How Loren Peterson Drove The Success Of A Drug Development Startup

Mar 25, 2020

Loren Peterson’s path to a successful startup company began on a Nebraska farm. It was a half-mile from the nearest neighbor, 1 mile from where his Swedish ancestors homesteaded, and several miles from the closest town of 600 people. He spent a lot of time hanging out with his two siblings, stacking hay and irrigating cornfields in 100-degree heat, and reading books from the school library and the Bookmobile.

From working in a financial firm to a big pharmaceutical company, Loren Peterson found that he thrived as an entrepreneur after he started working with increasingly smaller companies.
Credit Image courtesy of Loren Peterson

Loren graduated from the University of Nebraska with an accounting degree and found a job at a big accounting firm. He left to become the chief financial officer of a St. Louis pharmaceutical company — and found the industry in which he would make his mark.

After leaving the big pharmaceutical company, he moved to increasingly smaller companies. First, he headed and sold a respiratory drug company. Then, he was hired by a venture capital firm to turn around a struggling startup that was developing enzyme therapies for lysosomal storage diseases. He raised much-needed funding in a round led by Wisconsin-based investors and, as a requirement of their investment, moved the startup to Milwaukee. Five years later, in 2010, Loren led the sale of Zystor Therapeutics to BioMarin Pharmaceutical for $22 million, plus as much as $93 million more if certain milestones were met.

Here are Loren's tips for other entrepreneurs:

  • The biggest problem a life sciences startup faces is getting its development, regulatory and financing strategies working hand-in-hand. If you don’t have all of these aligned, you won't have a successful business.
     
  • Most startups can’t afford to have all the expertise they need in-house, so be networked in your industry and have relationships with people who have the in-depth knowledge necessary to help the company advance the scientific and regulatory aspects of the business.
     
  • Have a well-thought-out financing strategy and spend time executing it every day. There are any number of great life science technologies that never made it to market for lack of funding.
     
  • Don't overreact. Always stay calm and have the attitude that "this too shall pass." Even though it is a 24/7 job and problems can arise anytime, you need to be able to relax and enjoy the ride. If it’s not fun (at least most of the time) — it’s not worth it.