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The People Of Animal Health Podcast

Posted by VETIGEL Team on
Two VETIGEL scientists in Cresilon's biomanufacturing facility making a batch of VETIGEL.

Transforming an idea hatched in his dorm room into a revolutionary biomedical product, Joe Landolina’s entrepreneurial spirit has fueled his great success. 

 

 

Speaker 1:
Welcome to The People of Animal Health Podcast. The host of our podcast is Stacy Pursell. Stacy is the leading executive recruiter for the animal health and veterinary industries. She’s the founder of Therio Partners and The VET Recruiter. Stacy has placed more professionals in key positions within the animal health and veterinary industries than any executive search professional. And along the way, Stacy has built relationships with some outstanding people who are doing incredible things to make a difference. The People of Animal Health Podcast features industry leaders and trailblazers who have made a significant impact or are making an impact in the animal health and veterinary industries. Stacy chats with them to learn more about their lives, their careers, and the unique and interesting things that they have done to contribute to the animal health or veterinary industries. She is here to share their stories with you. Now, here’s the host of our podcast, Stacy Pursell.

 

Stacy Pursell:
Hello, and welcome to The People of Animal Health Podcast. On today’s show, we are talking with Joe Landolina, an entrepreneur who was constantly experimenting with different natural materials in the lab as a young adult. Joe conceived an adhesive hemostatic gel composed of plant-based polymers that could adhere to a wound site and simultaneously support the natural clotting process. To refine and manufacture the gel technology he invented, Joe, with his partner, Isaac Miller, founded Cresilon, formally Suneris, which has since grown into a medical device company headquartered in Brooklyn, New York. As chief executive officer, Joe is now gearing up to take the company’s proprietary product, VETIGEL, to the veterinary market, offering a faster, more reliable solution in hemostasis for veterinarians performing both routine treatments and complex operations in clinics every day.

Stacy Pursell:
As the face of Cresilon, Joe meets with investors, clinicians, and industry key [inaudible 00:01:57] leaders alike to keep a pulse on the market, meanwhile, leading all strategic initiatives internally. Joe’s research background is in biocompatible polymers. In 2013, he was selected as a Barry M Goldwater Scholar in recognition of his outstanding potential in scientific research. In 2014, Joe was named a TED Global Fellow and has since traveled around the world representing Cresilon. Joe is also a former innovation consultant at his alma mater, NYU College of Engineering and on the board at eLab NYC, which supports the development of NYC as the new world leader in life sciences entrepreneurship. Welcome onto The People of Animal Health Podcast. And how are you, Joe?

Joe Landolina:
Well, thank you so much for having me, Stacy. It’s great to be here.

Stacy Pursell:
Well, Joe, I know that you have already experienced tremendous success at this point in your still early career. But I would love to start off at the bottom in the very beginning of your career. What was your life like growing up and where did you grow up?

VETIGEL's story

Joe Landolina:
Sure. So I got a very early start and had a little bit of an unusual child. My grandfather was an executive at a pharmaceutical company in New Jersey, Hoffman Laroche. And when he retired from pharma, he decided to follow his second passion, which meant that he started a vineyard. And as a result, I grew up right next door to the winery, with the chemistry lab across the street from my house and a grandfather who learned lab safety in the early sixties. So that meant that effectively from the time that I could walk, I would get home, walk directly from the school bus into the lab and work alongside my grandfather. And as I got older and older, my area of interest really started sort of to shift to how we can take chemistry and use that to apply into my other interests, which was medicine. And as a young kid, if you’d asked me what I wanted to do, I would’ve told you I wanted to become a surgeon. So I was always really interested by the medical field, but learning chemistry became part of my early childhood.

Stacy Pursell:
When did you first figure out what you wanted to do professionally?

Joe Landolina:
So again, I was lucky. And from a very young age, I knew that on one hand, I knew I always wanted to start a company and I knew that I always wanted it to be somewhere within the medical field, and particularly in the application of chemistry into medicine. I did not know that it would be so early on in my career. I didn’t realize that I would be starting Cresilon at the age of 17 as a freshman in undergrad. But when I started school, my goal, like I said, was really just to go to medical school. And I was trying to do everything I could to build up my resume and to set myself apart from other students. And that was really how I fell into Cresilon.

