CharlotteBusinessResources.com had the honor of interviewing Bill Basinger, CEO & President of Countervail Corporation. Countervail Corporation is focused on providing protection and treatment of military and civilian populations from exposure to chemical and biological weapons. In November 2013, Countervail announced that the Department of Health and Human Services, through the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), has exercised a contract option for an additional $5.4 million for the further development of galantamin hydrobromide, under the trade name AverTox, as a medical countermeasure to nerve agents. To date, the company has been awarded $10.7 million under the five-year $24.9 million contract.
Charlotte Business Resources (CBR): Tell us a little bit about you personally. What is your background and what led you to become an entrepreneur?
Mr. Bill Basinger (BB): I have been working in the medical sciences industry for 35 years that spans diagnostics, devices and pharmaceuticals. I received a Masters Degree from UNCC and prior to going into the industry I worked as a clinical microbiologist at what was formerly called Charlotte Memorial Hospital (now named Carolinas Medical Center). For ~30 of my career years I worked for a number of large corporate and small venture funded biomedical companies. Although my academic training was in the sciences, my career has been in sales, marketing and business development in the medical industry. Over the years, I have run and originated sales and marketing organizations and facilitated the acquisition of new technologies and businesses. I have also had the opportunity to launch the first products developed by two early stage companies that included the first monoclonal antibody based test for Legionaire’s disease, an improved AIDS test and a new recombinant antigen autoimmune diagnostic system among others. A drug development business opportunity surfaced that appeared to offer a good chance for success. Countervail was formed to pursue the opportunity and for the past six years, I have been CEO and President.
CBR: Tell me about Countervail. How did you choose to become involved in a pharmaceutical startup?
BB: Just prior to the formation of Countervail, I was a partner in a consulting group that was working on several projects for a pharmaceutical company that manufactures the drug that Countervail is now developing. Preliminary data on a new use for the drug looked promising. The company subsequently was formed in June 2007 and acquired an exclusive worldwide commercialization license for this drug technology as a medical countermeasure to poisoning from organophosphorus compounds. I was one of the company founders.
CBR: As a high growth entrepreneur, what resources/organizations did you find most useful in getting started? Specifically, tell us about your involvement with Ventureprise.
Ventureprise is a catalyst for the Charlotte region’s innovation and entrepreneurial ecosystem. Ventureprise collaborates with an extensive network of partner organizations to offer direct services to entrepreneurs, innovators, inventors and early stage companies.
BB: In the early stages of Countervail, Ventureprise (at the time referred to as the Ben Craig Center) offered connections to a small business support network that was very useful in establishing a toehold in getting started. In 2009, Countervail was fortunate in winning the pharma category in the Five Ventures Competition (now called the Charlotte Venture Challenge). As a prize for the win, Paul Wetenhall offered a $3,000 credit toward office space at the business incubator. The incubator space allowed us to graduate from being a virtual company. From that point, Ventureprise connections led to help from the SBTDC for financial and SBIR advice, a small business loan from the NCBC that contributed to a pre-IND filing/meeting with the FDA. Ventureprise was also a help in locating our consulting neurologist. I should also mention that one of my coaches for the Five Ventures Competition ended up being our patent attorney.
The largest and oldest competition is the Charlotte Venture Challenge organized by UNC Charlotte and Ventureprise. This early stage competition begins in January and includes workshops, mentors, and high visibility. Previous winners have had considerable success. With $75,000 or more in prizes and multiple categories, the odds of winning significant cash are about one in 20.
CBR: What do you think was the most influential advice you ever received as an entrepreneur?
BB: If I had to pick, I would say that when presenting your company and business opportunity value, be concise and to the point. Anyone that may be interested will have a short attention span.
CBR: What has been the biggest hurdle that you have had to overcome?
BB: To no ones surprise, it’s money. During the time when the company was started, equity capital had virtually dried up – particularly for a start up biopharma company. My strategy was to focus effort in securing funding from agencies in the federal government where our technology would be of interest. We have been fortunate to be awarded a couple of grants and federal contracts to fund our operations.
CBR: What is the most important lesson you have learned?
BB: Don’t give up! Very good days and very bad days are a guarantee. Persistence and a level head in dealing with the bad days will eventually prevail.
CBR: What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?
BB: Deal with reality and maintain your resilience.
CBR: Tell me about the $5.4 million federal contract extension you received from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. How will this investment help you reach your current/future goals?
BB: The $5.4 million contract extension adds to work already completed to total at $11M in funds to date for this contract. The extension will facilitate the continued development of our drug for use as a neuroprotectant against the neurological damage caused by chemical warfare nerve agents. The laboratory studies look promising and we expect that additional extensions will be awarded up to the total $25M value of the contract.
CBR: What’s next for Countervail?
BB: Countervail is pursuing 5 different commercially viable uses for our drug. The HHS contract funds one of those uses. We are currently pursuing a second use under an SBIR Phase 2 grant. We will be applying for additional grants for the other drug indications and considering equity investment.
CBR: Is there anything else you would like for us to know?
BB: We have had a great relationship with Ventureprise. In early 2014, Ventureprise will be moving to a new facility called PORTAL. We have been invited and will be relocating Countervail to the new PORTAL facility at that time.