TAKING THE REINS OF A HEALTHCARE TECHNOLOGY INVESTMENT COMPANY
French by birth, based in London and doing business in the San Francisco Bay-area biotech community, Dr. Francois R. Martelet brings two decades of global experience in the biotech industry to NetScientific Plc, a biomedical health care technology company that funds and develops diagnostic and digital health technologies.
Dr. Martelet speaks four languages — French, English, Swedish and German — and has lived and worked in seven different countries. Now, as CEO of NetScientific (a post he has occupied for just under a year), he is navigating the ins and outs of the Bay area’s business culture while guiding NetScientific in its ambitious plans for U.S. expansion and as it invests in and manages early and mid-stage health care technology companies sourced and vetted through strategic partnerships.
In an interview with Ashton Tweed, Dr. Martelet talks about the differences in doing business between the U.S. and Europe, fundraising challenges and why pre-vetting potential investment prospects is so important.
First of all, how does doing business in the U.S. differ from Europe?
Interesting question. I like the U.S. business culture. It’s very focused on results, achievements, authenticity and honesty. I really appreciate that. Europe is also a very strong environment for business, but has particular cultural nuances to negotiate.
Did anything about doing business in the U.S. surprise you?
The speed at which business decisions in general are made was quite striking to me in the beginning, but then I got used to it.
What is NetScientific’s focus?
NetScientific is a biomedical health care technology company focused on improving the lives of patients. The company is based on three pillars: diagnostics, digital health and therapeutics. We have two leading companies in the U.S. in the San Francisco Bay Area, and we have other assets on the East Coast and in the U.K.
Our focus is building companies. We staff companies, we invest in them and we appoint talented and experienced CEOs. Once we have reached a significant value-inflection point we move towards value-creation opportunities such as an IPO or a trade sale.
NetScientific has a fairly small organization in London, about 10 people, because I want to keep us “lean and mean.” We’re essentially a support platform for our companies in the San Francisco Bay Area. The companies on the East Coast and in the U.K. are still in the start-up stage.
Our primary focus, from an investment standpoint, is on five companies in which we have majority shareholdings, and we have other assets in which we have a minority shareholding.
Which U.S. companies in the Bay Area has NetScientific invested in and what do they do?
One is Vortex Biosciences in Menlo Park, Calif., which focuses on detecting and isolating cancer cells. This is a very hot area in cancer management, and Vortex aims to be game changing and disruptive with its technology. We intend to build this company to become a significant player in the cancer diagnostics field.
The other company, Wanda, is a digital health company that aims to significantly reduce the risk of hospitalization, and improves the quality of life for people with chronic conditions. It focused initially on congestive heart failure. We’re trying to provide a system that allows patients to be at home while being monitored to prevent hospital readmission.
We are the only investor in both companies and we have fully staffed those companies. NetScientific is very well equipped to help those companies grow. These two companies are really at the forefront of health care today. Digital health is a new and fast-growing area, and we are really at the vanguard of this field.
What is your biggest challenge as CEO of NetScientific?
It’s always a challenge to raise money, whatever the amount. It’s really important to convey the right message to your shareholders and make them understand that you are here for the long term. You need this kind of investment to be able to grow the company to a valuation inflection point that will enable them to get the maximum return.
Our focus for this year is to build a U.S. investor base. We need to raise our visibility in the U.S. and that means attending conferences and meetings and generally building a presence.
Do you plan to set up a U.S. headquarters?
Down the road, yes. With Vortex and Wanda, we do currently have a significant base in the San Francisco area.
Where are you in the development of a global advisory board?
We want to have a global advisory board that provides company-by-company feedback and also advises the diagnostic unit and the digital health unit. We seek to attract the best possible leaders to participate, and to prioritize their advice and guidance.
Why did you transition from holding senior positions in Big Pharma to developing start-up biotech companies?
Having spent so many years in Big Pharma, I really wanted to work in an environment where I would be fully responsible. In biotech, you don’t have a safety net; the buck stops with you, basically. I like the entrepreneurial spirit and the energy you need to have in biotech, and the opportunity to work on very exciting projects. And, although I had very senior-level jobs in Big Pharma, I always had a boss. Of course, with a biotech company you always have a board to report to, but it’s very different.
I very much enjoy working with NetScientific’s chairman, Sir Richard Sykes, who provides me with a lot of guidance and wisdom. Sir Richard hired me as CEO and one of the great things about him is that he does not micromanage you; he empowers you and lets you make your own decisions. Of course, I am accountable for those decisions, but Sir Richard is more a mentor or a coach. It’s harder to find this kind of relationship in big organizations.
What do you think of the start-up culture in the San Francisco Bay Area?
It’s one of the best environments in the world for health care, and is very targeted and results driven.
Ashton Tweed would like to thank Francois R. Martelet for this interview. If your company needs help from members of the Ashton Tweed Life Sciences Executive Talent Bank, we can supply that assistance either on an interim or a permanent basis. Additionally, if you are among the many life sciences professionals affected by the changes in the industry, Ashton Tweed can help you find the right placement opportunity — from product discovery through commercialization at leading life sciences companies — including interim executive positions and full-time placements. In either case, please email Ashton Tweed or call us at 610-725-0290. Ashton Tweed is pleased to continue to present insightful articles of interest to the industry.