André Choulika, Chairman and CEO of Cellectis, is one of the pioneers in the development of nuclease-based gene-editing technologies.
BACKGROUNDCreated in 1999, Cellectis is the pioneering gene-editing company, deploying core proprietary technologies to develop off-the-shelf immunotherapies to target and eradicate cancer cells. In 2015, the company applied its technologies to successfully cure two infants with acute lymphoblastic leukemia—a world first. Clinical trials are currrently ongoing to test the product candidates developed by the company.
What led you to become an entrepreneur?André Choulika: I’ve always wanted to start a research company, as it seemed to be one of the most exciting adventures to me. Every place on Earth has already been explored, even the North Pole. It’s really only the world of research and innovation that still offers unchartered territory. It’s a human adventure!
How did you start your company?AC: It all began in 1998 when I was working as a researcher at Harvard on nuclease-based genome editing. One day, I received a letter from the French government about a new initiative to encourage citizens to start their own business. At that time, it seemed like all of my colleagues were patenting their research, so I decided to do the same. I first submitted my business plan to the French ministry of research, and then traveled to the Pasteur Institut in Paris to negotiate patenting and licensing around my research. They agreed to allow me to create a spin-off technology company if I was awarded the investment. Soon after, the government accepted my proposal and I founded my company, Cellectis, in December of 1999.
How has HEC contributed to your success?AC: In 2000, I applied and was accepted into the HEC Challenge+ program which proposed accelerated entrepreneurship training. The program was a huge support as it helps entrepreneurs avoid all the pitfalls when starting a company. Each student benefits from fantastic courses in every area of business, and is able to apply the lessons directly to their business plan. The program doesn’t guarantee success, but it does give you all the tools you need to be successful!
What are some of the key lessons you learned at HEC?AC: When I started my company I already had significant experience in my field of research, but little knowledge of finance and business. Thanks to HEC Challenge+ I was able to understand concepts around equity, agreements, shareholders and more. One of our professors, Karim Medjad, was a brilliant lawyer who helped demystify agreements. He taught us that every agreement reached by two parties, whether on paper or in person, was a reflection of our desired outcomes and the result of a delicate balance of power. Another professor, Etienne Krieger, taught us how to manage equity and shareholder relations during our company’s lifetime. He also showed us how to protect ourselves from giving away too much equity in the early stages.
What is your contact with HEC alumni today?AC: I still maintain many relationships with former professors and colleagues. For example, I now formally share my entrepreneurial experience with students in the MBA program. I love the interaction with them! I also know that whenever I need help, I can reach out to my former professors or fellow Challenge+ colleagues. We are all busy, but we can rely on each other for trusted advice.
“Ask yourself, what will create value in the market?”
What advice would you give to new entrepreneurs?AC: Know where the value is. The management and execution of a business plan are important, but not as important as following the value. Ask yourself, what will create value in the market? Here’s another secret: innovation is where you can find the value of the value!
- #1 most advanced gene-editing company in the world
- Over 136 biotechnology patent families owned
- IPO in 2015 on Nasdaq market with $228.250 million