Neil Patel

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Zachary Sweeney is on a mission to discover important drugs to cure and manage some of the biggest present and future threats to our health.

His biotech startup has already attracted almost $100M in capital and some great talent to further this mission.

On the Dealmakers Show, Sweeney shared the foundations of being an entrepreneur and the power of a great pitch deck.

He also talked about the tips for attracting the best talent for your startup and your real job as a founding CEO.

Listen to the full podcast episode and review the transcript here.

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The Ultimate Guide To Pitch Decks

The Foundations Of Being A Successful Entrepreneur

Zach Sweeney was born in the 70s, grew up in the 80s, and attended some of the most desirable universities in the 90s.

He grew up just north of San Francisco. He recalls it as an exciting time, with a lot happening in terms of immigration and culture.

Sweeney recalls his parents as being very socially and environmentally conscious.

He expected this to take him on the path of becoming an environmental engineer and working on preserving the local environment.

However, when it came to choosing his path of study he landed on chemistry. He said he saw that it offered the potential to help develop new medicines and the greatest variety in different directions that he could take in the future. When it comes to making decisions like these, Zach  says it is best to consider your most important values and then go for the option with the most flexibility and optionality.

He completed his undergraduate degree at Stanford. Then did his Ph.D. at Berkeley and postdoctoral studies at Harvard. He not only found himself around highly talented and smart individuals, including Nobel prize winners, but says he took away some concepts that continue to be very relevant to his role as an entrepreneur and CEO. These experiences also helped him gain clarity on his own weaknesses and strengths, and how he could make a contribution.

After attending several of the most prestigious colleges in the world, Zach continued to evolve himself through his corporate career.

While in school, he experienced the first pandemic of his own lifetime, HIV.

While there were a lot of advances being made in medicine and genetics and technology, an effective solution hadn’t been found yet.

An aging population was also clearly one of the big health challenges on the horizon. All of which fueled his interest in biomedical innovation.

So, for the next 12 years, he learned and developed himself and his network from the inside of some of the big players in the industry.

At Roche, Zach says that he learned drug discovery and the value of investing in employees.

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At Genentech, he learned new approaches to drug discovery, operational excellence, and organizational processes.

And how to leverage technology at scale. As well as the value of scientists in the context of commercial companies.

He furthered his knowledge of drug discovery at Novartis, as well as learning program management, and the concept of servant leadership.

While he found some opportunities to be entrepreneurial inside larger corporations, his next job put him as the first scientist in a new startup, Denali Therapeutics, a company focused on developing new medicines for neurodegenerative diseases that has grown since its founding in 2015 to be valued at around $5.5B.

Today, as the founding CEO of his own startup, Zach identifies four pillars of becoming a successful entrepreneur.

  1. Identifying a need
  2. Recognizing new opportunities and technologies relevant to the need
  3. Being willing to work very hard
  4. Surrounding yourself with amazing individuals

These are all clearly factors he seems to have done well along the way.

Interline Therapeutics

Next, Zach pursued his attraction to the combination of science, technology, and common diseases with his own venture, Interline Therapeutics.

Interline Therapeutics is working to develop novel drugs that target key drivers of inflammation and cancer.

The company was founded within Foresite Labs, an incubator led by CEO Vik Bajaj, who is also a managing director at Foresite Capital.

Interline benefited from Foresite Labs’ deep expertise in developing and scaling life sciences startups.

Foresite Labs supports the next generation of healthcare entrepreneurs who are creating innovative companies.

These organizations are transforming the way that we discover and develop new medicines, and the way that we deliver care to patients in need.

Foresite Labs uses the tools of data science to create companies in healthcare that connect true changes in patient outcomes to all of the activities that are needed to develop, design and deploy therapeutics.

With a shared vision, Foresite Labs supported Interline operationally throughout the incubation process.

He says that “Interline Therapeutics is a company that is oriented around using this new technology to make the drug discovery process more efficient.”

As a company, they are working towards a vision of making a 10x improvement in drug discovery.

So, that “we’ll have a reproducible path for drug discovery that simply doesn’t exist today.”

They are specifically working on understanding the relationship between genes and protein interactions, and bridging current knowledge gaps with more data.

The Power Of A Great Pitch Deck

Storytelling is everything which is something that Zachary Sweeney 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.

Remember to unlock the pitch deck template that is being used by founders around the world to raise millions below.

Interline’s Series A round of fundraising was close to $93M.

It certainly sounds like they had a great pitch deck. Zach was also able to find venture capital partners in Foresite Capital and ARCH Ventures that shared his vision, but he also credits much of their fundraising capability to the amazing people they were able to bring on board and the strength of their team.

Your Real Job As A Founding CEO

Zach says that he was once told that “If you can come to work every day as a CEO and focus entirely on trying to make your company the place where your employees can do their best work, I think you’re doing the bulk of your job.”

If you do that well, then he says it will allow you to prioritize your activities and get the productivity from the people you work with. 

This entrepreneur has certainly taken this advice to heart. He points out some of the great talent they have been able to bring on board, and credits much of this to identifying and creating win-wins for those they bring on,finding synergies between your company vision and the candidate’s vision for their lives and careers.

Listen in to the full podcast episode to find out more, including:

  • Hiring and management
  • Diversity
  • Biotech and genetics
  • His top advice when starting a company of your own


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Neil Patel

I hope you enjoy reading this blog post.

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