Interview With Dr. Harold Punnett
Describe your product or service:
“A drug to cure nerve damage.”
Describe your company values and mission:
“We were founded in response to one of the founder's daughter-in-law suffering trauma to her spinal cord resulting in her becoming a complete T-11 paraplegic. Our mission is to find a solution to paralysis and other CNS injuries — including but not limited to, stroke, TBI, multiple sclerosis, and Alzheimer's disease.”
How are you funded? I.e. venture capital, angel investors, etc.
“Initially angel investors, including the founders. We have utilized the Canadian public markets and have raised approximately 45 million to date.”
How big is your team? Tell us a little about them (I.e. co-founders, freelancers, etc.)
“We have a CEO, CFO, and CMO along with about a dozen at the operational level. We are in the midst of a Phase 1 human clinical trial and expect to be in three Phase 2 programs in 2022, including SCI, MS, and AD.”
Did you always want to start your own business? What made you want to become an entrepreneur?
“I own a dental practice and have for 37 years, so I was always naturally attracted to working for myself. I have always had an entrepreneurial aspect to my character, and in fact, my first job was one I created one summer — chopping and delivering firewood. But, I never expected to found a biotech company.”
"If you are passionate about your mission and you have something real to support it, then with enough work and enough belief, you can convince others to share your mission."
How did you come up with your startup idea? How did you decide to actually act on the idea? What gave you confidence that you were on the right track?
“I felt compelled to help my daughter-in-law Codi. I was unwilling to accept the nihilistic prognosis of the medical community that nothing could be done to cure paralysis. I searched the world for a likely technology. It had to be revolutionary, and it had to be far enough along the drug development path that I could interest investors. To my great surprise and delight, I found such a technology when I discovered Dr. Jerry Silver's research. He had discovered something foundational to why the nervous system had limited to no capacity to heal. And, he had discovered how to correct that and allow the nervous system to begin to heal itself. It turns out that there was always an ability to recover, but it was smothered by molecules that were part of the injury response. NervGen owns the patents to this discovery, and we are now in Phase 1 of human clinical trials.”
How did you come up with your company name? Did you have other names you considered?
“ReGen was considered [but] was taken. Various other permutations of nerve and regeneration were tried, but it wasn't until one of the key investors asked his wife for ideas that the name NervGen was born.”
What is the greatest challenge you faced in starting your business, and how did you overcome it?
“Convincing others that the impossible isn't. If you are passionate about your mission and you have something real to support it, then with enough work and enough belief, you can convince others to share your mission. Biotech is hard. And slow. But, the rewards for millions of people are so huge that I still get goosebumps when I think of the possibilities. It has been more work than I ever could have imagined, but it has also been the most exciting time of my life. Stay tuned. Great things may be about to happen.”
Who is your product or service made for? Who is your target market?
“People with nervous system injury or disease. Spinal cord injury, stroke, traumatic brain injury, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer's disease, and other dementias and neurodegenerative diseases.”
What's your marketing strategy?
“Too early for that for us. We have at least a couple of more years in drug development. However, a partnership with large pharma is likely the best path forward for us.”
What are the key customer metrics / unit economics / KPIs you pay attention to to monitor the health of your business?
“We focus on milestones: FDA approval, Phase 1 initiation and then completion, uplisting to a major exchange, Phase 2 programs beginning, etc.”
What's your favorite book on entrepreneurship?
“Funnily enough, I don't really read many books on entrepreneurship.”
What is something that surprised you about entrepreneurship?
“It didn't surprise me because I have owned a small business for almost 40 years, but the amount of work required was affirmed in this project. I usually tell people that for the first five years your new business will take 5X as much work for half the profit you think. There is a reason not everybody can do this.”
How do you achieve work/life balance as a founder?
“That's likely not really possible when you are in the early stages of a startup. But, it is important to try and make time for family. I have been fortunate in that my children are grown and have families of their own, so I'm well past looking after small children every day.”
How do you stay motivated?
“I think of my daughter-in-law, my son, and my grandchildren — and the millions of others who suffer from CNS injury and disease.”
Did you have to develop any habits that helped lead you to success? If so, what are they?
“I've always been an optimist. That is vital. The hard work today will pay off tomorrow.”
What are you most proud of as an entrepreneur?
“Founding NervGen. Believing that neurodegenerative disease or paralysis are not dead ends in terms of treatment. I strongly believe this will work, and we are getting closer and closer to that realization.”
More on NervGen Pharma
Dr. Harold Punnett, founder of biotech startup Nervgen Pharma, shared valuable insights during our interview that will inspire and motivate aspiring entrepreneurs.
We asked Dr. Harold Punnett, founder of Nervgen Pharma, to share the most impactful ways to support their startup, and this is what they had to say.