Spotlight on Executive-in-Residence: Sam Kongsamut
The New Jersey Economic Development Authority (EDA) recently unveiled its second group of Executive-in-Residence (EIR) appointees. These highly-skilled life sciences professionals will mentor and advise emerging companies at EDA’s Commercialization Center for Innovative Technologies (CCIT) in North Brunswick. The EIR program was created in collaboration with BioNJ.
Over the past few weeks, @NJEDATech has delved into the back-stories of these EIRs. Today we highlight our fifth EIR, Sam Kongsamut, PhD, of Madison.
Sam Kongsamut, PhD, of Madison (EIR –Investment and Partnering Strategies) is an entrepreneurial neuroscientist with vast pharmaceutical research and development (R&D) experience, as well as business development experience. Kongsamut has spent his career involved with large and small companies, including Sanofi, where he was the Director of External Innovation, Aging Therapeutic Strategy Unit. He led a variety of multi-disciplinary drug discovery and development projects in neuroscience and aging (including schizophrenia, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, and Multiple Sclerosis). Kongsamut helped to lead these therapies through preclinical development and into clinical trials.
Kongsamut spends his time at CCIT providing guidance to tenant companies on the best ways to pitch investors and create partnerships within the industry. On Wednesday, February 24, Kongsamut will deliver a presentation at CCIT entitled The Importance of the Story in Team Building and Fundraising. The program is open to the technology community at large.
As a co-organizer of Launch NJ Life Sciences Hub, a Meetup group for entrepreneurs, Kongsamut keeps a finger on the pulse on what’s happening in New Jersey’s technology scene. He is also an adjunct assistant professor of Pharmacology at the Rutgers New Jersey Medical School in Newark.
Kongsamut earned a Master of Science degree from the University of Illinois at Chicago, and a PhD in Neuropharmacology from the University of Chicago. He subsequently became a Post-doctoral fellow at the Cornell University Medical College and then a Post-doctoral associate at the Yale University School of Medicine.
@NJEDATech asked Kongsamut about his experience with the EIR program and his plans for the future:
Why did you choose to apply to the Executive-in-Residence program?
I have known about the EIR Program since its beginning, and had recommended some former colleagues to apply. In June 2015, I had just left a small biotechnology company, attended the BIO International Convention in Philadelphia, and met up with BioNJ Vice President of Talent Services Vicki Gaddy and then-CCIT Program Manager Anne-Marie Maman at the New Jersey Pavilion. Both of them urged me to consider serving as an EIR at CCIT. I applied shortly thereafter, was interviewed in November, and the rest, as they say, is history.
The pharmaceutical industry is undergoing a major structural change from R&D performed in large corporate labs to R&D sourced externally. The term used for this is “external” or “open” innovation. I worked at Sanofi on external innovation until 2012 when the R&D site in Bridgewater closed. I have since been working with entrepreneurs and small companies, through mentorship and consulting; I have started a company myself, and worked for a small, virtual biotechnology company of seven people. I have also been working to try to convert big company scientists into entrepreneurs. Given my extensive background, I believe mentoring at CCIT will give me the opportunity to help smaller biotechnology companies grow and succeed. I’ve already had discussions with a few CCIT companies, including Grace Therapeutics, Hudson BioPharma, and Urigen, and hope to be helpful to them and others.
What do you hope to get out of this Executive-in-Residence program?
I hope to make more connections with entrepreneurial life science companies to both learn more about the challenges of entrepreneurship, and to help the companies make connections to further their development. The biopharmaceutical industry is an inherently multidisciplinary effort; with entrepreneurs, the multiple disciplines are typically outside the company. Hence, connections are critical.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve heard over the years that you hope to impart on these emerging life sciences companies?
Entrepreneurship is hard. Pharmaceutical R&D is hard. You should be congratulated on having the passion and energy to combine two really difficult things. Now get to work building your company and connecting with all the people you need to make it happen.
What is the next challenge you want to undertake in your career?
If I return to a pharmaceutical company, I would like it to be in an external innovation role. More likely, I will continue to work to develop the entrepreneurial ecosystem through consulting, advising and educating (through groups like Launch NJ Life Sciences Hub) to help life scientists remain in New Jersey, and continue to develop innovative medicines here. And if I find a technology or project that is particularly interesting, I may join or start a biotechnology company.
More information about EIR program, including eligibility, can be found at www.njeda.gov/EIR.
To learn about programs and initiatives that support New Jersey’s technology industry, visit https://www.njeda.gov/tls and follow @NJEDATech on Twitter and LinkedIn.