Just do it
Sam is the founding CEO of AdAlta and has over fifteen years’ experience in business development and commercialisation of early stage scientific technologies. Sam was recently involved in taking AdAlta public on the ASX, raising $10m in an oversubscribed IPO. Prior to AdAlta, Sam was the Business Development Director at the Co-operative Research Centre for Diagnostics. Sam has also worked for the biotech start up companies Sensologix Inc and Nephrogenix Pty Ltd and at the University of Queensland’s technology commercialisation companies, Uniquest Pty Ltd and IMBcom Pty Ltd. Prior to technology commercialisation, Sam worked at the lab bench at Agen Biomedical as a research scientist, developing a diagnostic test for point of care application, Simplify D-dimer, and was involved in taking this product from research through development and to production. Sam has a Bachelor of Science, a Masters of Intellectual Property Law and has completed the Australian Institute of Company Directors course.
“Just do it" Nike slogan.
I come from a background of science, completing my Bachelor of Science at Griffith uni before going on to work in a lab for five years. The lab that I first joined was working on developing a blood clot test, similar in concept to a pregnancy test but for those at risk of blood clots. I was involved in the development of the test from the research and development stage all the way through to bringing it to the market place over a 12 to 18 month period. Upon completion of the product I was offered a role in a similar project but I decided it was time for something different, I wanted to explore my options outside of science. I started studying law part-time, focusing in intellectual property which led me to a position in a technology transfer office at the University of Queensland. A technology transfer office looks at the technologies being utilised by the university, assesses them and then decides whether to raise money to fund them further or whether to licence them out to an appropriate partner.
After 5 years in that role, I again found myself asking what do I want to do next. I ended up in a cooperative research centre (CRC) for diagnostics who were in the process of wrapping the CRC up, a CRC being a group of industry companies working with academics around a certain focus. As part of this role I licensed a number of technologies and spun out a number of companies, including AdAlta which I am now the CEO of. The company had 12 months of funding from the CRC participants, and after being encouraged by the participants I applied for the role of CEO, which I have now been doing for the last 9 and a half years. AdAlta effectively raises the funds required to fund different science programs, science takes time and requires funds to take it from research to market. It also involves an element of risk, it is not straight forward and it is about constantly coming up with alternatives when things don’t go according to plan. You can’t rely on plan A or plan B, you need backup plans C, D ,E and so on. Currently we are focusing on two different technologies, a shark based antibody and a human based antibody known as ‘ibody’.
AdAlta has raised money from the public investors and capital revenue in the past, this last round of fundraising was the largest we had ever attempted, being $10 million. It required me to make a number of trips to the US in order to drum up funds, further challenged by the fact that the bar is set slightly higher for an Australian company in that they wanted us to be further along in our development, because of the fact that we weren’t located in the US. We listed on the ASX in August of 2016, allowing us to raise our target of $10 million, of which 60% was from institutions, the other 40% being from retail. We would not have been able to raise the entire amount from capital venture in Australia as it just does not exist. In every round of funding, my networks have been critical, especially those who have introduced me to the different investors, particularly from knowing people in angel communities who have often vouched for me.
The change from the practical or ‘tools’ side of science to the business or ‘commercial’ side of business was greatly motivated by my further studies, doing my Masters of Intellectual Property Law really opened up my eyes to the possibility of where a science degree can take you. The law degree opened up a number of new avenues that I would not have had access to if I only had my science degree.
Use of Networking
My network has been important to me in my career growth, but for me the real value of networking has been in the area of raising funds, it is something I have utilised in every round. It has been a very important tool not only for me personally but also for the growth of our company and its funding. The key piece of advice that I would give to people in terms of their networking, would be that it has to go both ways. You have to use your network, but you also have to back to it.
I was personally involved in the Springboard Enterprises project in 2013 run in the US, which takes female entrepreneurs from 10 different companies each year. The project take each company which is at its growth point and provide them with mentors who will review the company, providing honest feedback and recommendations of who and what you will need to grow your company further. The program has been running since 2000, the companies which it has aided have gone on to raise billions of dollars and around 80% of them are still in operation today. It is all about providing your company with a network, it provided me with the ability to ask to be introduced to investors over in the US and the program would then make this a reality.
Advice to myself and others
I think one thing I learnt throughout my professional life is to take opportunities when they are presented to you, you need to put yourself out there and surround yourself with the sort of people who are going to encourage you to do so.
The piece of advice that I would give to my younger self is to stress less, I used to stress about the things which I had little or no control over. Having said that though I wouldn’t change anything that I have done in my professional life, although things haven’t always gone to plan I have always taken opportunities. Things haven’t always been easy, there have been plenty of times when people have said no to me especially in the area of fundraising. You have to get use to people saying no, if you truly believe it what you are doing then you need to keep working hard and keep moving on.
The most important thing you can do is have the ability to get on with things and move forward when things don’t go to plan. You have to work hard to make sure you have various options in mind and that you are then in a position to pursue those options. Throughout my whole career I have been fortunate to be surrounded by the type of people who push me, but at the end of the day it has been my decision to take opportunities, even when there has been risk involved.
One of my favourite quotes is the Nike slogan ‘just do it’, the idea of just getting out and doing this is an idea that strongly aligns with my own approach. To not be afraid, the idea of what do you have to lose.
I really enjoyed the autobiography of Steve Jobs in which he tells of how he was able to take Apple from what it was to what it is now, it is all about paving the way for growth. The other book which really appeals to me is Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In, I think any female looking for advice throughout the different stages of their career, no matter what stage they are currently at, should read this book. It gives great advice on achieving work-life balance and how to get what you want out of life.
I can be contacted via our website, www.adalta.com.au as well as on LinkedIn. If people are interested in contacting me, please let me know what it is that you are wanting to get in contact with me about and I will be more than happy to assist.