A Close-Knit Team

“I hadn’t been intending to run another company at that time,” Walker recalls. “But the opportunity here was so potentially game-changing that I had to consider it. I called Mike and Corey and they both said ‘yes, this is real.’”

Walker tapped Goodman to be chairman of iPierian’s board of directors, a position Walker himself had filled at Goodman’s previous company, Renovis, a developer of innovative therapies for pain, prior to its acquisition by Evotec.

And after the BioSeek acquisition in February, he immediately brought Venuti on board too, as president and chief scientific officer, and ultimately, as his successor. Walker and Venuti had previously worked together as well, at Axys Pharmaceuticals prior to its acquisition by Celera, where Walker was president and chief executive, and Venuti was senior vice president of research and preclinical development. Venuti had previously held senior positions at Genentech and Syntex, and had worked with leading venture capital firms, including Kleiner Perkins.

Starting a company with a group that has worked together previously is an approach that greatly enhances a startup’s chances of success, according to research on startups from M.I.T.

Walker’s hand-picked start-up team has impressive credentials. Venuti, his successor as CEO, holds an A.B. from Dartmouth College, and a Ph.D. in organic chemistry from M.I.T. Goodman attended Stanford University as a Searle Scholar and earned his B.S. in biology with distinction and honors. He was a National Science Foundation Fellow at the University of California Berkeley and earned his Ph.D. in neurobiology. While Walker attended SUNY and Kellogg, his degrees are in business, but it could be said that iPierian’s outgoing chief executive really went to school at the American Hospital Supply Corporation. This now-defunct company, little known outside the industry of health care products and services, spawned an unprecedented number of current leaders of biopharmaceuticals, medical device and other health-related companies.

Walker’s tenure at American Hospital inoculated him with the company’s institutional values of practical intelligence, self-motivation and strong interpersonal skills. Walker rose through the ranks there to become president of the American Hospital Corporation, the decidedly low-tech side of the business; And, though he has no formal training in science, when he moved to California, it was for the opportunity to run a number of biotech start-ups on the cutting edge of new technology.

He is not a scientist,” said Robert Ruh of Korn/Ferry International. “But he has always enjoyed the company of leading scientists and working with them to turn the most advanced science into a viable business.”

At iPierian, that task now falls to Venuti, who said he will welcome Walker’s continuing presence as a senior adviser. “Under his leadership, the company has emerged as the leader,” in utilizing adult stem cells. This is was evidenced by iPierian’s recently being awarded research grants from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine and the National Institutes of Health. Winning grants is one thing; winning in the marketplace is quite another.