Amar Sawhney has built up an impressive record of startup exits. He’s created billion dollar companies, sold some, and has taken others public. Now he’s heading up three startups at once.
On the Dealmakers Show, Sawhey talked about technology, and creating the foundation for 3D printing for tissue engineering, 35 years ago. Plus, his first IPO at just 27 years old, using holding companies, choosing bankers to help with your exits, public versus private capital, timing the sale of your business, and his mission to serve 10M patients with his therapies.
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Finding Your Path To Entrepreneurship
Amar Sawhney was born in India. With his father in the air force, they moved around to different parts of the country every couple of years.
Eventually, when his father retired Amar was able to be settled for high school. Then went on to study chemical engineering at the prestigious Indian Institute of technology in Delhi. The school proved to be a great platform to launch careers from, and opened the doors to good jobs, and his choice of any MBA program in India.
He was also offered a scholarship to the University of Texas, in Austin. An opportunity he leapt at, realizing he could always fall back on his options in India if it didn’t work out.
Still, it was not an easy transition. When he finished his Master’s degree, even large companies like Exxon still really didn’t know how to hire people from overseas that didn’t already have permission to work in the US.
After maybe 30 applications, without even an interview, he was discouraged that he had gone from being highly valued, and one of the top candidates in his home country, to not being able to get a job at all.
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Sawhney’s Top Advice For Aspiring Entrepreneurs
Still, today, some of Sawhney’s top advice for others is that if you want to do something big, and for yourself, then go ahead and take the risk of a startup when you are young. You may have to work harder and things will go wrong. Yet, if you believe in something, and find some strong core technology, don’t be immobilized by fear or risk.
Fortunately, one of Amar’s advisors talked him into working on some research projects and a Ph.D. Some of that technology is now being used in 3D printing of tissues and cells 35 years later. It attracted venture capitalists that wanted to license it. Which turned into taking that company public when he was just 27 years old.
Public Versus Private Capital For Funding Your Company
That first IPO roadshow was certainly eye opening and gave him great exposure while he was still young. There was a lot of flying around the world, limos, and meeting investors.
He then went on to sell his next company, then took another public at a billion dollar valuation after raising hundreds of millions of dollars. All of them being healthtech ventures. Though has certainly learned a lot about the differences between public and private capital funding, and operating under those structures.
Even after this first IPO the company didn’t end up using some of the technology that formed the basis for the lung surgery sealant it was commercializing, that he was really passionate about. He tried to spin it out, and offered them a double digit stake in a new company if they granted it. They didn’t. So, he went back to the basement to come up with new ideas and patents that he’d have a bigger equity stake in and control of. Even though it meant scraping around for $10,000 at a time from friends and family to fund.
This time he decided to launch everything from under the umbrella of a holding company that could hold the intellectual property, and have several separate operating companies underneath it.
This helped with funding and minimizing dilution, while also benefiting from a network of investors, lawyers, accountants, and others. That company was acquired.
Downsides Of Operating A Public Company
However, what Amar has found is that operating a public company comes with a lot of distractions. It requires a lot of time spent on what he considers non-value add tasks. Such as interfacing with investors. Specifically investors, or traders, that you aren’t sure if they are for you or are gleaning information to short your stock and work against you.
Since his second IPO, Sawhney says that he now much prefers the private route. At least holding onto a company as being private with investors that have a vested interest in your success as long as possible.
If you are profitable, then you have the luxury of continuing to stay private. Or, you can hand off the company to an acquirer who can scale it to many more users and patients. You don’t have to beg for money in public capital markets.
After all, at least for Amar Sawhney, he says that his real goal and measure of success is how many people his technology and therapies touch. Which has already hit the million annually treated mark. Looking forward, he says that he aspires to helping 10 million patients annually with his work.
Heading Up Three Companies At Once
Today, Amar Sawhney is the CEO of three different companies. Of course, at some point he may appoint another CEO to take the reins of some of these ventures. For now he is just doubling down on new solutions in the medical space.
He is specifically focused on women’s health. Including intra uterine scar prevention and controlling abnormal uterine bleeding, sterilization and contraception. They are working to help millions of women worldwide and also in other ventures in general surgery, neurosurgery, and interventional radiology.
Storytelling is everything which is something that Amar Sawhney was able to master. Being able to capture the essence of what you are doing in 15 to 20 slides is the key. For a winning deck, take a look at the pitch deck template created by Silicon Valley legend, Peter Thiel (see it here), where the most critical slides are highlighted.
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Listen in to the full podcast episode to find out more, including:
- Timing the sale of your business
- Picking the right bankers to help you go public or sell your company
- Operating public companies