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CELS Video Conference: “How to make the right connections in Silicon Valley”

October 23, 2018 8:00 AM | Richard Ayllon (Administrator)

Highlights from the first CELS multi-city video conference

On Tuesday Oct. 23rd, the San Francisco-based organization CELS, together with partners across Canada, hosted a panel discussion via webcast to connect Canadian life science entrepreneurs to Silicon Valley experts and discuss how to grow their business by finding the right partners.

Over 60 people joined in, from 5 locations (San Francisco, Montreal, Toronto, Edmonton and Vancouver) and the event hosted 4 presentations, including 1 international guest.


  • Terry Cowl, Consul and Senior Trade Commissioner, Consulate General of Canada, (San Francisco)
  • Elton Satusky, Partner, Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati (San Francisco)
  • Cedric Bisson, Partner, Teralys Capital (Montreal)
  • Fouzia Laghrissi, AstraZeneca (Switzerland)
  • James Taylor, Co-Founder, CEO, Precision Nanosystems (Vancouver)


Richard Ayllon, Managing Director, Canadian Entrepreneurs in Life Sciences welcomed everyone from the Consulate General of Canada offices in San Francisco, shared some background on the CELS organization, and handed it over to Terry Cowl to provide a brief overview of the Consulate General of Canada’s offices and services.

(L-R: Iraina Miles -  CELS Director and Canadian Trade Commissioner, Grace Wei - COO EnCellin, Terry Cowl - Consul and Senior Trade Commissioner, Richard Ayllon - CELS Managing Director, Elton Satusky - Partner WSGR, Po On Yeung - CELS Director and UBC Innovation, Steve Karp - Executive Director Innovation Services, CLSI )


Terry provided an overview of the services of his office, highlighting that there were a number of life science delegations including accelerators, researchers and starts-ups that have made use of the Trade Commissioner services. This included specialized programming and events including the signature Canadian Technology Accelerator program. In a few weeks, 8 companies will be announced for the latest cohort. There is also a 48 hour Dose of the Valley event coming up in February and they will be partnering with BIOTECanada in January as part of JP Morgan. If anyone is attending this, note that they will be organizing some complimentary Canadian meeting space.

Key takeaway: “We love engaging with Canadian companies! The earlier the better, however, so come in market and in advance!”


Elton was representing WSGR, and they are best known for their work with tech giants such as Google. However, Life Sciences is a big part of their portfolio as well since many are located here in the San Francisco Bay Area. He shared some practical advice about the upcoming JP Morgan conference and how it can be a crazy week with startups often getting lost. There often isn’t very much time to impress VC’s at this event, so instead, it’s better to get to know the community through accelerators and incubators. These organizations will host investor demo days which is a great way to get introduced to wider networks.

Key takeaway: 1) Book your hotel now for JP Morgan! 2) Consider joining an incubator such as IndieBio and think about the brand name and the opportunity for market recognition”.


Cedric is based in Montreal, and also holds a Director role with Vancouver-based Accel-Rx and has a well-rounded view across Canada and also with the Silicon Valley. He had 3 main points to share to the audience regarding making the right connections:

1. Canadian entrepreneurs need to raise their ambition. He advised: As you’re creating a business plan, put your shoes on the receiving end. Bolder ideas are better. Too often, business ideas exhibit only incremental change and that makes it hard to raise capital. Californians are eager for big bold and new ideas.

2. Get connected to the Silicon Valley and liaise and meet people. This process requires time - so take advantage of existing networks and leadership, such as the services of Consulate and Provincial offices, Biotechnology organizations (including CELS, the organizing group behind this event!).

3. Capital is the output of these activities. Securing partnerships doesn’t happen overnight, you need to do the work of building the big ideas and relationships, and then capital flows in.

Key takeaway: Get down to the Silicon Valley and start making connections!”


Fouzia provided the strategic partner perspective as someone who is currently in Switzerland coupled with the familiarity of the Boston area, Bay Area and exposure in Canada. She prefaced her remarks to say she was biased towards the Big Pharma perspective. She offered practical advice on how to focus when selecting partners: Make sure you understand the strategy of your partner, you will meet Big Pharma representatives at conferences and it pays to do your research. She shared some experience of a Big Pharma organization acquiring a young California biotech and how important it was for these young companies to manage the alliance and work on getting the governance of the alliance to be aligned.

Key takeaway: “You need to manage the relationship with internal champions, and also spend time influencing people externally. Find key opinion leaders and speak to them as part of your Public relations efforts”.


James introduced his company Precision Nanosytems which spun out of the University of British Columbia based in Vancouver. The founding team included professors and alumni and they are excited to help drug companies make nano medicines and be part of the new drug revolution.

He was especially excited about the CELS impact as his organization spent considerable time, through the CTA, honing those key relationships in both Boston and San Francisco. He advised others that to make connections, you need to spend the time down there to work with clients and start-ups and be able to tell others that you’re a part of something local. He admitted that as a scientist, this can be hard, but the hustle was key in Precision’s success. He also referenced the Canadian Trade Commissioners as being a huge resource and was happy to see the new team assemble in San Francisco.

Key takeaway: “To make connections, you need to make time over there. Being down in San Francisco is very easy and accessible - it’s like taking the bus!”


Attendees were able to submit a few questions in advance and CELS also opened up the floor for questions. A few are included below:

1) Why is it important to have a presence in the Silicon Valley?

Answer: James Taylor: Many of our clients are down there. Partnerships are very important and our partners are likely not in Canada. The infrastructure is in South San Francisco so we put a team down there to have access to capital. As you do a capital raise, you want to be talking and building that presence. It’s a lot a of hustle and plane rides but that proactive awareness comes easier once you’re in the US.

2) From a legal perspective and there any tips for raising funds?

Answer: Elton Satusky: Different investors will have different appetites. “Have you heard of the Golden Rule? Those with the gold make the rules!”. Do your research - are they ok investing in companies that aren’t based here? A $200k seed round might not be worth transferable shares. In the end, if you’re interested, you should simply come down here. I’ve seen teams that were in an incubator for 6 months. Once you do that, you can own that you’re a Bay Area company. You never know what drives buttons so it’s important to talking to Corporates down here and research the big venture funds looking at earlier stage startups. Remain flexible!

3) In building a US presence, did you hire first? Or choose San Francisco first?

Answer: James Taylor:
James: We needed talent in Bay Area, specifically a VP sales and we found person, close to South San Francisco and the airport.

Answer: Cedric Bisson: Depends on business need. You need to develop relationships and key networks. The office location specifically, is the output of where business relationship are combined with ease and location. California has unique attributes and makes a serious contender for location.

Have a question? Get involved with CELS and send your questions and feedback directly to us!


CELS is a not for profit association supporting the advancement of innovative Canadian Life Science businesses in the San Francisco Bay Area and Silicon Valley through the power of the power of Community and Connections. Canadian Life Science Start-Ups are challenged to successfully achieve their funding objectives in one of the most progressive investment communities in the world: The Silicon Valley.

To succeed in the Bay Area, Canadian Entrepreneurs must adapt to succeed.  This is heavily influenced by three "C"s: Community, Connections, Capital

We at CELS encourage anyone interested in who is in the Life Sciences industry and interested in Canadian connections to the Silicon Valley to visit our webpage: https://cels-sfo.com

Register for membership, our newsletter and future events: [https://cels-sfo.com/join-us]

Have an idea for a future event or want to get involved?

Email one of us [hyperlink:https://cels-sfo.com/page-18074] to be part of the conversation!

Thank you again to our Event Partners!


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