CEO Roundtable: COVID a mixed bag on research output

COVID-19 has prompted a salvo of faster research and growth for some companies in Northern Colorado’s Life Sciences industry and has caused major lags for others.

That discussion was part of BizWest’s CEO Roundtable among a group of leaders of life-science companies and accelerators via video chat Tuesday morning.

COVID speeds or slows research and approvals

Rajan Bawa, the CEO of Fort Collins-based contract clinical study group CARE Research LLC, said his staff has had to come into the lab throughout the pandemic because it can’t take home the equipment needed to do research. The lab follows additional protocols to reduce the potential for spread of COVID-19 from employee to employee.

For some companies, those COVID restrictions haven’t slowed down their work rate. Bawa said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has prioritized anything having to do with COVID-19 research, including some work that CARE is doing on behalf of a client company.

“They’re supposed to respond in 30 days… and one of our sponsors got a response in two days,” he said.

For others, the holistic slowdown caused by COVID is cutting into their opportunity to enter the market.

Growcentia Inc. CEO Scott Wiley said his company’s soil stimulants are taking far longer to get approval. He said some of his product registrations are taking two to three months to be approved in the past year, compared to about a month in prior years.

“We have a pipeline of products ready for the market; we have demand in the market,” he said. The prime challenge for the company now is “crossing that hurdle” of regulatory approval.

For others, the lack of in-person work is hampering idea-building. Scott Compel, the CEO of AEMS Corp., is currently based in the Livermore National Laboratory in California but is seeking to return to Colorado as he did some graduate research at Colorado State University.

He said he would prefer to have a research and development partner nearby to hash out ideas face to face, but that’s difficult due both to COVID restrictions and the physical distance between where he is and where he wants to move his company.

“When you have a group of people that are working together, there’s a lot of serendipity that happens that you can’t really reproduce with Zoom,” he said.

Shawn Silverstri, the chief operating officer of Tolmar Pharmaceuticals Inc., said the 700 employees who are based in Colorado are being constantly reminded of following COVID protocols whenever they enter the office or manufacturing area.

“It’s been everything from (being) very transparent and open, communication by email… people are pleading with people to follow the instructions and reinforcing over and over again,” he said.

Others are finding opportunities to help keep other workplaces safe. Thomas Reilly, the CEO of environmental monitoring developer Access Sensors Technologies LLC, expects to see a “slingshot effect” of sales this year as more industries look to dip their toes back into having more people in the office or on the factory floor.

“Because people are now trying to catch up on all that work that was missed in 2020, we think that’s reason to be optimistic,” he said.

Funding, hiring on Zoom

SurgiReal Products Inc. CEO Andrew Hendrickson said his medical education company hired its entire sales team solely through video conferences and from recruiters. He said the online interviews are an advantage since the sales staff are making their pitches to clients over video chat.

“Seeing how people interview on Zoom, when that’s how we’re selling right now, has been a really wonderful approach for us,” he said.

Life sciences with access to public capital markets did remarkably well in 2020 despite broader economic turmoil. Mike Handley, whose company Cytocom Inc. recently moved to Fort Collins and is on the verge of closing a reverse merger to go public, said his company is looking to hire 10 to 20 new staffers in Fort Collins and 20 to 30 at the company’s other locations on the East Coast.

“With the potential of being a public company soon, there’s obviously a lot of folks we need to hire to manage that,” he said.

Steve Tober, the CEO of virtual reality medical education developer Perspectus LLC, said his company is seeking to raise capital, but is doing so cautiously as he is looking to pick a funding partner that works well with the company’s goals and strategies.

“I think there’s a ton of capital out there,” he said. “The question is, is it the right thing for your business and our business given how small we are?

Growing reputation, but room to improve

While the Boulder Valley has had the more dominant life sciences sector compared to Northern Colorado, some of the executives in NoCo believe the region is starting to attract more interest in earnest. Ben Walker, the life sciences director at Innosphere, said the accelerator is looking to open a session for potential medical technology startups focusing on COVID resiliency.

However, local infrastructure may be lagging behind a growth in interest.

Reilly said the lack of available laboratory space is an Achilles heel for the region. His company’s lease expires in May, and he’s currently looking for spaces that would fit the company’s needs.

“I think there’s room for improvement, but it’s not a bad place to be at right now,” he said.

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The BizWest CEO Roundtable is sponsored by Plante Moran, Elevations Credit Union and Berg Hill Greenleaf Ruscitti. Sponsor attendees included Chris Otto, Sean Nohavec and Becky Potts, Plante Moran; Ashley Cawthorn and David Kerr, Berg Hill Greenleaf Ruscitti; and Dennis Paul, Elevations Credit Union.

© 2021 BizWest Media LLC

COVID-19 has prompted a salvo of faster research and growth for some companies in Northern Colorado’s Life Sciences industry and has caused major lags for others.

That discussion was part of BizWest’s CEO Roundtable among a group of leaders of life-science companies and accelerators via video chat Tuesday morning.

COVID speeds or slows research and approvals

Rajan Bawa, the CEO of Fort Collins-based contract clinical study group CARE Research LLC, said his staff has had to come into the lab throughout the pandemic because it can’t take home the equipment needed to do research. The lab follows additional protocols to reduce the potential for spread of COVID-19 from employee to employee.

For some companies, those COVID restrictions haven’t slowed down their work rate. Bawa said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has prioritized anything having to do with COVID-19 research, including some work that CARE is doing on behalf of a client company.

“They’re supposed to respond in 30 days… and one of our sponsors got a response in two days,” he said.

For others, the holistic slowdown caused by COVID is cutting into their opportunity to enter the market.

Growcentia Inc. CEO Scott Wiley said his company’s soil stimulants are taking far longer to get approval. He said some of his product registrations are taking two to three months to be approved in the past year, compared to about a month in prior years.

“We have a pipeline of products ready for the market; we have demand in the market,” he said. The prime challenge for the…