Liang Schweizer has now raised close to $180M for her biotech startup. Including a $75M Series D round. Her venture, HiFiBio has acquired funding from top-tier investors like Grand Mount Capital, IDG Capital, Legend Star, and Maison Capital.
In this episode, you will learn:
- Liang Schweizer’s top advice for launching a business
- The big vision of HiFiBio
- The future of treatment
- Building a global company culture
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About Liang Schweizer:
Dr. Liang Schweizer is passionate about innovation and creative activities. She enjoys many aspects of life, including travel, reading, art, performances, etc. Trained as a scientist, she is currently CEO and President of HiFiBiO Therapeutics, a multinational biotech company developing treatments for cancer and other diseases.
Liang grew up in China and graduated with a B.S. in Biology from the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC). She moved to the USA in 1989 to earn her Master’s degrees in microbial engineering and chemical engineering from the University of Minnesota. She then continued her education at the University of Zurich, Switzerland, where she received a Ph.D. in Biology in 1999. Her postdoc training was in the lab of Nobel Laureate Harold Varmus, at Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.
Liang previously held scientific executive positions at Bristol Myers Squib and at Sanofi. HiFiBiO Therapeutics was the 2nd startup she has co-founded. Dr. Schweizer also has a long-standing commitment to social responsibility work, ranging from participation on the township health board to a directorship in the Swiss Benevolent Society, to volunteering as Gemstone Mentor for the Global Women Connect network (GWC), among others.
Now, together with her husband Bernard Schweizer, she is running the Schweizer Foundation for Art and Innovation in order to sponsor artists and thinkers from across the world, allowing them to pursue their creativity in a worry-free, inspiring setting and to enter artistic collaboration and promote their work.
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Read the Full Transcription of the Interview:
Alejandro Cremades: Alrighty hello everyone and welcome to the dealmakerr show. So today. We have a very exciting founder. You know we’re going to be talking about research. We’re going to be talking about founding building scaling financing I mean everything everything between. So. Without farther ado let’s welcome our guest today lean schweizeer welcome to the show. So let’s do a little of a walkthrough memory lane li so born in China so tell us about your upbringings. How was life growing up.
Liang Schweizer: Hi Thanks for having me here.
Liang Schweizer: I growing up in a situation where science and technology is really well valued and when I was middle girl I Always want to become madame curie because that’s. We’re really getting into Science. So I majored in biology in college and subsequently become a drug Discovery drug hunters. So Very happy about the journey so far.
Alejandro Cremades: So you eventually came to the us and that was to the University Of Minnesota so how do you land in the years I mean in China you have everything that that you you ever wanted and need it. So why come into the Us.
Liang Schweizer: So so at that time you know that was not eighty s at that time us was very well recognized as the leader of science and technology as I was measing in college I majored in biology. So. I also was train very heavily on physics mass and other disciplines. So university minnesota at that time had a novel interdisciciplinary field. It’s called byprocessing engineering. It’s putting biology and engineering together that attracted me. So so in the meantime I also took a minor in chemical engineering I wanted to be. You know, understand not only the biology but engineering part how you know by processing works so that was an interesting area but at that time we were actually aware ahead of time by the time we graduated. We were viewed neither engineer or biologist because it’s harder to to put us where we belong so I end up went back to takingck a ph d in biology. So just try to be a real biologist that way. Yeah.
Alejandro Cremades: Now now for you. You know you did you know before obviously now being a founder and changing the world and and all that good stuff I mean once you graduated I mean you did a little of um, you know the Ms. you know that you did in in in. Micro Microbile engineering and chemical engineering. But then you ended up in Switzerland you know and you did there. You know the ph d now this got you on track and and and really involved with the research space. So how.
Liang Schweizer: Cut.
Alejandro Cremades: How was this experience. You know, being in the research you know world and really getting you know that that that time to to go and look at everything from cancer to cardiovascular kind of stuff.
Liang Schweizer: Yeah, so you know indeed my career when I went to swarzman actually one of the reasons is I wanted to get exposed to to diversity. My husband is swes so I wanted to get to know you know. Different areas and not only from the science core but also from a culture perspective and later all after my ph d I came back to the us and did my postal at s snow catttering with Dr. Her Obama’s and no ber norre and right after my ph d i. Because of the exposure at snowcattering I know I wanted to do something um to make an impact for cancer research and I joined Bristol Myerrip at that time I was a leading andccompanying oncology drug discovery. so so I started with that and during my and more than 10 years fbms career started with oncology drug discovery what I wanted to understand subsequently is how do we make drug more effectively impact not only on oncology but other disease area like Immuno Oncology Virology Cardiovascular metabolic and others. So so then I move my career as a head of um, need optimization where we started with the drug discovery program to figure out how to make the best drugs ready for clinical trials.
