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Close-up: Randy Socol

Local attorney loves helping companies seek financing, new technologies

Randy Socol

Board meetings aren't the most glamorous aspect of running a business.

In some cases, they can be downright tedious. But they are a necessary function to update investors, make decisions and take care of housekeeping items.

For Randy Socol, however, it's one of the best parts of his job.

The San Diego attorney, who represents financial transactions for both emerging and established companies in the biotech and technology industries, loves hearing about where his clients are headed.

"I'm there sitting in a room with really smart people, who've had amazing experiences," he said of the approximately 10 to 12 board meetings a month he attends, "but also I'm getting to see different styles, and I'm getting to interact with management."

"I get to see what kinds of developments have occurred during the last quarter, and it adds a little bit more (to the job) than just sitting and working on a contract."

The innovation surrounding the kind of startup companies Socol works with -- especially in the biotech-nurturing environment of San Diego -- is what drew him to become a transactional attorney in the first place.

"What attracted me was the opportunity to work with a lot of very smart people, but also see a lot of cool new technology or be part of new science at a very early stage," said Socol, a partner with the global law firm DLA Piper.

He also really likes the relationship aspect of being a transactional attorney.

"Generally speaking, you're working together -- even with the other side -- to create value one way or the other, versus litigation, which naturally is more adversarial," he said.

Socol has a friendly, outgoing personality, developed during a Midwestern upbringing. He was born in Cincinnati, completed his undergraduate work at Northwestern University and earned his law degree at the University of Michigan.

He decided Southern California was the place to be, however, while watching an Iowa-Michigan football game from the clubhouse of a San Diego golf course one October. He and his friends had just finished playing 18 holes in sunny, 75-degree weather. On TV, it was snowing in Ann Arbor.

“I was like, ‘I'm done,’” he remembered thinking at that moment.

The next year, 1999, Socol moved, finding a home at the law firm Gray Cary Ware Freidenrich, which would later merge with DLA Piper.

Despite uprooting his life and moving nearly 3,000 miles, Socol discovered his Midwestern ideals fit right in with the San Diego culture.

"This is a tight-knit business community," he said. "There are a lot of transplants in San Diego, so people are generally welcoming if you put forth the effort.

"I felt like because it was a relatively tight-knit business community, I was able to develop a strong, enjoyable network fairly quickly. Lawyers from San Diego are very respectful of each other because it's a small community and we run into each other."

Socol, who handles everything from financing to mergers and acquisitions, has thrived in his new home.

Recently, he helped San Diego startup aTyr Pharma secure $59 million in financing to advance its first drug candidate, and represented local Web-based financial services company Global Analytics in a $30 million debt financing.

Additionally, Socol helped a Qualcomm (Nasdaq: QCOM) subsidiary acquire a software startup and represented Qualcomm as it made a corporate strategic investment in an inventor of camera technology for mobile devices.

"It's been a busy, nonstop year -- not just for me but for a lot of people in the office," he said.

His busy schedule proves that it's a good time to be running a startup business.

"There's more money out there than ever before, in the sense that angel investing seems to be more popular than we've ever seen it before," he said. "More people are stepping up and wanting to invest in technology companies.

"On the flip side, once you're past the initial funding phase, it's more difficult than ever before to get that first professional round of funding done. So you need to accomplish more than ever before."

According to Socol, big pharmaceutical companies increasingly have been looking to outsource their research and development, resulting in their acquisition of local biotech operations.

There's also been an influx of alternative funding sources, including corporate investors. Several companies are setting up venture arms, like the convenience store chain 7-Eleven.

"I think it's a great thing," he said, "especially in this environment where there's less traditional venture capital money out there. Having corporate investors step up and provide the financing resources is great, partially because they can provide other resources to their portfolio companies."

All of it means Socol will continue to be busy in the near future and remain a fixture at local board meetings.

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