Stacy Pursell:
Well, tell us that story, Joe. Tell us the story of the very beginning of your career. How did you get started?

Joe Landolina:
Sure. So my parents very astutely realized that if I kept going into a lab and blindly mixing things together like my grandfather was letting me do, that I would probably have an accident at some point. So they very smartly encouraged me as a high school student to go and “learn research the right way.” So I did two summers doing tissue engineering research at Columbia University in New York. And that was really my first foray into engineering or into tissue engineering, and I fell head over heels in love with it. And one of the projects that we were working on in that lab was taking plant-based scaffolding. And so these are acellular plant-based scaffolds, basically a scaffold for cells to grow on that don’t include cells itself.

Joe Landolina:
And you could take this scaffold, inject stem cells into it, and have those stem cells turn into human tissue. In our case, it was cartilage. And that lab was taking these scaffolds and using it to regrow cartilage to put back into the knees of athletes. And I thought that was the coolest thing ever. So being a young, arrogant kid who had never seen failure before, I decided I was going to go back to my winery lab and grow cartilage. And obviously, this was over a decade ago, you couldn’t just ring up a chemical distributor and say, “Hi, I’m a winery. I’d love to have some cell culture chemicals or reagents.” So if there was anything I needed, I had to make it myself or build it myself, find it myself. So I became pretty good at plant-based chemistries. And what we did is I was taking algae and I was trying to extract polymers out of algae to grow my cartilage, and that experiment failed measurably.

Joe Landolina:
But what I found was this blend of two polymers that came out of the algae that would instantly reassemble when it came into contact with skin or with a wound, and it would stick and it wouldn’t let go until you wanted it to. And I had this idea, which was to take that material and inject it into an actively bleeding bullet wound to, at the very least, stabilize a patient so you can move them from point A to point B without them bleeding out. And at this time, I was then an incoming freshman into NYU. Like I said, I was 17 years old. And I entered their business plan competition. Frankly speaking, I didn’t think we would win. I just knew that if we got to the quarter finals, there were free MBA classes. And as an engineer’s engineer, I wanted to be well-rounded.

Joe Landolina:
I wanted something I could put on my resume, and I thought it would be a great experience. So I met Isaac Miller, who’s our CFO and my co-founder, who at the time, was a business student at the Stern School of Business at NYU. And we entered the competition and we won, and it gave us just enough capital to start growing and start building. And that was, like I mentioned, about 11 years ago. And so over the last 11 years, we’ve taken what was a dorm room idea and turned it into now the only biomanufacturer in the five boroughs in New York, with 55 engineers and commercial operations for VETIGEL across the globe, and what will soon be hopefully human operations as well with the FDA application that we just submitted for human use.

Stacy Pursell:
So how did you go from there, from that competition that you entered, to becoming an entrepreneur? Tell us about that journey at the beginning, if you will.

Joe Landolina:
And so this is a question I get a lot, and it’s something that I wish that there was a moment in time where I realized that it turned from a dorm room idea or a dorm room concept into a full company. But in reality, it was more of a slow burn in those…

Joe Landolina:
But in reality, it was more of a slow burn in those early years, where after that competition, I didn’t think that this was something that a bunch of kids effectively could pull off. And we knew that we had a potential for having a great product. We knew that the market was there if we were to bring it to market, but it took us a very long time to go through the research and to figure out exactly what it was that we had and, and realize that, yes, we did actually have the technology that we said we did.

Joe Landolina:
So over those first four years, I was still in school. And so, I completed my undergrad and my graduate work. And then in 2014, post graduation, we dove into it full time. And at that point, we had a fully working prototype or a fully working product where we knew it could do what we said it could do. And a lot of that was just in the heads down time that we took trying to figure out who we were and what we were as a business while we were all still in school.

Stacy Pursell:
And how did you get into the animal health industry?

