The concept of establishing and running a successful business has significantly evolved over the years. Today’s tech-driven marketplace requires businesses to be versatile and stay up-to-date with the latest advancements. Business leaders have to be adept to cater to the market needs. However, factors like people, capital, and skill are still the key attributes to running a successful business.
Enunciating his views on these core attributes, Javier Garcia (General Partner and President of Columbus Venture Partners) says, “In my view, people, knowledge, and capital are always the main factors for success, and my role is chiefly to bring them all together.” Javier is a seasoned entrepreneur and an expert in investment and business development. Leveraging his over 25 years of experience in the pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and life sciences industries, he has been playing a significant role in the growth of Columbus Venture Partners.
The Illustrious Journey
Javier is a Mathematician by training, having completed his Bachelor’s degree in Statistics and Operational Research from Universidad Complutense de Madrid. He also holds an MBA from Universidad Pontificia Comillas (ICADE). Always driven to transformation and creation, Javier started his first venture as an entrepreneur right after college. He developed the first software for pharmacies in Spain using personal computers in 1986.
In 1988, Javier joined Eli Lilly, where he spent 25 years. He had the opportunity to lead the digital transformation of the company in the areas of scientific and commercial innovation at a global level. Later, he joined the Business Development Group, where he learned the importance of external innovation and how to create an externally developed portfolio. His primary responsibility was to challenge the internal mindset with new ideas and possibilities. Javier mentions that the job at Lilly was the best job in his career that shaped what he is doing today.
A Social Impact
Javier founded Columbus Venture Partners in 2016 with Damia Tormo. The idea behind the establishment was to create a different business model when investing in biotechnology and life sciences. This model enabled the duo to lead several of the investments and ensure that the right technology and teams were assembled. “We do not consider ourselves pure venture capital people but rather entrepreneurs who use venture capital to ensure capital is available for those projects we identify and are ready to lead,” adds Javier.
Javier is particularly committed to impact the things that the company does. He believes that social impact is critical as it reveals the real purpose, as well as is a differentiating factor that attracts talent. Thus, Columbus Venture Partners realized that many of its projects could have a greater impact which would go beyond the technological goal and the return to its investors. The company created Fundacion Columbus in Spain and Columbus Children’s Foundation in the USA.
These foundations aim to give access to advanced therapies to children who suffer from diseases that nobody would invest in—as there is no clear economic return. They have established an ambitious goal (Target10: advance 10 ultra-rare diseases in 10 years). It is very advanced with one of the diseases (AADC deficiency also known as infantile Parkinson’s) and is working on four other diseases with several global organizations and institutions.
The transformation that gene therapy –promoted by these foundations– is bringing to the lives of these patients is remarkable. This is the case of Irai, a Spanish girl with AADC who “was a little rag doll” –as her mother defined her– that now begins to walk, talk, and even attends school, something unthinkable before the surgery. “The Columbus Foundation has changed our lives. It has given us hope,” says Irai’s father.
The commitment of the foundations extends to other rare genetic diseases that are also beginning to hope for a cure. Today, blind people can see, deaf people can hear, paralyzed people can walk, and others who were condemned to a short and dependent life due to a genetic disorder are finding a transformative cure.
To raise the necessary funds to carry out its work, the Columbus Foundation organizes benefit concerts with international renowned artists. “We believe in culture as a tool for personal development and social cohesion,” says Javier, “that is why we organize these unique concerts in emblematic sites around the world, the last one at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Spain last fall.”
Making a Difference
In addition to raising funds for the development of promising science, the most important thing according to Javier is that Columbus is directly involved in managing the projects with know-how and expertise that allows it to consistently maximize each project. The company is targeting new scientific developments that have the potential to make a difference and contribution to peoples’ lives.
Columbus initially started focusing on therapies, however, very soon it realized that manufacturing offered a new possibility that would balance the risk of the portfolio. “New scientific development is not possible without new ways of production. Therefore, for us, it opens a very differentiating option that makes us different from the other VCs in this space,” mentions Javier.
Bringing Ideas into Action
Being at the helm of Columbus, the things that Javier enjoys the most are seeking the most promising science and business opportunities, developing them once they are validated, and turning them into real-life solutions for people. Learning from great scientists and bringing the idea into action are his primary responsibilities as the General Partner of Columbus.
From his first company right after college and the learnings he received there to a very unique career at Eli Lilly that allowed him to learn key capabilities and get wonderful experiences, Javier has had numerous great highlights through his career. However, the most prominent and successful career highlight, according to him, is the creation of Viralgen in 2017 in San Sebastian—a company founded as a joint venture with AskBio to produce AAV for gene therapy.
The biotech ecosystem
Around Columbus Venture Partners, Javier and his partner have been creating an innovative and cutting-edge ecosystem of biotech and life sciences companies to meet the growing demand for products for clinical trials and commercialization of gene therapy treatments.
One of the most remarkable results of this business approach is Viralgen and the ecosystem that has been consolidating around it in the Parke Cientifico y Tecnologico de Gipuzkoa (Basque Country, Spain), which has become one of the world’s leading manufacturing biotechnology hubs.
“An interesting detail,” says Javier, “is that in the street where Viralgen’s facilities are located, there are currently more gene therapy manufacturing companies than in other city in Europe.”
The Impact matters!
Being an entrepreneur in the 21st century is not easy. Javier considers himself fortunate to have great mentors who told him to focus on the long run. He learned early on that—what matters is not what you do but the impact of what you do. “If you follow this, you will make decisions in your career that could be considered foolish by some people, but they are serving you well,” asserts Javier. Looking back, he predominantly values people who helped him and introduced him to the values that will be a part of his being for the rest of his life.
The Ideal Entrepreneur
According to Javier, ideal entrepreneurs are those who have the vision to improve others’ lives. He adds that entrepreneurs should—have a clear vision, think big, take risks without fear of failure, prioritize people, and learn from and listen to people’s experiences. Javier also believes that an entrepreneur should be a leader and should inculcate several aspects of leadership other than the obvious ones like defining the vision and empowering the change.
Javier mentions that there are four keys to success for a biotech entrepreneur, which include,
- A vision to establish a differential position on what they want to achieve
- Leadership to ensure they know how to drive the vision and face challenges
- Courage to overcome the barriers and deal with setbacks
- Compassion to understand the patient suffering and urgency
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