INTERVIEW WITH MARIO MARTINEZ, BIOMEDICAL ENTREPRENEUR
A couple months ago, Dirk got an e-mail from Georgia-based Mario Martinez who said that he read "Biotechnology is Murder" in one sitting. The story was right up Mario's alley. He is a biomedical engineer who makes a living putting together biotechnology transfer and product development deals.
An exchange of e-mails showed that the scientist and the engineer had a lot in common. When living in Miami, Mario had organized the Biomedical Exchange, a monthly Saturday morning forum for biomedical scientists, engineers and executives. In fact, information gained from the Exchange had helped Dirk to market his drug microencapsulation invention.
A month ago, when in Ft. Lauderdale for a presentation at a venture capital forum, Mario took off a couple of hours to drive down to Miami and take Dirk out to lunch in Little Havana. They traded experiences war stories. Dirk said it was one of his most interesting conversations in years. Dirk made Mario's company the Pick of the Month for September, and sent Mario a list of questions for this interview.
DIRK: Would you describe yourself as a venture capitalist?
MARIO: I am not sure I would describe myself as a venture capitalist. What we do at TechGeorgia Nexus is serve as a technology accelerator by bringing together the different elements required to get a product to market, being closely involved and providing a structured process.
I see a venture capitalist as one that supplies the financial capital and sometimes management advice. We bring much more than that. I believe TechGeorgia Nexus could be a model for future start ups not just in medical and biotech but in other industries.
DIRK: What kind of personality does a guy or gal need to be successful in the type of technology development work that you do?
MARIO: You need to be open to new ideas and curious, you need to suppress your ego and take pride in the creation of new business models without being concerned about getting the limelight. I kind of see the job as similar to the guy with the brush in the sport of curling that clears the ice to direct the stone.
DIRK: It was interesting to look at your bulletin board.
Do you really use those types of questions on interviews of job applicants? What sort of an answer would you like to get on the Pope/flat earth question? What sort of answer would flunk the candidate?
MARIO: I have used those questions and other unusual questions. There is no real right answer to many of them you are looking for reaction composure and honesty. If someone gets flustered that would flunk him out for some roles in the early stages of a company where the ability to deal with the unexpected is key.
DIRK: Which is more important in your line of work -- intelligence or creativity?
MARIO: Practical applied intelligence (street smarts), flexibility and people skills are key to success in my line of work. I have seen many intelligent folks that have academic smarts or specialist knowledge that are extremely successful in Industry or Academia but would fail miserably in a start up environment. The optimum is what I classify as a "Street Smart McGuiver" with a few successes and a few failures in his past.
An example of what I mean by this scientists in the U.S. needed to come up with an instrument that would write in the vacuum of space and spent millions in developing a pressurized pen. The Russians looked at the same problem and bought a pencil. I want the guy that sees the problem for what it is an provides simple elegant solutions. I want the pencil.
DIRK: I notice your company serves inventors, applied scientists and investors by bringing all three together. Do you see yourself mainly as a catalyst?
MARIO: We see TechGeorgia as the nexus where cooperative but autonomous entities come together to achieve more than each of us could independently. We are more the beaker and the process than the catalyst. The catalyst is usually the inventor or the monomaniac with a mission.
DIRK: Have you ever had any bad reactions?
MARIO: Sure, those are learning experiences, often even a very bad reaction can be the basis for a greater success that you did not expect or plan for. God works in mysterious ways and has a wicked sense of humor.
DIRK: Can you tell me about the deal that you are most proud of?
MARIO: It may sound trite, but I think my wife of 22 years is the deal I am most proud of.
DIRK: That would be my personal answer, too.
MARIO: In a professional sense it has to be either the creation of the Biomedical Exchange with Santiago Leon (of ACC Hall, Inc., Miami, and community leader) or my contribution to getting EP Technologies from a concept to a very successful IPO and later sale to Boston Scientific.
DIRK: What would be your advice for a college graduate who wants to go into biomedical venture capitalism? Get a Ph.D.? Get an MBA? Or hop right in? And if so, where?
MARIO: There is a old Spanish saying that it is not the same to talk about bull fighting than to fight the bulls. Go fight the bulls.
DIRK: Are you planning to do this type of work until you are 70, or are you going to cash in your chips after making the first $10M?
MARIO: I consider myself a student of life and this is just another phase in my study. Who knows? Perhaps I will decide to teach, go into politics (The First Libertarian Governor of Georgia) or write a novel. The one thing that is certain is that I will never stop learning and growing. The moment that happens you start withering away.
DIRK: What was the name of that restaurant in Little Havana where you treated me to lunch?
MARIO: El Pub. It has been there since the early 60s. Just one of the many holes in the wall that a "student of life" finds in his travels.
DIRK: Thanks again, for the great lunch and for this interview.
MARIO: Thank you for writing a most entertaining book. I am looking forward to your next one.
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