Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A day out with the Board

Directors2My UK company, CamStent, is moving through three major milestones this month: the feasibility results that determine our technology viability, the formal close of our fundraising round, and the change in governance.  The latter one is the focus this week: we are adopting new Articles, appointing new Board members, and moving forward as an investor-run company rather than a founder-run company.

It’s a big, and welcome change.  Granted, I’ve loved establishing the company, acquiring technology, identifying the market, and recruiting staff and service providers.  But the questions are covering more areas that are outside of my experience at the same time that the answers become more consequential, leading to commitment of resources that can’t be undone.

A typical problem is the “deep vs. broad’ choice.  We have two possible customers for our anti-microbial products; medical device vendors like Bard or Medtronic, and medical material vendors like Dow or BASF.  If we want to appeal to the first , we need a focused portfolio of results that will lead to regulatory approval for an investigational clinical trial. In the second case, we need to complete a spectrum of physical tests and demonstrate resistance to a range of organisms.

This is a situation that requires” time by the river”: my thesis advisor said that there were problems that couldn’t be solved by searching the Internet.  They required a block of uncommitted time for *thinking*.  Bill Gates famously takes a yearly sabbatical just to read and think; astronomer Kip Thorne keeps a cabin in Oregon for solitude and reflection.

However, that can also become an exercise in naval gazing, yielding only solipsistic homilies.  To be effective, you need to add a social component, discussing ideas with experienced peers.

The Dutch were really good at this: our management team would take a day off-site every month, sometimes to discuss strategy, sometimes to “fix the plumbing”: always to communicate, clarify, share, and decide.  And to have a great lunch.

DirectorsAnd so it was with my Board (mijn raad van bestuur).  We spent a couple of hours going through the chemistry and microbiology results, discussing what is known for sure and only assumed, speculating as to how this might affect market opportunities.  They challenged my thinking about where the line was between being a device or a drug (or both: a Combination Device).  I think I’m on the right side of being a device (with a simplified regulatory pathway), but it was an insightful discussion.

I almost succumbed to my old vice of arguing with a recommendation when I needed to take a note and investigate it: it’s a  fine line between clarifying and arguing an issue.  I need to remember to listen and to take time to react.  And I need to follow-up on promises to get information or to make a contact.

But overall I found the experience very worthwhile and enlightening.  We have these scheduled monthly and I’m looking forward to seeing how the dynamic and teamwork grows.

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