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The Skeptical Venture Capitalist

Sam Colella frets about his profession.

In the course of a venture capital career that has spanned 20 years, Sam Colella funded such companies as Aviron, CV Therapeutics, Medarex, Pharmacopeia, and Tularik. With Brook Byers of the VC giant Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (see “Vital Signs,” page 66 of the Journal, Issue 1), and Jim Blair of Domain Associates, Mr. Colella may be said to have invented biotech venture capital. Still, he doesn't think very much of the profession he helped establish, first at Institutional Venture Partners, which he joined in 1984, and more recently at Versant Ventures, where he has been since 1999.

During the course of a day spent in the company of the Acumen Journal of Life Sciences last February, Mr. Colella repeatedly noted that before he became a VC, he had spent the previous 20 years managing companies. In fact, he said as much no less than five times. While lecturing students at the University of California at Berkeley's Haas School that day (a guest appearance he clearly relishes), Mr. Colella asked, “How can you look an entrepreneur in the eye and say, �I can help you,' if you haven't been there and done that?”

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