October 6, 2021 BACK
Featured in this issue:
Founder Dr. Chorom Pak from LynxBio
Past Chairman Al Schneider
Welcome to the October 2021 issue of the Pasadena Angels newsletter. There are three companies that will present at the October 6th meeting briefly described below. Then, we profile a current startup founder, Dr. Chorom Pak, and current PA member (and past Chairman) Al Schneider.
Startups Presenting Wed, Oct 6
COMPANY: Bookelicious https://www.bookelicious.com/
Presenter: Laura Godfrey Deal Lead: Dave de Csepel
Bookelicious’ ecommerce platform feeds kid’s passion for reading by featuring a professionally curated selection of high-quality, diverse books and a gamified, AI-driven experience that personalizes the matching of high-interest books to readers. Before using Bookelicious, only 36% of kids found it easy to find books they wanted to read; while using Bookelicious, 80% of kids found it easy to find books they were motivated to read!
COMPANY: Sanctum Federal https://sanctumfederal.com/
Presenter: Kevin Mahoney, Jimmy Severson Deal Lead: Armen Martin
We have two scalable products 1. OnDemand Federal Sales Certification Training and 2. FedSalesTracker - SaaS Federal Sales Management solution and Services: Federal Sales Consulting. Business model: Each area of our business (products& services) assists in closing revenue in the other areas. Current customers include Microsoft, VMware, Carahsoft, Iron Bow, Epoch Concepts, and more. Our pipeline is healthy.
COMPANY: Cactivate https://www.cactivate.com/
Presenter: Wentao Xiao Deal Lead: David Mandel
Today, 62% of SMBs lose money when it comes to online marketing and advertising, and it's because there are no solutions that solve for both affordability and know-how. Agencies are too expensive and existing tools are too complex. Cactivate has built a plug-and-play, autonomous SaaS solution for the SMB owner. Connect your assets and put everything on autopilot. This is achieved by using a self-learning machine learning recommender.
Founder Profile - Dr. Chorom Pak, CEO of LynxBio
Dr. Chorom Pak grew up in La Crescenta, so when she found herself seeking funding for her startup, she was really rooting for the Pasadena Angels to join the round. It was like they were the home team, and she was the player hoping to be drafted. And, everyone wants their home team to at least show interest, and hopefully, make a play for them.
The path back to Pasadena took some turns. Chorom attended Skidmore College in upstate New York, followed by the University of Wisconsin - School of Medicine and Public Health for her PhD in Madison, Wisconsin. She completed her post-doctoral work in Wisconsin prior to leading research and clinical development at a small publicly traded biotech developing a cancer therapeutic.
From the beginning, her research has been how to identify and characterize tumors. It turns out that that’s harder than it sounds. Half the time, there’s not enough tumor material obtained in a biopsy to analyze them with conventional methodologies. And, tumor cells can be hard to pin down… literally. They usually float, which can make them hard to observe.
But, Chorom’s research enabled capturing and characterizing tumors a very high percentage of the time. What’s more, they were able to show a very high correlation between effectiveness on cultured cells in the lab and effectiveness in living patients. The upshot is that a biopsy can lead to getting the right chemotherapy into the patient right away instead of months-long trial and error processes that real people have to suffer through.
LynxBio was born in 2018 from Chorom’s research, but it almost didn’t happen. Her first effort at fundraising was to apply for a SBIR grant (similar to Dr. Chachisvilis in the June issue). It’s free money and from the government, so it was expected that the process would be slow. After nine months, Chorom wasn’t surprised that she had not heard the results of the grant yet.
It was the week of Thanksgiving when she got the call from the grant administrator asking about her Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval. Well, she had not initiated the IRB process because she was waiting to see if the grant would come through and had not yet been formally notified. “Actually, you were approved internally months ago; we just do not like to send the formal letter until this time. Now, we need the IRB approval this week before we can disburse.”
Uh oh. The IRB would take months… maybe six months. “Well, we can’t wait that long. If you cannot get the IRB approval, we will have to consider giving the grant to another company, and you would be welcome to start the grant process over again next year.”
Chorom started brainstorming. How can you complete a six month IRB review process in 1 week (and one that included Thanksgiving)? You can’t, but maybe you can get close. She remembered that she’d described in the grant application that the study could include any clinical site within 5 hours’ drive of her offices in Madison. She quickly searched her contacts and found a doctor at a community hospital that might have a more nimble IRB review process.
She reached out to him and he said that he’d find out. He came right back the next day with the good news! He could get her on the schedule for an IRB review in January. Would that work? She called the grant manager with her heart in her throat. “Well, we’ll put things on hold for you. Let us know the minute that IRB approval comes through.” LynxBio was born… just barely.
And, it’s a good thing for Chorom, because she could not imagine doing anything else. I asked her, “If LynxBio didn’t work, what would you do?” Her answer: Likely start another company. But for now, the plan is to do everything to have LynxBio succeed.”