Liang Schweizer: So there I got into exposure of other disease areas. So by the time an fbms in my department at any given time there are about sixty seventy programs ongoing you know, covering the entire oncology im know oncology field as well as some of the other autoimmunes. And um, other diseases as well.
Alejandro Cremades: So then at what point do you realize that you want to go from perhaps the whole research you know angle and in it doing things in your career to perhaps lending more on the company you know corporation you know type of field.
Liang Schweizer: Yeah I was asked that question said did you always know you want to be a Ceo from bikini. My answer is no actually I always love to be in the science fielder and my biggest aspiration at that time is cso chief scientific officer. And so you know I think I get to this area be a Ceo because I realized to do a science. Well, you actually also need to have vision. You also have to figure out you know mission and strategy for the whole entire company and. In order to putting any scientific idea. Forward. You also have to understand different aspects of business in order to make effective decisions. So so when I got ah offered as a founder and. And Ceo for hifi bio I said okay let me challenge myself to do that and so far I really love the journey I learned so much go beyond the science aspect and I think one of the other training about being a scientist is we late journey you know by nature or by training. We’re very curious. We always want to challenge ourselves. We always wanted name new things I think be a Ceo enabled me to do it I think it so it come naturally to me. It’s just because during your career progression. You keep on learninging you keep on exploring new things and and taking on the Ceo role. It’s.
Liang Schweizer: Continually journey on the same direction.
Alejandro Cremades: So let’s talk about that you know, but before we we actually talk all the c oh rola you have now and and and the company that you founded you know there’s a few events that happening between you know from leaving the research side of things to really now launchuning your own business I mean. You were working first at Bms you know where you were doing the leading there discovery and optimization as well as you know heading up the operation on asian cancer research for sunafi back in Asia. So. How were those 2 experiences. How do you think that those 2 experiences shaped you and prepared you for what was to come now being a founder.
Liang Schweizer: This is an excellent question I think um, you know I just mentioned I’m always curious and explore and in you know, 2012 to 14 timeframe asia start um getting a lot of new innovative ideas. Run by tech area. So um, taking on the job as head of Asia Cancer research for sunofa is one of the way for me to see what’s really going on there because you hear it from the news you you don’t have a firsthand experience and also because I grew up in China so I have a natural. Affinity towards and what’s going on in Asia so the sunafi role enabled me to really get myself back familiar with what happened and China has you know progressed rapidly these things I left China in the late eighty s when I went back is 2015 at that time. It’s a huge big It’s almost a entirely different country then in the meantime Korea Japan Singapore all those other asian countries and I got a chance to explore because of my role for Sanafi I think really. Prepared me for the entrepreneurial world I mean right now away you know, initially going in um, representing big pharma then you realize there’s a lot of opportunities to for you to get out and to to realize your own visioning and you know ideas that.
Liang Schweizer: In a great moment.
Alejandro Cremades: But sanofi is a big company I mean we’re talking about over 100,000 employees I mean being the head you know of a company like that is a is is is unbelievable. So this is quite um, a risky you know, step you know for you to take from.
Liang Schweizer: The half.
Liang Schweizer: And ah.
Liang Schweizer: Yes, yes.
Alejandro Cremades: Really being at the top of the top to then all of a sudden you know, being in a in a room with just a bunch of people and and that said so what do you think led you to to be okay with the decision of giving your notice.
Liang Schweizer: Yeah, this is a great point because you know ah dropping a big pharma and oversee the asia cancer research um is a very secure dropping sense you know and and and they are challenges. But. Generally, it’s not as stressful as being an entrepreneur worry about what’s your next round of financing. Oh you know how whether your your ideas or product works out or not um, totally different type of stress level if you will um. But I think what atony made me wanted to do it is um, the fact that you know in big pharmas why you are really could be making a difference but it’s generally a very snow paced environment because there’s a lot of um. As you know, big companies. There’s a lot of meetings. Not of you know people to anying in order to make a decision versus in a biotechs more you know by tech startups. We can make decisions very quickly. So you know things that takes. Weeks or months we can do it in minutes or hour minutes or hours so um it’s totally different. You know atmosphere and you could actually feel your impact much more significant that way I think and it’s always you know any challenge comes.
