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Q&A: Adina Mangubat, CEO & Founder, Spiral Genetics (Part One)

Adina Mangubat is the founder and CEO of Spiral Genetics. She was named one of Forbes ’30 Under 30′ in 2013 for Science and Healthcare, and one of the Washington Biotechnology and Biomedical Association’s Women to Watch in Life Science. Adina has twice been a speaker at the GapSummit and a mentor for the Voices of Tomorrow Competition.

We were fortunate to get some time to catch up with Adina and get her thoughts on the GapSummit, careers and career development in biotech, and being a young biotech entrepreneur. This is part one of our Q&A.


Adina Mangubat, CEO, Spiral Genetics

You’ve been a speaker, panellist and a mentor at the GapSummit. Both of them. At this year’s summit, what was your personal highlight?

Adina: That’s a good question. I personally really enjoyed the pitches this year a lot. I thought that they were really great. The teams did extremely well this year and I think it’s in large part because they had more time to prepare. That’s made a huge difference in their ability to really deliver things clearly, to have really creative ideas that they had done a lot of research on. The quality of the pitches was really solid and the idea diversity was really great too.

So, I was inspired by the creativity of the Leaders of Tomorrow and for me – since I started my company out of a similar kind of pitch competition – for me it’s always very nostalgic to look at it remembering this is how we got started. This is the birthplace of a lot of ideas and so I’m really excited to see which ones actually move forward in the next couple of years.

What do you think has most improved since 2014?

Adina: I think the panel diversity was great. The moderators did a really solid job this year in making sure that all sides of view were really heard. Also, the set-up of who was on various panels made it so that there were people representing all the different sides of each topic.

In particular, the Public Perception panel provided a diverse look at a very important conversation about how we, the scientific community, may or may not communicate with the general public about what is and isn’t going on inside of research. It really highlighted how important it is to make an effort to make our work more accessible and make it something we’re actively including people in.

What would you like to see more of at future GapSummits?

Adina: I connected with the incoming GapSummit team about this. One of the things I would love to see is something really specifically focused on the entrepreneurial track. Matt Scholz, Tim Guilliams, and I were the ones representing that career option.

It’s clear to me that there are a lot of Leaders of Tomorrow that are interested in entrepreneurship and they just don’t know how that process works. Having a panel, presentation or workshop that really covers things like “How do you even start a company?” “What is it like pitching your business?” “What do they look for?” “What’s the difference between Angel investors and venture capitalists?”

Really examining entrepreneurship as a career option is important. Most of the time the expectation is that you go into industry, or you go and continue into academia, and you get a job as a Professor. But starting your own company is an option. It’s a challenging option, but it can also be so worthwhile. It was so clear to me that there was a huge hunger and interest in that area, which didn’t have its own session.

So, I think it’s safe to assume you do think that events like the GapSummit are important for the biotech industry. Why do you think that it’s important for us to have these kind of events that bring together people like yourself – young people who are a bit more established, some of the older more established people, and younger people coming up in the biotech industry?

Adina: I think that that’s where innovation comes from. What I’ve found is, at least through my company, we have people that are much older than I am, much younger than I am. We span several decades within our company. I think the oldest person on the team is 60-something. And we finally hired an intern that’s younger than me, so I’m no longer the youngest.

I think that diversity breeds innovation. People that have had a lot of experience have a lot of knowledge and know-how that people who are young just don’t have yet. At the same time, the people that are young haven’t been told “No” as many times in their lives and don’t have as many limitations in their belief of what’s possible and not possible.

Bringing together the young folks and the people that have experience, and bringing people from academia and from the biotech industry and people that are entrepreneurial and putting them all in a room – it creates an environment that really allows for and creates novel thinking and innovation. Some of the most important times are not necessarily the structured times of presentations, etc., but more the conversations that happen on the sidelines – the water-cooler talk. That’s where new ideas are born. I know that there were companies that came out of the GapSummit two years ago that were ignited by conversations.

The GapSummit is a breeding ground and an environment for innovation.

In your own career, have you ever felt there was a lack of connection between yourself and the current biotech leaders at the time? Are there any differences that you see between the leaders of today and the leaders of tomorrow.

Adina: There is always some tension between different generations, but I wouldn’t say a lack of connection. When I look at the leaders in my field, like Francis de Souza at Illumina, it’s clear that he is just as driven to bring genomics to the forefront of healthcare and to impact humanity’s relationship with disease. In that sense, we are both striving for the same goals and I feel very connected.

One of the stylistic differences that I have seen between different generations of leaders is the value placed on transparency. I don’t want to make a blanket statement, and there are exceptions to every generalization, but I’ve seen many young CEOs place significantly more emphasis on the value of transparency than older generations. From my viewpoint, transparency seems to be extremely necessary and critical for the Millennial generation. We don’t have as much tolerance for secrecy, politics, games, or positioning.

Millennials also have different goals when participating in the workforce. It used to be normal and acceptable to have a job that you didn’t necessarily like, that you did just to pay the bills. There was very much this division between home-life and work-life. Today the line between home-life and work-life is blurring rapidly. I attribute it to being constant connected. There’s now an expectation that work shouldn’t just be survivable it needs to be “thrive-able.” Millennials require fulfilment in their work and need the transparency to see how their actions are impacting their organisations.

In terms of helping you in your career, did you have key champions? Were there mentors for your aspirations? How did you go about getting these people into your life; did it just come organically?

Adina: A lot of it was organic. I found that over time, at any given moment, there’s something different that any person’s dealing with – that they’re really trying to accelerate themselves in. And I reached out to people that I thought could help me with those particular things, whatever those might be. In the very beginnings, it was just business basics.

How do you pick a lawyer that’s appropriate for the area that you’re working in, how do you set up a term sheet for a new round of investment, how do you choose a price for your company to be valued at? How do I fire someone and do it in a way that honors them and honors the company? How do I deal with issues that come with being a woman entrepreneur? How do I empower the people on my team?

There are lots and lots of different issues and I found that I could find mentors to help me in each one of those. Sometimes those were people that were just recommended to me, and sometimes those were professionals I sought out – specific people who were experts in that area.


Read part two of our Q&A with Adina here.

Categories: Blog

Tags: GapSummit 2014, GapSummit 2016, Leaders of Tomorrow, SPIRAL GENETICS

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