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(Interview) Portrait of Bernard Malfroy-Camine: ‘Entrepreneurship is life in the trenches’

Humility, simplicity, generosity, humanity, breath… these are the impressions I was overwhelmed by when I met Bernard Malfroy-Camine, PhD, CEO and founder of MindSet Rx., a continuation of Eukarion, a biotechnology company, founded in 1991. He is also Executive Vice-President, Développement des Affaires at Voisin Consulting. He is Vice-Chairman of the Supervisory Board of Genomic Vision, a spin-off from the Institut Pasteur, Paris, Chairman of the Board of Directors Sensorion, a spin-off from INSERM, Montpellier, and member of the Board Directors of the American Society EyeGate Pharma.

Bernard is a graduate of the Ecole Polytechnique, Paris (1976) and obtained his doctorate in neurobiology from the University Paris VI in 1982. Bernard Malfroy-Camine is also an impressive researcher. In 2002 he was made a Knight in the National Order of Merit for his contributions in the biotechnology field in France and the United States. More than a meeting, I had the feeling to live a very inspiriting experience…

Bernard Malfroy Camine

Beginning of the adventure
I entered the entrepreneurial dimension the day I gave my letter of resignation to my former boss and I quit my job. Then you go without a safety net and you just do what you have to.

‘Entrepreneurship is no glory… but life in the trenches’ (‘La vie dans les tranchées’)
I started my first company 24 years ago, it took me almost one year to get the first financing. During that time without any salary, my beloved mother – who was fully supportive of my decision to start a company – told me: ‘it is tough to be unemployed’ I replied to her that I was not unemployed, that I was working more than ever and that I just wasn’t getting money for the moment.  It is difficult for people around you, even for the people who love you, to understand what starting a company from scratch means.

Entrepreneurship is not glory, when you look at all the months without salary, it is not comfortable at all.  It is life in the trenches! But good moments – and there are many of them – are immensely better than anything you can experience otherwise. This is hugely rewarding, not necessarily and only on a financial level but at a much more personal one.

Business advices of Bernard
It is not necessary to succeed to persevere… and I failed a lot before succeeding. I made so many mistakes, that’s why I can only advise people about some things not to do. I love working as an advisor and board member of several biotechs because these companies are not my ‘babies’ so I can be much more objective.

  • The importance of Network and allies

One very important thing is not to go alone into an entrepreneurial project, and to be associated since the beginning with somebody you trust entirely and who has complementary expertise, for example a business man who can help find financing.

I was lucky to be helped by my wife, Evelyne, a former nurse, mother of my 5 children. She became nurse practitioner last year at 59 hats off to her, I guess entrepreneurial spirit runs in the family… During a number of years we worked together. People say that husband and wife should never work together…This might be true except that when it works it is really terrific! Michel Baudry, PhD, a longtime friend and co-founder of Eukarion with me, also helped me a lot. He is an academic scientist, we complemented each other very nicely. Besides he is also a Marathon runner…

Your network is very important. I lead my project alone – there can be only one head – but I was able to make it because I knew a lot of people from my previous professional experiences as a researcher, and they helped me to find the right information.

  • Key success factor in the biotechnology sector

In my view, in the drug discovery biotechnology sector, the real yardstick to success is to have a product in the market approved by FDA. With the FDA approving only about 30 molecules per year this is not easy…

Bernard’s philosophy of entrepreneurship

  • Entrepreneurship is before all a state of mind

I think that entrepreneurship cannot be learnt, it is in your genes, in your mind or not.

I keep thinking that I persevere in the good days, and I stubbornly continue in the bad days. The name of my last company, ‘Mindset’, comes from this. All entrepreneurs that I know are slightly crazy. By definition entrepreneurship is about something that no one did before. To find new things, you have to be crazy enough to believe that some rules are not correct and are made to be broken. I have also a fierce spirit of independence.

The most important thing is to have a project that makes sense for you, and to be ambitious. I regret nothing of my path, I am ready to assume all the consequences of my project as I made it with my heart.

I am an adventurer, trying things – even risky ones – is the only way of understanding, and I must confess that I work in an optimal way when I’m back to the wall.

For me, an entrepreneur is a fighter, who keeps standing with a bloody nose. Entrepreneurship is a question of survival. A cat has 9 lives after all.

  • Key motivations

Frustration can be a motivation at the beginning, but it is passion that allows to continue an entrepreneurial project, with precise goals, and intellectual honesty. Entrepreneurship is something very individual. In my mind money cannot be a motivator. It comes sometimes, but in no way you jump off a good job to start a company with financial gain as only goal.

My passion for people is my current main motor. I personally fight for an orphan pathology affecting children (Ataxia-telangiectasia). A molecule I discovered has potential for this disease and I won’t stop until it has been tested in these very sick children. It is hard but fun…One day I felt discouraged and I just talked with a mother of an AT kid…I realized that I couldn’t give up as she certainly cannot quit…

  • Advices that Bernard gives to his own children

My children? Whatever you do in life do it fully and with passion.

  • Simple essential things

I am a family guy. One of my most beautiful days recently: I was sitting in my couch, holding tight my two lovely grandchildren. It is very important to go back to the basics and not to forget the simple essential things.

Come to the next Café des Entrepreneurs and you know more about Bernard’s success story!

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