Former investment banker Kenichi Nogami (’17) embraced the Business Creation Option at UCLA Anderson because he wanted to bring vital medical technology to market. He says he chose Anderson because of its location in a region of cutting-edge medical technology and a culture of shared success that sets it apart from other b-schools.
Q: Tell us about your startup, Metcela.
Metcela is a pioneer biotechnology company founded in Japan in March 2016 that aims to be the first to commercialize biological products that heal damaged heart muscle in order to treat heart diseases. The product can save patients’ lives by preventing risky and expensive heart transplants, which can cost up to $787,000.
I co-founded the company with my partner, Takahiro Iwamiya, an experienced stem cell researcher in Japan, while getting support from UCLA Anderson classmates.
Q: What inspired you, and how did your education and experience prepare you to launch your own venture?
Before coming to UCLA Anderson, I was an investment banker at Morgan Stanley in Japan and I executed financing and M&A deals for major Japanese companies. But I had entrepreneurial aspirations in my mind since college. In January 2014, while I was still at Morgan Stanley, I met Takahiro and, after several meetings, we decided to work together to launch a business from his technology. However, as a former investment banker, I had no clue about the steps of launching the business and what strategy we should take. I decided to apply to business schools to learn more about entrepreneurship while Takahiro worked on R&D and prototyping for a couple of years. Anderson resources really helped me in creating convincing business plans and presenting them to investors. Capitalizing on all the learnings here, we could convince one key venture capitalist in Japan and actually launch the company.
Q: Describe disruption and innovation in the medical space. What differences have you noticed between Asia and the U.S.?
The Japanese government is provding a lot of grants to researchers and companies in the field of stem cell research. In addition, the government also enforced a new law to reduce difficulty of stem cell clinical trials and promote commercializing stem cell treatment. Taking advantage of this support, Metcela received a grant from the government in May and we located our first lab in the stem cell-focused research center developed under a prefectural project, starting June 1.
While Japan is primarily focusing on governmental support, the U.S. has an advantage in access to both governmental and private support. There are a number of experienced venture capital firms and accelerator programs that can give hands-on support to startups. Furthermore, startup and medical meet-ups were quite useful for us to get connected with industry professionals, investors and entrepreneurs. I’m quite sure that this unique ecosystem enables medical startups in the U.S. to bring more disruption and innovation. Metcela aims to take advantage of both.
Q: How are you using Anderson resources to support your venture?
Entrepreneurship and Venture Initiation (EVI) class was very helpful. This class helped me understand how I should be prepared for launching the company step by step. I capitalized on all the lessons learned from this class to better negotiate with investors right after the quarter. I also took the Business Plan Development (BPD) class, where I found my Business Creation Option (BCO) teammates, and prepared to pitch our ideas to the investors.
We also pitched in the Knapp business plan competition held in April. Although we were semifinalists and not finalists, one of the judges liked our idea and contacted us afterward. H e is now the academic adviser for our BCO project. Going through BCO in the fall and winter quarters will help us in launching Metcela’s U.S. operation next year.
Q: You’ve raised $1 million in funding. What is next for Metcela?
Metcela’s current funding will be used in Japan until the next round of funding around May 2017. BCO will be the foundation for the next round of financing in both U.S. and Japan and establishing a company in the U.S. in 2017.
Our next goal is to go through all the clinical trial stages and launch our initial product by 2021. The BCO program will play a key role in steering the company in the right direction.
Q: Why did you pursue your MBA at UCLA Anderson? How are you balancing business school with being an entrepreneur?
I applied for my MBA at UCLA Anderson to learn the steps to launch startups, develop a solid foundation as a business professional and get connected with industry professionals. My optional essay to Anderson was about Metcela and I explained how I was excited about entrepreneurship classes including EVI, BPD and BCO.
Taking these classes actually helped me during the process of launching myself as an entrepreneur and I could implement within the company what I learned in the classes right away. The time difference also helped me in working long hours and balancing business school with being an entrepreneur. When I’m coming back from school at 4:00 p.m., it is 8:00 a.m. in Japan. Time spent working on my venture continues until around 1:00 a.m. Balancing these two is very tough, but I’m quite sure that this pays off in the future!
Q: What are some of the benefits of being an entrepreneur in Los Angeles?
With no doubt, Los Angeles is the ideal location for all entrepreneurs considering the available resources, including technology, people and money. Specifically for medical startups, having globally known hospitals like David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, and being situated between San Diego and San Francisco, both of which are famous for medical research, launching a business in Los Angeles enables us to get connected with cutting-edge technologies, medical experts and specialized medical investors.
Q: You must be familiar with Anderson’s three defining pillars: Think Fearlessly, Drive Change and Share Success. Which of these do you apply most your company?
All of these pillars are essential in taking risks in life, bringing about innovation and having a great team to work with. But if I were to pick one, I would choose Share Success. I was quite impressed by UCLA Anderson’s collaborative culture and how students are helping each other instead of competing against one another. I think it clearly distinguishes us from other schools, and I hope to incorporate this into the philosophy of my company. Structuring a fair and flat organization, being open to opinions and criticism, and promoting and rewarding teamwork will attract both existing and potential employees who have an entrepreneurial mindset.