”
What the ACA has brought to healthcare is an unprecedented level of entrepreneurship. “I’ve been in this business for 35 years,” Callow says, “and this is the most people I’ve seen doing healthcare startups.”
They’re just not happening in Princeton the way they ought to be.
At the same time as this national healthcare growth, providers and pharma companies are facing enormous price pressure alongside a public that wants to know just why their prescription and medical bills are so high. Customers, Callow says, are also not as informed about their healthcare and insurance options as they might believe. This has put insurance companies in the lead in the healthcare arena, where 70 percent of Americans are insured by one of four major insurance companies.
Informed customers, therefore, are critical to a healthcare company’s success, and companies that will be able to take the massive amounts of information out there in the ether and use it to provide more targeted healthcare options for patients — in other words, convert “big data” into “pertinent data” and eventually to “precision medicine” — will come out ahead.
Beyond tech, there’s leadership. So of course tech and the ability to use it to provide patients with more personalized care, “as opposed to selling them all the same Model T,” Callow says, is the (expected) future, but what a firm like Boston Millennia Partners looks for is the right leadership in a startup.
And by “looks for” we’re not talking about passively waiting for a good résumé to roll in. Callow and his firm, when looking into a potential investment market, actively look for the right leadership, people who have vision and can lead with enthusiasm, passion, and top-notch thinking.
That’s not as easy as it sounds. Putting the right leadership together is a bit like making the best baseball team you can. It’s no shock that teams rarely have even one locally grown player — they’re recruited from all over the world. Recruiting the right healthcare leadership needs to have a similar approach.
For Callow, top-down investing in healthcare startups is hugely preferable to bottom-up investing, meaning it’s better to invest in leadership first than in the basics. It’s just a matter of seeking (actively) the right people to take on the task of being healthcare entrepreneurs.
PS, remember the people. Callow, a native New Englander, is the son of Allan Callow, a world-renowned vascular surgeon who died just before New Year’s at age 99. Callow has spent much of his life aware of the sciences and medicine as a result of his upbringing. He graduated from Tufts in 1974 and started his career as an applications consultant with McDonnell Douglas Automation Company.
After getting his MBA from Dartmouth in 1979, Callow got into venture capital with Braxton Associates, and a few other firms. In 2014 he founded Boston Millennial Partners, which focuses on companies in the $1 million to $20 million investment range. Health care IT, pharmaceutical services, and medical device investing are major sectors for the company.
Callow is also a board member of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, and from this background, he’s seen a constant and lamentable decision of money over people that he’d like to change.
Going back to big data, he says, too many companies look at numbers and abstracts and not at people. And 80 seems to be the age at which healthcare stops trying to help people. In fact, Callow mentions a controversial comment from Massachusetts gubernatorial candidate John Silber, who announced that he would not let the state pay for a heart transplant for an 80-year-old because (and Silber quoted Shakespeare’s King Lear on this), “When you’ve had a long life and you’re ripe, then it’s time to go.’’
The argument there was more about money than age, and the wisdom of spending money on the old versus the young. But as Callow sees it, “an 80-year-old should not be turned down for treatment because of money.” He doesn’t want actuaries, who are beholden to shareholders, deciding who gets what care when.
After all, if his father had been let go at 80, Callow would have missed almost 20 years with the man.
“That’s the enemy,” he says, referring to thinking of people as commodity. “That’s what we’re up against.”
And to fix it, he says, takes leaders who will know how to make money and build businesses without sacrificing the humanity.
“Princeton has a lot of potential,” he says. “But it can’t just be run-of-the-mill CEOs in charge.”