In 2018, when Chorom applied for seed funding from the Pasadena Angels, she thought that her pitch was well received, but she didn’t hear back right away. Just like with the SBIR grant, there was no word, and she started to consider alternative possibilities. She knew another company that had pitched the Pasadena Angels the same day, and they had already been notified that they had received investment interest. She was in Germany on business when she got a late night call. The home team was interested! And, what’s more, the fund itself was also investing! It was more than she had expected, and it was validating to get that vote of approval from the home team.
LynxBio is only a few years old, but already, they expect to book $1.5M in revenue this year. They have relationships with several top pharma companies, and the prospects look bright. Right now, the plan is looking pretty good.
Member Profile - Al Schneider on Mining, Investing and Philanthropy
If you wanted to write a book about Angel Investing, you could do worse than start with Al Schneider. He’s made over 100 angel investments in 46 companies since co-founding Pasadena Angels in 2000, where he took turns as Vice Chairman and Chairman for nearly a decade. But he’s also been a member since 2000 and a past president of Tech Coast Angels/L.A., and a member since 2015 of New Dominion Angels in Northern Virginia.
During the 2000’s, his angel investments have run the gamut, both in industry and outcome. So far, just 11 of his companies have failed, and 10 have had positive exits. But the majority, 25 in total, are still operating, working towards that next milestone and, hopefully, a great exit. He’s been a board member or adviser for countless entrepreneurs in the process, and he’s developed a reputation for creativity in structuring and negotiating deals that can bridge valuation and other differences. He’s the guy you call in when the standard structures aren’t going to work.
He’s NOT the guy (anymore) you call when you have to do due diligence on a mining operation in Central America. That’s because he’s been there and done that. Back in the 1990s, he was helping a friend who was in the business of financing private mining companies. There was one in Costa Rica that looked promising. Al flew to San Jose, rented a four-wheel drive late in the afternoon, and proceeded to head northwest on the Pan American Highway. You know how directions can seem reasonable until you get close?
“Exit the Highway and proceed 30 kilometers on poorly marked roads through the jungle, then turn right at a dirt road with a gate across it.” Well, that’s fine until you get into the jungle and pass lots of dirt crossroads with gates in all states of disrepair. It’s worse when it gets dark. And worse still when its starts pouring down rain. Nevertheless, Al exited the main road as planned, but nearly sunk up to the axles in mud several times at flooded lowlands. Alone on the jungle road, Al spotted a light in the distance ahead. It was 9:30 at night. There was one more flooded low-lying area to cross. Without a lot of options, he sped down the road and through the water towards the light where he found his friend with a solitary flashlight. The next day they explored mining tunnels with the owner in the remote Costa Rican jungle. It made for a great story for his friends, but Al hasn’t gone back for any more jungle mine diligence adventures.
How did Al get involved analyzing a mining financing in the first place? He started working as a kid in his father’s corner store, and then worked for a grocery wholesaler in high school. Perhaps motivated by the belief that his future wasn’t in fruits and vegetables, he earned a scholarship to Harvard where he studied social science under his mentor David Riesman, then stayed for grad school to pursue a PhD in Sociology before switching to business school across the river. After earning his MBA at HBS, Al moved to the Washington area to work in commercial real estate at a large REIT that both purchased and financed real estate projects nationwide.
Entrepreneurship beckoned, so Al joined with a Virginia developer to form The Canterbury Group to develop real estate. In the 1980’s, they started with apartments and condominiums, then progressed to motels and senior living facilities. When his senior partner retired, in the 1990’s Al joined an HBS classmate building psychiatric hospitals. From there, with other partners, he shifted his investment focus to information technology and telecom in the D.C. area before deciding that there were better opportunities in technology investments on the West Coast.
In 1998, the timing was right for a move to La Canada, and by 2000 Al had teamed with DuWayne Peterson to bring together the early investors that formed Pasadena Angels. DuWayne became the Angels first Chairman and Al its Vice Chairman. Al’s breadth of experience and understanding of entrepreneurship made angel investing a natural—which helps explain his work with three angel groups and investment in 46 startups in the 2000’s.
Al’s business interests are broad, so his angel investment portfolio is quite diverse, but there’s definitely a bias today towards healthcare and medical devices, both in investing and philanthropy. Al and his wife Cathy Heron have devoted themselves to supporting research in thyroid cancer and in HPV-related cervical, neck and other cancers at Medstar/Georgetown Hospital and Johns Hopkins. They’ve also focused time and money to protecting religious freedom and civil liberties. The couple now shuttles between homes in Manhattan Beach, CA and the Washington, D.C. area, and stays close to their adult children and four grandchildren in Phoenix, AZ and Northern Virginia.
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Dave de Csepel
Chairman, Pasadena Angels