In 1996, Dr. Pedro de Noronha Pissarra founded the first-ever biotech start-up in Portugal. From then on, he started a long journey that ended in 2018 when the companies he founded where acquired. The company Biotecnol in drug development was acquired by Chiome Biosciences Inc. and the company Rodon Biologics in contract manufacturing of biologics was acquired by the Iberfar Group.
He started the companies with his own private funds and later with investments from private entities, private investors and with help from his closest network. He continued to build on the cash flow that came from the service leg of the operation which made him independent of large investors.
Today, he is CEO of Chrysea – a synthetic biology company developing naturally occurring Branded Ingredients™ for the healthcare, nutrition and wellness markets. He is a man that believes in standing up for himself and he has learned that failure is a part of the game. His advice is to extract the value from the failures – which he still tries to do better at – and move on quickly.
We spoke to him about his view on entrepreneurship after his BII Talk at the Square.
What does it take to be a life science entrepreneur?
It takes the right mentality. You need to have a lot of self-discipline, motivation, ferocious tenacity and utter resilience and you need to know what you want and push for it. I have seen many scientists that try to be business developers and I have also seen business developers that try to be scientists. It’s a mistake to want to be what you can’t be. Entrepreneurship is just not for everyone. It takes a great deal of sacrifice, patience and commitment and it is important to always be aware of your skills and limits. Be humble enough to surround yourself with people that complement your capabilities.
Which skills does it take?
First, it helps to have a technical or scientific background and it is also valuable to know some business and management concepts. Ultimately, nothing can though beat the “school of life”. It is not rocket science, but it is important to understand good practices in management and to be able to speak the financial language when interacting with investors and partners. Besides that, you need to have a game plan and ask yourself if you are healthy enough to go through with it. It will be tiring at times and you may end up with nothing many years down the line. One thing is certain, if you are in it for the money solely you are not going to make it. Money is a consequence of a good project and a project takes time and effort to build.
What is the common mistake you see amongst life science entrepreneurs?
That they try to adapt their business vision and strategy, both financially and technically to get support from financial investors. That comes back to the importance of having a game plan, that is adequately financed because financial investors are never happy, and they always want something you don’t have. You need to push for your own vision and path and not make the common mistake of giving in on it just because someone does not believe in it.
At your BII Talk at the Square, you emphasized the importance of network. Why so?
My network has been one of the most valuable assets I have built over the years. I have been through plenty of difficult moments in my career and every single time the companies I have been involved in have made it through, because of a door opening or an opportunity arising in my network. Speaking of opportunities, having an eye for them and taking them without hesitation is another thing that characterizes great entrepreneurs.
How do you network?
I drink beer with people, I go to conferences and I am sociable. When I come to a new place, I talk to people and understand what they do and what they are good at. And when I go for an opportunity, I make sure to establish a good track record and if I cannot honor a delivery, I bring another solution to the table. Most importantly, I am honest about it upfront because trust is a necessity in business.