Dan Safarpour, CEO of Symbiotic Research (Mount Olive), a contract research organization (CRO) providing high-end analytical chemistry capability, visited with members of Launch NJ: Life Sciences Hub on Monday, June 1. The meeting took place at Kean University’s Institute for Life Science Entrepreneurship.
Safarpour attributed his successful business to hiring good people who are doing good science.
Symbiotic Research currently employs 25 people, 14 of whom work on site. The rest work off-site, engaged in technical writing, regulatory consultation and business development. The company has agreements with some of the largest names in the business, including the top five agrochemical companies. Safarpour said that Symbiotic Research maintains its client base through constant networking.
He then gave the attendees a glimpse into his background and explained how he came to found Symbiotic Research.
He was born in Azerbaijan and lived in Iran, where his father worked for an American company. When the Shah was overthrown in the 1970s, his family moved to Arkansas. Safarpour graduated with a degree in chemistry from the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, working to support himself until he received a scholarship. He moved to New Jersey to work for American Cyanamid (agricultural division) in Princeton and to attend Rutgers University, pursuing his doctorate in environmental analytical chemistry. The agricultural division of Cyanamid was purchased by American Home Products, and then sold to the German chemical firm BASF in 2000. BASF shut down the facility in 2002 and moved personnel to North Carolina.
When that happened, Safarpour chose to remain in New Jersey, received three job offers and chose to work for Taxolog, a very successful biotech startup with $25 million in funds. Soon after he joined, the company raised $100 million. It was a boom time, and Safarpour reminisced about enjoying building his lab and his team. But Taxalog eventually had three chemical compounds in clinical trials at the same time, and was burning large sums of money. The company quietly shut down in 2009, leading Safarpour to found Symbiotic Research.
Safarpour discussed how he builds teams at his company. He has a few interns each summer, recruited from top labs and top schools in analytical chemistry. The purpose is to observe how the interns work and to determine whether they’d be a good fit for the company. Safarpour is interested in people who are truly committed to science, rather than people who are there only to count the hours and collect a paycheck. He wants people to push the boundaries of analytical chemistry so that Symbiotic Research can offer clients the latest techniques delivered in a an environment regulated by good laboratory practice (GLP). He also wants his employees to have a balance between work and life.
To keep abreast of the latest developments in his industry, Safarpour regularly attends conferences on analytical chemistry, such as meetings of the American Chemical Society and AOAC International, the International Symposium on Chromatography, International Symposium on Electro- and Liquid Phase-Separation Techniques, and the Latin American Capillary Electrophoresis Symposium. He also regularly gives presentations at these conferences, using data from work done at Symbiotic Research.
Safarpour said that, when work comes in that is too routine, he will pass it on to other CROs, preferring to keep the more complex projects that are more challenging and for which he can command premium prices. In this way, he maintains Symbiotic Research’s reputation as a premier analytical lab.
Networking is important to Safarpour’s company. He said that sometimes his colleagues wonder why he attends so many conferences and meets with professors who are leaders in their fields, all while trying to be an entrepreneur. He tells them that professors are often on the advisory boards of companies, and in this capacity at least one of them has sent work his way.
“One never knows where some good networking will earn dividends,” he told the group. Safarpour remained after his talk to chat with interested audience members.