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Giving: Sparking entrepreneurs

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Julia Owens | Benjamin Weatherston

Julia Owens | Benjamin Weatherston

The author, Julia C. Owens, earned a doctorate in biochemistry from the University of California, San Francisco, and bachelor’s degrees in chemistry and in molecular and cellular biology from the University of California, Berkeley. Prior to co-founding Millendo Therapeutics Inc.,  she served as senior vice president, corporate development and strategy, at Lycera Corp., where she led the process that led to Lycera’s research partnership with Merck & Co.

Entrepreneurs know that on the road to getting a product or service to market, there’s a challenge or opportunity every step of the way. For Ann Arbor entrepreneurs like me, Ann Arbor SPARK is a resource that accelerates growth and makes the road a little less bumpy.

My company, Millendo Therapeutics Inc., is a life sciences company developing novel treatments for endocrine disorders caused by hormone dysregulation. We have grown from startup to a clinical-stage biotech company in a few short years. Founded in 2012, Millendo recently entered into an exclusive license agreement with AstraZeneca for the worldwide development and commercialization rights to MLE4901, a product candidate for the treatment of polycystic ovary syndrome, the most common endocrine disease in women. We are thrilled to bring this program into our development pipeline, with the potential to make a difference in the lives of millions of women.

In addition, Millendo recently secured a $62 million Series B investment, the largest venture capital round in Michigan history. The financing was led by New Enterprise Associates, a leading venture capital firm. We’ll use this funding to continue to hire great talent and develop our therapeutic candidates. We have another drug candidate, ATR-101, which is for orphan adrenal diseases and resulted from our collaboration with the University of Michigan.

Our success wasn’t achieved overnight. Early on, Millendo received critical support from Ann Arbor SPARK, a nonprofit economic development organization. Most importantly, we received several high-tech business accelerator grants funded by the Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti SmartZone.

Being an entrepreneur means accepting long days and thinking creatively to get things accomplished. We do it because we are passionate about our work; advancing new therapeutics for serious diseases with limited treatment options is incredible. But making that dream a reality requires more than passion — it requires funding.

Before we could reasonably expect to raise outside funding, we needed a three- to five-year financial model, and grant support paid for us to use an experienced professional to create the model. We also received grants for a logo and presentation template, seed financing for legal fees, and several other small consulting projects. These projects supported us as we worked to attract funding and talent for our team, and were essential to getting us from startup to where we are today.

In addition to grant support, we were able to use Ann Arbor SPARK’s job portal to find top-tier talent. For several important positions, we wanted to find someone very specific, and through the job portal we got a number of qualified applicants that resulted in hiring our finance director, a clinical trial associate and a director of clinical operations. This job portal is free and yielded quality candidates.

Millendo has converted the resources and support we received from SPARK into a leading life sciences company developing novel treatments for endocrine disorders. Many entrepreneurs, especially first-time entrepreneurs, might not recognize that these resources are available right here in Ann Arbor. Support from Ann Arbor SPARK is a great way to do more with less, and get on the road to success.

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