The Story Behind My Investment In Perlara

Almost two years ago, I met a founding team during Y Combinator batch. It was in a field I haven’t invested in before, but I have spent time in during a previous life and career. We met for coffee on the Embarcadero, and while my “life sciences lexicon” is quite rusty, I somehow managed to carry on an entire conversation and even (I hope) earned the respect of the founding scientists for being able to recall some of the core elements of why their company, Perlara, had a chance to make a big impact.

What was able to recall from my previous life in the world of life sciences? I remember that while traditional pharmaceutical companies needed to develop drugs to address large markets, a new wave of biotech firms emerged that would be able to more efficiently identify and serve less “popular” afflictions, often referred to as orphaned diseases. Fast-forward to 2016, CRISPR technology began to make headlines, and when I asked Perlara about the connection here, they lit up — we are now in a phase of biopharma where gene editing applied in these methods can help scientists develop cures for with rare disorders.

I asked to make a small investment, and Perlara agreed.

Earlier this week, Perlara announced a large round of funding, which you can read about here and here. While the team has been growing and progressing well, companies like Perlara don’t necessarily follow the funding trajectory we are accustomed to in startupland. Ultimately, Perlara was successful in raising a seed round (where I participated) and significant subsequent investment from the pharma industry (just announced). I can’t underscore how difficult that is to achieve when most dollars are looking to return a quick buck. So, a big congrats to the team, scientists, collaborators, and all the families and friends on PerlQuest journeys for their loved ones.

Perlara was more of a “learning investment” for me to see how the company operates (as a PBC), to see how these companies raise capital, to see what metrics matter, and to support the work of its scientists, which is undeniably huge. Digging a bit deeper, it is very cool to browse Perlara’s site to see the variety of tech startups the company partners with for various business functions, such as Vium, Benchling, and Science Exchange, among others. Perlara had six diseases in its 2017 pipeline which will double in 2018; company headcount will double to 20, adding to what is already an epic team; and the company is projecting $1M revenues from PerlQuests and much more from industry collaborations. That, in effect, validates my investment, as I know the intersection of CRISPR and rare diseases is a place today’s pharma giants will need a play in, but they themselves can’t apply this focus in-house.

I do not foresee myself investing in more life science companies in the future. This was a special case for me, and I am glad Ethan and his team were kind enough to invite me in. I do hope others with more focus in these spaces come into the ecosystem to support the next Perlaras on their journeys, and as you’ll see looking through their site, the results they strive for are painfully tangible.

Haystack is written by Semil Shah, and is published under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA license. Copyright © 2017 Semil Shah.

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