Strategic Adviser for BioHealth Innovation Inc.
Tania Fernandez came to the biotech initiative through the venture capital world, where she worked in Silicon Valley and spent 16 years managing investments in companies.
What is the biggest way your day will change in your new role? My day won't really change. I am a classified workaholic. I will continue to do what I have always loved doing: working with entrepreneurs, building companies and looking for good investment opportunities in the biotech/life sciences/health care sectors. BioHealth Innovation has built a very commendable ecosystem for startups, and I look forward to the opportunity to build out that ecosystem with them as we get ready to fund raise for the BioHealth Gap Fund.
One thing you wish everyone knew about your job? I founded DreamCatcher Ventures after having spent more than 15 years in hard-core academics and a decade in venture capital financing. I have watched people get burnt either because they were not grounded enough (which translates into operational weakness) or had their head way above the clouds (which translated to being unrealistic about long-term success and sustainability of business models). I created DreamCatcher Ventures with a simple goal to "Build the foundations for dreams." That's what I want people to know about my job. This quote by Henry David Thoreau, which is the tagline for DreamCatcher Ventures, says it all: "If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them." For entrepreneurs there is a fine line between being stubborn and being persistent, an even finer liner between being a visionary and having unrealistic expectations. In my day-to-day job, I work with clients to bridge that. It is great to dream but you need to have your feet planted on the ground. I believe in the power of dreams combined with the excellence of execution.
If you could trade places with one person for a day, who would it be? No one, really. I am grateful for what I have and what I am building. I don't need to trade places. Besides if I did that, I would lose a day and life is short. Every minute counts.
What's your best habits as a leader? Integrity and transparency. I am very committed to my work and the people I work with. I am big on loyalty. I am loyal to my team and I ask the same from people I work with. I am also very self aware. I constantly take the time to reassess strengths and weaknesses and act on them. I challenge the people who work with me to do the same and to understand the best and worst of human nature and at all times be prepared to deal with it. The world is not flat. Cultural differences and different working styles in business are important to recognize and integrate. I believe in understanding and integrating learnings on a day-to-day basis.
What's your worst habit as a leader? Being tough on people who are driven by selfish agendas and don't work towards a common goal as a team. I have no patience for that.
What do you think has been the most impactful drug development so far? There are many discoveries in drug development that are important in their own right, and there is a place in the hall of fame for several of them. For me personally, it is the discovery of recombinant DNA. In 1973, California biochemists created the first recombinant DNA organism, which formed the scientific basis for modern biotechnology. I believe this methodology was one of the many remarkable scientific advances that eventually led to the approval of the world's first recombinant DNA drug product, human insulin (Eli Lilly's Humulin). In the 32 years since the FDA's approval of Humulin, r-DNA human insulin has proven indistinguishable from pancreatic human insulin, has been proven both safe and efficacious for millions of patients, and, as a result, has almost completely displaced animal-source insulins.
Based on your experience in Silicon Valley, what's one thing Maryland still needs to bolster its biotech industry? Institutional capital. Only 2 percent of total venture investment dollars is flowing into Maryland versus 40 percent into California. Maryland has great scientific talent. What has been lacking is the ability of companies to raise larger syndicated investment rounds that will get them to a point of exit. A high percentage of life science companies in Maryland grow through bootstrapping, which slows their progress. I believe that the BioHealth Gap Fund will address what is an essential bottleneck in the biotech industry in Maryland — access to capital.
Biotech bet you wish you made: Amgen in 1982, but unfortunately I was in high school.
Where is your favorite vacation spot? With my family. Never really mattered where it was, whether it was national, international, the beach, the mountains or wildlife forests (thanks to my sister). We created our favorite vacation spot no matter where we went.
What is your greatest extravagance? Books and food. I am totally a foodie.
What word or phrase do you most overuse? "Just give me the facts." Everything else is an opinion. I am amazed at how much people ramble on, which forces me to overuse that phrase. It is for good reason that it is said, "Facts are priceless, opinions are worthless."
Which of your personal attributes has made you most successful in your career? The ability to combine vision with practicality. I am very self disciplined and maintain a high personal bar for performance.
What's one thing you're glad your employer didn't know about you before you were hired? I don't think I have anything to hide. I think it is a complete waste of time to pretend and then keep up with pretences.
What's one thing you can't live a day without? God and my family
Best lesson from a mentor? "You must be the change you wish to see in the world."
What keeps you up at night? The passion to create, the drive to succeed, the zest to live life to its fullest
Which D.C.-area leader do you most admire? Dr. Francis Collins [director of the National Institutes of Health and leader of the Human Genome Project]. For his leadership in scientific excellence, for his passion and focus on the translation of scientific research, for his holistic nature, for his amazing ability to march into unconquered territories and explore the intersection of religion and science. I have the deepest admiration.
Reprinted with permission from the Business Journal, click here to view original article.