When did you arrive in the United States and why did you come?
In 2011, Gov. Gray Davis introduced me to UCLA for potential partnerships in biological sciences. At that time, I found the university to have a fantastic array of collaborative opportunities with a higher flexibility to partner compared to similar academic institutions in Europe or the United States.
Michael Laznicka, 51
Company: Vault Pharma Inc.
From:Czech Republic/Swiss Citizen
At the time, did you intend to eventually return to your home country?
I understood that living in Switzerland and building a company halfway around the globe would raise a significant amount of challenges, but the opportunity to make a massive global impact in health management for cancer and vaccines has by no doubt made the decision easy.
Why did you start your business in the United States?
I could have built the business back in Europe but that would have alienated much of the ongoing basic research efforts of the company, making it harder for collaborators and partners. Apart from that, the United States has a significant bio-sciences public funding program presenting a global advantage.
What’s the hardest thing about starting a business here?
I learned from my mistakes in my home country. I was challenged by not making the same mistakes again with different laws and ways to go about (starting a business). It was important for me to build a sound framework for the company and I needed help. Luckily Americans are more recipient to strangers than my home country is.
And the easiest?
When we needed to find collaborators and contractors we didn’t have to look abroad. Our business is very specialized and the United States has superior resources in the biotechnology field.
What have been the biggest surprises?
I was surprised that there is so much high quality research in universities around the United States, public or private, waiting to be commercialized.
Would you tell someone from your home country to start a business here or there?
I would definitely advise starting a business in the United States rather than in my home country. It broadens not only the horizon but the opportunity set is much greater. The speed of growth is significantly faster due to the position of the United States in the world as an economic powerhouse. Furthermore, for the same amount of investment money and the same amount of effort and time, a company in bio sciences in the United States has significantly more value than in my home country.
Do you go back often?
I fly back and forward 10 to 12 times a year. Doing this commute makes me experience two different cultures. This is a benefit when I have to make important decisions; it broadens my perception and I appreciate more what I aspire to.
What did you know about the United States before coming here?
Luckily in this day and internet age much understanding can be derived from online resources. What I came to experience is that Los Angeles is a great place to spend more time rather than just visiting. Here I can go surf in the morning and then do my meetings afterward. I don’t know any other place I can do that.
What’s the funniest thing that’s happened to you as a foreign-born entrepreneur?
Embarrassments in important meetings where I freely translate in my mind from German into English, thinking it means the same but obviously it doesn’t. I ended up in many situations where people were just looking at me with their eyes wide open. Today I take this as a signal knowing I have to rephrase what I just said. – Omar Shamout
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