Liang Schweizer: Associate with any reward so you know the thing you see idea can be reckonated changing to a reality that’s super rewarding.
Alejandro Cremades: Now in your case, it was a quite a small stint what you did with with the next venture with Harbor Biomed you know, which and you know if you you were a co-founder but this was the immediate step to really go into what you’re doing now. So. What happened with harbor biomit I mean what were you only there for eleven months
Liang Schweizer: That’s a good question. So at that time I was still physically um in Asia and harber vi met one of the idea is to um, do being medicines you know in China and um, mostly you know average a platform. Um, that has been developed in Europe so um, at that time my thinking my real passion is drive innovative medicines for the global world and I would like so so at that time I’ve already start champing to go. Innovative therapies novel targets as well as global presence and you know since I was the cs so many on the scientific angle I have limited impact for the overall company decision. Um, so. Weighing hifi biosciific co-founders and and you know the whole idea of applying single cell technology platform from top academic institution can be used for innovative drug discovery as well as you know global need. That just attract me so much. So so I decided to give this a try. Yeah.
Alejandro Cremades: Amazing. So then let’s talk about him. You know what happened next? What were the immediate the next immediate step that happened here.
Liang Schweizer: So waying. We started. Um, you know the hi-fi bio. Um, one of the first thing is how to translate the platform coming from top academic institution that consists of um Harvard Broad Institute yeah espci in Paris. Um, into an industry setting where the platform can be applied for you know day dayle drug discovery that still have a littlele gap. So the first immin step I had to take is working with experts that and the high-fi bile. Already established with the platform expertise with engineers there with the buyinformaticians who really expert on the single cell to bring them into the drug discovery and Divin world to understand you know why? it’s important to get. Every run so consistent. Why it’s important to thinking about the disease biology. So um, the transformation took some effort but it was very rewarding and some of the earlier scientists are still with the company today and they have. Grown tremendously from you know, knowing a specific area of engineering or biology get to know now the whole entire ju discovery pass and development now we’re now having 2 assets into phase one clinical trials where are starting. You know.
Liang Schweizer: Expose those earnest scientists. How do we do a clinical trial. So it’s been tremendous experience for of us.
Alejandro Cremades: So how? what? what? exactly I mean for the people that are listening you know, hi-fi bio I mean we say you guys are really you know tackling how you think about mobilizing the human Immune system to really combat diseases.
Liang Schweizer: Right.
Alejandro Cremades: Why Why is that? So so important and and how do you guys think about that.
Liang Schweizer: Right? So so as you know drug discovery and development is a very long and you know challenging journey in how do we really coming up with effective medicines is questioning. You know. Many people putting all their lifetime efforts into it and from high 5 point of view. We think what we can do is trying to apply a human immune system as a fundamental approaches to treat different diseases. So you know. Well established effective therapy already come you know to Attentioning Is Immuno Oncology Therapy with checkpoint inhibitors that has been effective. Um, you know, helping patients from people. You know, struggling with certain cancer types have. No solution error to now some of the patients have some sensation for a period of time or even pronouned period of time and so we think immune system have a not of potential each one of us have our own potential can be renesed through certain you know drug. Intervention and so what we try to build in Highfi Biole is leverage the single cell platform that our initially scientific cofounder put together to look at immune profilings in a way. Not only we can effectively finding high quality. Anybody’s therapeutics.
Liang Schweizer: Through single ob b cell cloning but also further looking at patient immune contacts use single cell analysisis to identify predictive biomarker when and we put that drug into patient population. So we putting the right drug into the right patient population. And then to understand deeper the immune diseases why you know people having deregulated immune responses and trying to use that to figure out Neo and novel targeting and strategy. So from that perspective. Um, hifi bio is super unique and we describe the whole efforts using a term called druging intelligence science which combinened drug and scientific unst understanding together with notge data. We generated through single cell and using di machine machine learningning and to. Really figure out. What’s the best way from target all the way to patients.
Alejandro Cremades: And how much capital have you guys raised today because it sounds like this capital intensive.
Liang Schweizer: It is it is this excellent question. So if you’re combining our initial runs all the way to seriously which we close master 75000000 is where over 180 meaning total already. Yeah.
Alejandro Cremades: Wow, That’s a lot of seriouss lean I ah.
