TransPharm Preclinical Solutions
Jackson pharma contract research firm thrives
March 2011 – Originally published in GLITR
Dan Ross is another example of the pharmaceutical industry's cutbacks spawning Michigan entrepreneurship — and another example of how the Michigan Small Business and Technology Development Center helps companies grow.
Ross, trained as a veterinary technician was a surgical technician at Wayne State University and later an associate scientist at Parke-Davis in Ann Arbor, staying through its transition to Pfizer Inc. ownership.
But when Pfizer announced in 2007 it was shutting down its Ann Arbor research operations, Ross was already thinking about striking out on his own.
He said an acquaintance in Kalamazoo lost his job when Pfizer shut down a lab there, and "tried to get me to bust out of Pfizer" and start what the pharma industry calls a pre-clinical contract research organization, or CRO.
Essentially, that means testing promising drug candidates on small animals like mice to determine how well they might work in humans, not to mention to look for serious side effects.
"I spent two hours with him… and he sold me on the need," Ross said. "He told me how to find clientele, how we can differentiate ourselves from the few other companies doing this, and about the pain in the market."
Thus, TransPharm Preclinical Solutions LLC of Jackson was born. Ross left Pfizer July 18, 2007 and TransPharm, owned by Ross and partner Mike Dority, opened Jan. 2, 2008. The firm concentrates mostly on research into new antibiotics.
In two weeks, Ross said, TransPharm will add its seventh employee. And he's trying to lure a couple of others back from Connecticut, where Pfizer moved its antibacterial research from Ann Arbor — because Pfizer has just shut down antibacterial research there, too, and moved it to Shanghai.
Ross said he learned about services from the Michigan Small Business and Technology Development Centers in March 2007, when he visited Kalamazoo's Southwest Michigan Innovation Center — a pharma research lab with space for rent to pharma startups, most veterans of Pfizer's shut-down Kalamazoo operations.
That's where he met SBTDC Technology Business Consultant John Balbach, who has an office in the SMIC.
Ross said he spent "countless hours" with Balbach and other business assistance staffers writing a business plan, going over marketing, developing financial numbers, and considering issues like leasing vs. owning real estate.
They've been a real help to his business, Ross said — in fact, they're a big reason why TransPharm is growing like mad, from $147,000 in revenue in 2008 to $411,000 in 2009 to $1.3 million in 2010 to what Ross plans will be at least twice that in 2011.
“Spending 10 years as a scientist doesn’t prepare you for running the business end of a business,” Ross said. “Our product of running experiments was the easy part. Making sure we made the best decisions is where the SBTDC has priceless resources. Knowing they were there to help with any question I had was very comforting. I think when starting any business, you don’t know what you don’t know. The SBTDC made sure I was aware of those types of things and always did it with a smile. I feel confident in saying that any new business should be required to spend time with the SBTDC before venturing out on their own.”
More about TransPharm at www.transpharmsite.com. For more information on how the SBTDC technology business consultants can help your technology-focused business, visit http://misbtdc.org/technology-team/.