Carme Pampín is the CEO of GalChimia and the president of Life Sciences Business Technology Cluster (BIOGA). We spoke to her to find out about the origin of GalChimia, the team, their business activity and R&D and the business environment.
ORIGINS OF THE COMPANY
1. GalChima came into being as a result of the entrepreneurial adventure undertaken by two doctors of organic chemistry at the University of Santiago. How did you come to the decision to set out on this journey?
The idea came from Professor Gabriel Tojo and Professor Ramón Estévez (our thesis supervisor), from the Department of Organic Chemistry at the University of Santiago. They had identified a business opportunity thanks to their previous experience in research contracts within the industry. They pitched us the idea of creating a spin-off and we jumped at the chance. For us it was an exciting adventure and the chance to find a professional outlet which was different to the traditional types and at the same time in line with our training and vocation.
2. What market need did you identify in order to found a company such as GalChimia?
Initially the idea was to become a high added value chemical products supplier to research laboratories. During our doctoral thesis we saw at first hand the need to prepare certain chemical reagents and intermediates, which although not very innovative in nature, were necessary to advance in research projects. Somewhat surprisingly, these products were not available in the main catalogues of chemical reagents.
3. In the year 2001 the term spin-off may have passed by unnoticed, however today it is a widespread and well-known business model. 15 years ago, in GalChimia you opted for this model to start the project. Tell us about the process. How was the institutional support from the University during this period?
At that time the term spin-off was almost completely unknown. I still remember the first meeting with the management team from the University and for us it was as if they were speaking in another language. The set up process for the business was not at all easy, from the conception of the idea until it was up and running took around two years. Those two years were very complicated, we had many disappointments when we thought that the project was coming to an end and they were also two years of intense work, but we were lucky enough to have the support of the University. At that moment the UDC was creating its own entrepreurship programme and little by little we surrounded ourselves with teams of highly motivated professionals in order for the project to move forward. UNINOVA helped us to prepare the business plan, which we would later present to UNIRISCO (the venture capital company) and we managed to get them to invest in the company.
We feel very well supported by the University but also a little isolated from the scientific community who didn’t really understand the initiative.
THE GALCHIMIA TEAM
4. The GalChimia team has grown in the last few years. How many employees does GalChimia have nowadays?
Right now there are 35 of us in the company, a highly qualified team, one which is highly motivated to move forward with the project, as in business there is no time to sit back and rest on our laurels, believing your work to be done. Every year there are new challenges and it is essential for the team to have the necessary capacity for change and adaptation.
5. It is true that you are quite a multidisciplinary team, and one which includes international members. What training profiles and nationalities make up the GalChimia team?
The majority of us are organic chemists because, as our slogan says, “We Know Chemistry”, but in the last few years, in order to attend market demands, we have begun to diversify our competencies and due to this the profiles of our team have changed to, both in training and nationality. For example, at the moment we have experts in biochemistry, biotechnology and crystallography among our team members. Regarding nationalities, even though the majority of the team is of Spanish nationality (with a high percentage of Galicians) we also have people of other nationalities, such as French and Italians.
6. With regard to the recruitment of international talent, how is that carried out?
The recruitment and retention of talent, in general, is not an easy task and it requires the investment of a large amount of resources; but if we put it onto an international stage it gains importance. In our case we are helped by the position of the company on a European level and the visibility and image of the brand we have created throughout the last number of years.
7. What do you most value about your team?
Its fantastic professionalism, customer orientation, tenacity and the capacity for continuous learning.
BUSINESS ACTIVITY & R+D
8. In 15 years you have become the leading company in Spain in the synthesis of organic chemicals. What do you think are the key points that have taken you this far?
We believe that a few of the factors may have been, basing ourselves upon solid corporate values that include business knowledge, the professionalism of the team, maintaining a relationship of confidentiality and trust with the customer based on permanent communication and a flexible and innovative spirit to take on projects that demand creativity in order to resolve complex problems.
9. The service catalogue of GalChimia goes from chemical syntehesis, to process development. But, besides that, you also carry out research chemistry and offer analytic services.
Which services of those you offer are most in demand?
The most demanded service, and the one we have been working on the longest, is research chemistry through Medicinal Chemistry projects. During these 15 years we have carried out more than 1,000 projects in this area, working for large cutting-edge multinational companies on a national level and small cutting-edge biotechs in other areas.
