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Wednesday, Dec 6, 2023

Conejo Convert

 Question: Why did you move the company to Westlake Village four years ago, from its hub at the Mann Biomedical Park in Valencia?Answer: At the time, we were hiring our people, we were recruiting quite a few from Amgen who just had a bunch of layoffs, so we were getting some good talent. We were a small company back then. We’re still small, but half our employees were commuting from Ventura County and L.A., Santa Monica and that area. Whether people commuted to Valencia or they commuted to Westlake, it was like splitting hairs and we were growing out of our space at that time, so rather than reestablish ourselves up there, we decided to move our offices here. And the space you chose was the right fit?It just so happened to be that Kythera was exiting. We just did a plug-and-play office space wise; we didn’t have to do a buildout. We saved a lot of money by getting an existing space without any real investments or tenant improvements. We were able to get a turnkey office space. We took over half the building at the time and they agreed to leave the other half open until they found a tenant, and then we decided to take over the whole space because we felt we would keep growing as we stabilized the company. So now we have the whole floor in Westlake Village and that has worked out well, since we can bring people back to the office safely under COVID. I would expect people to get back into the office in the next month or two.How else has the Conejo Valley location helped the company?We felt that we could recruit here, we were moving finance and human resources back to California from Connecticut, and at that time we said we could recruit enough key talent for those positions, whether it was from Amgen or from other adjacent companies.Any jobs that have been hard to fill?Regulatory. It has nothing to do with MannKind or the location, it’s just that there isn’t a lot of good talent available in this space. It’s probably the one area in the market that is just scarce, the entire U.S. market, not just L.A. Do you think companies with a physical space here might have an edge?I think the jury’s still out. Everyone’s working remotely right now. It’s easier to run a company when everyone’s virtual. I agree, small companies need that collaboration and communication, but I’m also on Zoom meetings with these companies and the executives are all over the world or the country, and they’re moving their companies forward. How does COVID factor in?It’s opening up my mind and the minds of other executives here. We talk to each other locally, given how well we’re working under COVID, I think it’s really opening up your talent pool to be anywhere in the world, or in the U.S. for that matter, and so while the headquarters may be here, some of the key executives and teams could be based in other parts of the country or world, and I think that’s going to make the scene more viable. It is hard to get people here sometimes, especially for smaller companies where, the more you can say you don’t have to move for the next year or so, until we continue to prove the proof of concept down, I think you’re going to see these small companies be able to recruit key talent above their weight.How does Conejo compare to other biotech hubs such as Boston and San Francisco?This will become a nice cluster of companies over the next five to 10 years and partially it’s because there isn’t a lot of big pharma in Boston. Yes, there’s a lot of academic innovation, life science, which is great. Northern California is too expensive. It’s hard to build your talent base, build an established company up there because people can’t afford to live there. Not that down here is that much cheaper, but it’s cheaper than San Francisco.And San Diego?There’s a lot of medical device, lab innovation there. I think what you’re going to see is a nice opportunity here in the Westlake Village area that platform companies, whether it’s biologics, dermatology, transdermal delivery, I think you’ll have a nice little sector of companies here coming out of Amgen ex-executives and investments from Westlake Village BioPartners.What do you think the Conejo Valley still lacks for more biotech growth?I’m less worried about manufacturing these days. I think that’s much easier to be put anywhere, I don’t think we need a big manufacturing base here. But people need to understand how to outsource and do (computer numerical control) work. The next part is tax incentives, or employment incentives, congressional support. I think those are still lacking. From my perspective, the politicians in this state don’t embrace this industry as much as they should. If you want to see it spark some more, put some innovation grants in place, help provide some seed capital to companies to create jobs here in L.A. and Ventura County.

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