Liang Schweizer: Ah, and and we’re still looking for. You know, continuous journey to to raise more you know either in private or go going to public um market because I think what we have done is really showing great potential. And we’re very excited to be able to bring our approaches to industry in General. So Not only you know within our own contacts but also hopefully transform the whole new drug discovery and development and paradigm that way. So with that. We need more. Investment or commitment.
Alejandro Cremades: And for a company like this you know like when when when you’re raising money I you know it’s either probably a lot of listeners that are more on the traditional saas you know hypergrowth type of companies. You know here is different. You know the way that you got to think about raising money the way that maybe you present or the way that the expectations are set by investors. So how has been the journey of going from 1 financing cycle to the next for you guys.
Liang Schweizer: Yes, so what each time we you know going through the financing usually is trying to figure out what we wanted to den deliver and really figure out what are the Milestones value inflection point and on the way. And what we have been getting an lot of support each time we go out fundraising we got oversubscribed is because we didn’t ever own what we promised and and so far not only we didn’ ever we over Dna version. So so not only you know we. In 5 years we identify 8 clinical candidate and put 3 into phase one trials but we also out licensing 2 assets out to another bytech company and we also use the platform successfully establish more than 5 um. Some of those already being publicly announced and global top companies collaboration. So so because of that you know I think we’ve been getting the support and our scientists are very passionate and very committed to den deliver what we promise to do.
Alejandro Cremades: And in this case I mean how how have you guys gone about you know, also building the team because you know I’m sure that the team is something that the investors you know, really are banking on So how did you make sure they had the right people seated on the right seats of the bus.
Liang Schweizer: Yeah, this is excellent I spent a lot of time thinking about how to grow the organization where to get the talent and one of the things we are doing very unique from a not of but tech startup is we started with a global presence. So early on historically you know this company was in Paris and us because of the scientific co-founders and when I started um the therapeutic effort in 2000 17 July um, I’m thinking about consciously whether we should be doing multiple sites or just one single site and you know, um and I think at that time our conclusion is um to go into an international presence. Not only because. Ah, different countries. We have different um academic or industry collaborations. But also the talents from different countries are very different and so in this way we can maximize our talent poor especially. Also. Bringing diversity a topic nowadays industry talking highly about to have different point of view to bringing innovation and now diversity generates from the fact that we have locations across different continents. So so we bring different sinkings.
Liang Schweizer: Top talent from each of the countries into this company.
Alejandro Cremades: And how has it been to have multiple offices too because I mean every office obviously you have the culture that is established by you the founder but you are in 1 office you know and the other offices they have the other you know senior leadership. You know that that is pushing. You know the operation. But.
Liang Schweizer: Threat.
Alejandro Cremades: Is is different cultures that are you know I would say deriving from that initial culture that you establish. So how do you go about that.
Liang Schweizer: Yeah, so so this is really great question because ah, you know I’m concerned about um, you know, different sides were imposed a lot of challenges in addition to culture element operational management. You also have to be familiar with every country has its own regulations and and different policies. Um, so we took on this challenge and trying to figure out what are the common foundations among different sites. Um, so first of all, um I did put out. Ah, common culture elements out there to make sure everybody’s fully anyed with it. So so the concept we I put forward is core sore s o a are supportive optimistic, adaptable and responsible. So that was um. Set out for the company at the early on stage to this day people are rally behind it. It’s amazing to see how a set of culture value that people agreed upon can help to unify different sites and in also practice. Um, especially before covid 19 times of being traveling among different sites just to ensure you know people really communicate with each other I get to know them firsthand I talk to everybody that joined us.
Liang Schweizer: Um, with the company and I’m sure they feel supported and and the beauty of that also is in that way, you know the three sides we have on three different continents. They talk with each other so well often you know there’s 1 idea you know, talked in. Um, one side in the morning. The other side could be get it down in the evening while the first site getting to the sleep mode right? So um, we keep on the whole company operating 24 hours a day in that sense because of the time differences. And during covid nineteen times soon enough we got used to video conferences. So not only it helps me to communicate with different sites. Even our team members talking to each other you know through teams and other and video conference calls so that has been. Quite effective and I must say and we just are you know, revisiting whether we should thinking about and new sets of culture values and in today’s smerm um and people still. Um, sore is still a good way to go so so we continuously practice that and we’re going to hopefully the whole company gets high and a higher with with the sole culture. Yeah.
