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Senyei: From the medical field to birthing companies

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There was not a road map Drew Senyei followed to alter his career from being an obstetrician to becoming a venture capitalist.

At the age of 29, while Senyei was in his third year of medical school, he founded a biotech company, Molecular Biosystems, a wholly owned subsidiary of Alliance Pharmaceutical Corp. (OTCBB: ALLP).

He took the company public and soon found his way down a new career path.

During the “In the Executive’s Chair” course at California State University, San Marcos on Wednesday, Senyei spoke about the transition and utilizing his medical background in the venture capital industry.

When Senyei graduated from school he said the venture industry did not exist as it does today.

The total industry raised about of $600 million during his medical career, while last year it was close to $100 billion, according to Senyei.

For more than 20 years, Senyei has worked funding early stage medical companies as managing director of Enterprise Partners (NYSE: EPD).

He has helped start 34 companies and is credited with 20 patents in the biomedical field.

Senyei said “birthing a company” is “exhilarating.”

Although there is no specific background to be a venture capitalist, Senyei said there are risk-taking genes where there is an inclination to take chances yet have the ability to develop, nurture and hone opportunities.

Senyei’s credo is “dare to be great” and advised students “to shoot for a level of excellence.”

While venture capitalists are not in “the game,” or not visible to the public, they play a role in guiding the company's progression.

Senyei compares the development and business relationships to athletes and coaches.

“The CEO and management are on the field and make it happen day to day,” Senyei said. “The VC or board members are really on the sidelines, coaching the CEOs, trying to help them and enable them to succeed.”

He acknowledges having a mentor is critical, but said people have to succeed or fail on their own.

A common mistake CEOs and active boards make is “micromanaging instead of empowering” the people hired to do the job, Senyei said.

A successful company is measured through financial dimension as well as how the products benefit society, Senyei said.

As far as the traits of a potential investment, he looks for opportunities that have not been met by the market along with the people involved in the project.

A good leader has a “drive to infuse passion” and be able to communicate to all levels of the organization, Senyei said.

While having a vision is important, he added the ability to be flexible to adapt and integrate with environment changes is also a vital quality.

Networking is important in all aspects of life, especially when it comes to funding a new idea. Senyei said he receives about 2,000 business plans a year and only funds six. “Most of those six come people I know, that I trust,” he said.

Senyei added, “luck comes from the network you are involved in.”

He advised students to find someone in their related network with viability and credibility to forward their plans.

Senyei also told students to keep elevator pitches concise and said business plans are still needed as back up material to support their claims and data.

Education is “a great equalizer in our society,” but Senyei emphasized experience in any field is essential.

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Online Videos

* Drew Senyei's class discussion

* Interview with Drew Senyei

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