10. The pharmaceutical industry is one of your main customers. What type of services does GalChimia offer to this sector and what do you think is the differentiating factor with respect to other competitors?
Almost all the services we offer can be of interest to the pharmaceutical industry and research chemistry, as I have mentioned, is the main one. We believe our differentiating value to be the combination of a deep knowledge of chemistry and a strong customer and results based orientation. Our top priority is always to adapt to the needs of the project and maintain fluent communication with the customer; we are aware that our job is a small part of the value chain of new drug discovery, and the results we obtain (either positive or negative) must be communicated with as much reliability and speed as possible.
11. Your client portfolio includes some very large companies. What stands out the most about working with them?
We learn things from all of our customers each and every day, however with big companies we have the possibility to take on larger scale projects and even maintain our collaboration for a longer period. For example, in some cases we have worked with a pharmaceutical company in the search for a Lead (drug candidate) through the service of research chemistry and later they ask for us to carry out the chemical development of the molecule that we had initially synthesized.
12. Apart from the pharmaceutical industry, what other sectors does GalChimia offer its services to?
In recent years we have focused on the agrochemical sector and we have identified the need to supply metabolites and pesticide impurities both quickly and reliably.
13. We have seen that you have customers in Europe but also in the USA, Israel. How does GalChimia approach internationalization? What importance does it have in your commercial strategy?
Internationalization is one of the basic pillars of our strategic plan and because of that we have increased our activity and our efforts in this area. We have an internationalization plan which encompasses a whole host of actions to be implemented but without a doubt the most relevant has been hiring people with an international profile to develop the business.
14. You have chosen to invest in the development of an online catalogue. On your webpage you offer more than 250 products between pharmaceutical and agrochemical references. What has the uptake been like among clients?
In these times when all businesses have an online version, we thought it was interesting to search for our own niche and explore new approaches. And the experiment has been a success, in 2016 we doubled the sales with respect to the previous year.
15. Besides the commercial activity, the R&D component of GalChimia is undeniable, and is reflected in your research activity and the development of patents and scientific publications. How do you combine the day to day work in these two dimensions of the company?
We have a great advantage in that our ordinary activity is doing R&D, and therefore our own or collaborative projects fit perfectly within the normal working processes of the company. The only thing we have to do is allocate a team adapted to the needs of the project, just as we would do when carrying out a project for a third party. The most complicated part is getting the resources to finance this R&D and to help that we have increased our participation in R&D programmes on a national and international level.
16. You were recently awarded the ARDÁN indicator for Innovative Company 2016. What does this recognition mean for GalChimia?
A recognition of the effort we have put in and an incentive to continue investing in innovation.
17. What are GalChimia’s plans for the coming years?
To develop our plans for international expansion, consolidate the new business lines and create value from the R&D results.
18. Galicia can be proud to say it is the autonomous region in which biotech has grown the most. How does GalChimia take advantage of this circumstance?
It is true that in the last years the biopharmaceutical ecosystem in Galicia has gained importance and that has contributed to positioning the company as a technological pole for excellence. The technical solvency and professionalism of the Galican companies has been key in reaching this milestone. For any company, and also for GalChimia, it is important to feel part of a group and take advantage of the synergies and strengths of the community to gain outward visibility and also prestige as an innovative region.
19. Apart from being the CEO of GalChimia you are also the president of the Life Sciences Technology Cluster in Galicia (Bioga). From that position, what are your thoughts on the biotechnological landscape in Galicia? What about in Spain?
In Galicia it is undeniable that the sector is experiencing real growth. Although it is true that it is still a small sector, I don’t think that anyone denies its potential. The main problem that we have both in Galicia and Spain is the lack of financing to carry out certain business projects that require large investments, but in Galicia I think we are experts in getting more from less and in that sense there are initiatives which have been very successful despite the limited resources invested.
20. How important do you think collaboration with other companies is important for your own development?
The existence of this ecosystem allows us to establish collaborations with the field that 15 years ago would have been unthinkable. At the moment we have at least 3 research projects underway with Galician companies, coming from such diverse sectors as canning, energy production and biopharmaceutical. It is important to mention the NEOGALFARM project which has brought about the creation of a multidisciplinary platform for the discovery of drugs in the fight against cancer in which 4 Galician companies collaborate and diverse research groups from Galician campuses.