Alejandro Cremades: And and and for the people that are listening to to get you know the scope and size of your guest’s operation I mean anything that you can disclose into perhaps the amount of employees that you have the offices that you have and then also where you guys are ating the phase of developing. You know all the initiatives that you have.
Liang Schweizer: Yeah I’ll be happy to um so currently, the company is close to a hundred people and us is where the most senior leader resigns and um, the clinical team will be also many driving in the us. So we have. And 2 current immunocology assets tiang far two os 40 um, as you know our major leaders for trying to develop up a effective immune agne for patients that hasn’t been done and before successfully all the way to the. Ah, market. So so we’re trying to be the pioneer to do that and in the meantime where China is a lot of early discovery day day out including you know, um animal ah model establishment protein science and all those. Other important aspects and that team has been really strong in executing and bringing a lot of earning programs forward and the french team is where the single cell innovation continuesly to build and grow because we’ believe in a single cell drug intelligence concept. And that platform itself and the application. It’s only as good as how much effort you’re gonna willing to put in so you know if we’re not continually to do platform advancement if we’re don’t continually to building the whole new ideas about.
Liang Schweizer: Applying this platform we will going to be stagnant so in order to ensure we’re always in the cutting age or bleeding age of the whole f that The French team has been driving that you know renannessly and it’s been really wonderful.
Alejandro Cremades: So and talking about wonderful things. Imagine you go to sleep tonight and you wake up five years later and you wake up how wonderful would that be right? and then you wake up, you know in a world. It gets him a more wonderful. Yeah, you wake up in a world where the vision of the company is fully realized.
Liang Schweizer: Yeah.
Liang Schweizer: Um.
Alejandro Cremades: What does that world look like.
Liang Schweizer: Yeah, oh yeah, I can tell you very easily right? So um, we will see whatever the drug im immune modulator we didn’tnect can be applied to each every patient. By unlocking their own immune system immune power to cure their own disease. So I don’t think in reality we’re happening in 5 years but we think you know in 10 or 20 or even longer. We will accumulate more and more immune modinators in our hand that effectively not only it can help people. We know which patient will benefit and if the disease continue to evolving we will know which other monocs we can use to treat evolved disease. So in that way, you know it’s a very um, personalized precision medicine if you will but it can be applied for not just small population with individual because there’s a lot of. Come and fundamentals about immune modulation I work very so similarly. So what we trying to demonstrate up is identify immune modulators can work for broader patient population and we can’t identify that population in a very precise way.
Liang Schweizer: So high fidelity biology. That’s where the name coming from.
Alejandro Cremades: Love it now. Imagine you had the opportunity of getting into a time machine and I put you into this time machine and I bring you back in time I bring you back in time to perhaps that moment where you were in in China you know working at Sanofi and.
Liang Schweizer: But her.
Alejandro Cremades: And you have the opportunity of having a chat with your younger self without younger ah Li and you are able to tell that younger lean you know one piece of advice before launching a business. What would that be and why given why you know now.
Liang Schweizer: Yeah, it’s a tough question because and I’m the type of person never look back I’m only looking forward and I even make mistakes and on the way I try not to regret and just keep on going and so so if. I look back um to give myself advice is try to have a bit more outstanding and patience and one of the things. Um I realize and I’m still trying to practice is to. To know things doesn’t happen very quickly. Um I ah tend to be a bit more impatient. So so you know there are certain times if you just step back and have a deep breath things will be better instead of putting myself in that stress. So. There were times in stressful moments which I’m sure not a Ceo has experienced if I could give them the advice now you know it’s always good to step back 1 moment and just give yourself a deep breath but you know just. Everything will be okay as long as you don’t game up.
Alejandro Cremades: That’s Amazing. You know it’s like my father in law always says things will always work Out. You know they may not work out the way that you had thought they would but they end up working out so liang for the people that are listening. But would love to you know, reach out and say Hi. What is the best way for the for doing so.
Liang Schweizer: Well, you’re welcome to Nick me with me on linking and you know the the only problem there is sometimes I don’t read all those messages so I could apologizelogizing in advance I have over 5000 Linkedin and sometimes people write me in a frustrated way said and why don’t you reply. But if I reply everybody’s messages that will be a full time job or more. So.
Alejandro Cremades: I hear you I hear you well young. It has been an honor to have you with us. Thank you? So so much for being on the dealmaker show today.
Liang Schweizer: Okay, thank you for having me here. It’s such a pleasure talking to you.
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