On April 20th, 2018, Tanya Verstak interviewed Guy Iannuzzi regarding his company Mentus and the development of biotechnology in San Diego as well as Biocom.
About the interviee:
Guy and Mentus market entrepreneurial and technology based companies and products. Their success is enabled by creative solutions driven by customer-centric strategic positioning. Thirty-five years of marketing around the world in a broad range of technologies and markets have made this the pattern for success for all the agency’s clients.
About the interviewer:
Tanya Verstak moved from the Bay Area to Memphis, TN to work at the Epidemiology Department at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital three years ago. She then fell in love with clinical trials after working at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center and completing a M.S. in Clinical Research Organization and Management through Drexel University.
Tanya Verstak: What is Mentus, and how did it begin to be involved with biotech?
Guy Iannuzzi: Mentus is a marketing agency that specializes in biotechnology and healthcare. It involves many companies and we work with many organizations. We work closely with investor relations and marketing for a lot of biotech companies and also non-profit organizations in industry.
In the period of time that biotech was growing in San Diego, I created this agency not to do biotech but to do aerospace and astrophysics. General Dynamics and Aerojet General and so on were here, and they became my clients. Along the way, Hybritech was one client, and in doing that work we ended up doing work for a large number of biotech companies.
We did not make a big deal about it, but by 1989, the USe won the Cold War and all of a sudden, the work from military and aerospace went down. The aerospace companies left San Diego, moved to other cities, got smaller. We looked around and I no longer had aerospace clients, but I had like 50, 60 biotech, life science, and pharma clients. And we were at that point one of the biggest life science agencies. We had an immensive amount of work and it was wonderful.
Very interestingly, we had 50,000 jobs in San Diego that were in aerospace and within a five year period they just disappeared. But we had 15-20,000 jobs that came out of the life science and biotech sector that no one was paying attention to besides the people who were in it.
Tanya Verstak: You are a director of Biocom, what does this involve?
Guy Iannuzzi: I am one of the founders of Biocom and it is an incredibly dynamic organization, we now have over 1,000 members, we now have an office with 80 members in Tokyo, 215 members in San Francisco, 150 members in Los Angeles, 800 members in San Diego: we are gettingca global.
We have a full time lobbying office in Washington, a full time lobbying office in Sacramento and we have been told that we are one of the most effective lobbying groups in Sacramento next to teachers’ union, which is viewed politically as very powerful. We have like a 97% success rate whether we get a bill passed or a bill killed that we want to do for the industry, which is a tremendous amount of power.
Ironically, Biocom originated as a lobbying organization; originally San Diego was never a life science or biotech city. This was a navy town…perhaps the largest navy based space in the country, and definitely on the West Coast. There was some technology here if you look historically but there really was no life science industry.
What happened was that UC San Diego was created here in 1960 so little by little a bunch of research institutions started to grow in San Diego and by 1980 a couple of small companies were started. The first one was a diagnostics company called Hybritech that did monoclonal antibody products and we were the agency for that venture capital driven company. They hired me and my company to help launch that company. Its sale was the largest in San Diego up to that time, making a lot of money, at the time and made wonderful money, so all of the founding executives took the money and used it to create over 75 new companies in over the next ten years.
Tanya Verstak: How did Biocom get started?
San Diego became the third largest biotech cluster in the world; so all of a sudden a little navy town and retirement area became a blockbuster life science hub. We are competing with Boston and San Francisco and remain one of the tops in the world.
San Diego and Southern California have droughts all the time, and at the time biotech was emerging in the city, we were in the middle of a huge drought so they created a new law to ration water for not only just the consumers, but big industry. What they decided was to shut off water 50% of day and alternate for companies…if you work in a biotech or life science company, you need to have non-stop water; that’s suicide, you do that and we die.
A bunch of my clients at Mentus, including the leader of the pack which was the person who was CEO of Hybritech called me and said this is a disaster, we need to go to city council and talk to the mayor to refute the bill. We showed up; there were about 30 CEOs and we said “Hey, if you do this, you realize that you are going to kill 15-20,000 jobs” and they had no idea; the city council had absolutely no idea what they were doing.
They thanked us for telling them and said they will stop, and so we were all happy and went away. All of us looked at each other and thought, “boy that was easy.” We didn’t know our own power, we didn’t know that we had influence and we decided we are going to create an organization and so if other things came up, we could speak with our voice.
Ultimately, Biocom started in 1991, and by 1993 we were a full-fledged biotechnology group. We had our first statewide conference and got very successful little by little.
Now 25 years later we are the largest such regional group in the world, which is fantastic because we started dealing with political issues and were very successful in that. Now we have workforce training and help companies get funded; we have networking, a full-time staff, and about 70 board members.
I worked with about a dozen people that helped put Biocom together and I remained on the board through that time. Part of the reason I was asked to serve on ACRP was because of what happened there and my role working for marketing is valuable for the organizations I serve. As a board member for Biocom, it is about communicating, speaking to our constituency, the stakeholders, and the public alike.
Tanya Verstak: 25 years is not a long time considering all that you have accomplished!
Guy Iannuzzi: It really is not that long, and I have had privilege of speaking around the world because this came out of nowhere and so a lot of other cities have noticed and would like to have that happen there. The average life science wage is $80-120,000 so what city would not want a workforce with all these people making that kind of money? Now wait, each one of those jobs has about six ancillary jobs to support them and so with 30,000 life science jobs, you actually represent 200,000 on a very high income level. You have lawyers that support that, educators to support that, so all of a sudden it rejuvenates the city.
So I have been asked to speak everywhere because I was here from the beginning. It is nothing but good luck, being here with the right people and watching it come from nowhere. Everyone wants to know the secret sauce, which is a confluence of many things that you need: you need research facilities, education/academic facilities so you have the workforce out of that space. You need the funding opportunities, you need investments from the bank people and adventure people, those two to raise money. You have to have a range of things, a city organization that supports you, does the permitting and helps you.