By guest authors Irina Patterson and Candice Arnold
This is the forty-second interview in our series on financing for entrepreneurs. I am talking to Chris Rivera, co-founder of WINGS, the Washington Medical Technology Angel Network. Based in Seattle, the group invests in medical devices, diagnostics and healthcare IT, primarily in the state of Washington and the Pacific Northwest, but they will review a high-potential deal from anywhere worldwide.
Chris also serves as president of the WBBA, the Washington Biotechnology and Biomedical Association. Both organizations, WINGS and the WBBA, focus on accelerating the translation of medical technology innovation from the lab bench to patients.
Irina: Hi, Chris. Why don’t we start briefly with your background and how you arrived at this point.
Chris: I got an undergraduate degree at Northwestern Oklahoma, [went to] graduate school at the University of Oklahoma Sciences Center, and then business school at Seattle University’s Albers School of Business and Economics.
Out of graduate school, I got into the biotech industry, more than 25 years ago. I’ve worked in biotech with a number of companies like Centocor, Cephalon, Genzyme, and Corixa. Then I was chief commercial officer at Tercica, and the founder and CEO of a company called Hyperion Therapeutics in the Bay Area.
Irina: And how did you end up where you are now?
Chris: The plan at Hyperion Therapeutics was to take the company public in 2009, and when the markets melted and there was no longer an IPO window, I cut the company down to just eight employees and kept the clinical group intact to keep some focus on the company’s lead compound, which was just in its starting phase, at that time. We had enough cash to do that.
And when I stepped down as CEO, I was contacted by the recruiter here at the Washington Biomedical Association to talk about becoming the next president.
The WBBA is the life sciences trade association for Washington state, so our goal is to try to increase the life sciences industry and ecosystem here in Washington, increasing jobs, companies, capital, and so forth.
Irina: How did WINGS come into existence?
Chris: In May 2009, we had a medical device CEO roundtable dinner at a local restaurant around here. There were about 15 local CEOs, and we were talking about challenges, opportunities, and issues.
I just asked them if we could do one thing to help the medical device sector in Washington, what would it be? It was pretty unanimous; they all said early stage capital formation.
So, we coordinated another, follow-on dinner in September 2009. It had about 65 high net worth individuals who had made their money in the medical device or medical technology industry.
We brought up a gentleman from Life Sciences Angels out of the Bay Area to have him walk us through their model and what they do down there. We had a very good discussion, with a lot of questions.
At the end of it, I asked the group if we help put this together, was there enough interest for others to get involved and become investors. It was pretty overwhelming. There was a lot of interest, and they just needed some kind of organization and coordination. So, we incorporated WINGS in January 2010.
We’ve had three investor meetings now. Our first one was in April. Our second one was in June, and we just had our third one about three weeks ago. WINGS is different from any other angel network in Washington, for two main reasons.
One is it’s focused only on medical technologies, diagnostics, medical devices, and health care IT companies.
Two, its screening committee is a pretty thorough group of experts. There are about 20 to 25 members on the screening committee. When a company applies to meet with the investors, they fill out an application through Angelsoft. The screening committee reviews the applications, and we identify the top three that we will put forth to the investor group.
At the first meeting in April, we had about 20, I think 28 companies applied. For the second and third meetings, we had 15 companies apply for each of three presenting spots.
We’ve had the first two meetings, the April and the June meetings. With six companies that applied, five of them have received funding, three of them from WINGS Investors and two of them from venture folks.
I haven’t heard feedback yet from the ones from [the third] meeting. It’s pretty early, but we’re optimistic that we’ll have some companies get some funding out of there as well.