Joe Landolina:
Admittedly, when I came up with this idea, again, as a 17 year old, I didn’t realize how robust this industry was by any means. And we were initially focused almost entirely on traumatic use, military use. And then, 2012 came around, and in 2012 here in New York, Hurricane Sandy hit the city, and Hurricane Sandy was incredibly destructive. Especially down in South Brooklyn of the Coney Island Aquarium, there were severe damages that were done.

Joe Landolina:
I heard stories around that time of vets being unable to stop bleeding and losing patients because there was nothing on hand to stop major traumatic hemorrhage. And the team at the time, we realized that this was a massive market that we had overlooked. So in 2012, we signed up for the AVMA Convention. And I remember there’s a photo of us somewhere in these terrible blue polos that we had embroidered in Chinatown for something like $5 a shirt or something like that. We saved up to go out to that conference.

Joe Landolina:
Over the course of that conference, we spoke to about 300 vets, all of whom said that this was a massive need, and if we could bring this product to market, it would be something that they would definitely use. And with that, we found a great market that was willing to give us feedback at every turn and a market that we could really make a difference in. So Cresilon, from that day forward, became an animal health company.

Stacy Pursell:
And when did you first feel like you were truly beginning to gain traction with Cresilon?

Joe Landolina:
Like I mentioned earlier, it really was a slow burn in those early years. We definitely had winds, and especially as we got into 2014 or 2015, we had significant media coverage and we had over 140 million views on videos through outlets like Bloomberg or Ted. We entered a level of notoriety where, instead of us going to conferences and no one hearing about us, we’d end up going to conferences and people had read about us on the news.

Joe Landolina:
But really, I think that, and more recently with the commissioning of our factory, with the building of our team, with the commercial organization, it’s one thing to be a startup with a great idea. It’s another thing to actually see that product save lives in the field, and that’s where we are now. And that’s something, it makes it much more palpable than it was in the beginning. And something that I’m very excited about.

Stacy Pursell:
I know that some successful entrepreneurs have massive success and also some low points walk us through the highest high and the lowest low up to this point in your career or with Cresilon, if you will.

Joe Landolina:
Sure. I think that the highest high, again, like I just said, is really that first time that product was used in a patient. And that’s something where, especially in life sciences, you spend all of this time proving the safety and the efficacy of your device or of your technology, all this time making sure and building up to the moment of being able to save your first life. And really, the best moment for me was being able see that mission start to come true. And I think that rings true for the entire team here.

Joe Landolina:
It’s one thing to be engineers working on a solution. It’s another thing to actually see it happen before you’re on eyes, and when we first launched VETIGEL, it was really great to see. And in fact, it’s a feeling that doesn’t go away, where every single day we get a testimonial or a review of the product where we learn that we’ve saved a patient. It’s the same exact feeling, where you can see that mission coming full circle, and it makes it worth it for all the years that we put it in the development here.

Joe Landolina:
You’re absolutely right, which is the journey of entrepreneurship is a roller coaster. It’s ups and downs. And then, for all of the high highs, you get lots of low lows. I think one of the biggest challenges that we face was around 2015, 2016 and where we were coming off of all of our media attention. We had had severe and significant demand for the market. And then, we realized that the team was still very young and we were still relatively underfunded, but our demand was significant. It was far more than what we could make in our facility.

Joe Landolina:
And we realized very quickly that most biotechs or most companies like ours outsource the production of their product to someone who has been doing this for years and years. But our product is so novel that it could not be manufactured by anybody else. And we were presented with the crossroads, which was either shut down the business or figure out a way to do it ourselves. And I’m a New Yorker, born and raised, and I tend to subscribe to a very DIY type of mentality.

Joe Landolina:
If anyone here has seen our offices that, if something looks horrible around the office, it’s probably because I did the sheet-rocking and the spackling myself, and that carries through in a lot of ways. But we decided in 2015 that we weren’t going to shut the business down, that the stakes were too high and that the reward was too great of being able to get a product like this out to customers. And so, we decided to build own manufacturer. And that started with us having to go back to our own investors and ask them for 10 times the amount of money that they had put in.

Joe Landolina:
And surprisingly, they said yes, and led us through a multiyear process of taking a market that was excited for the product and effectively making them wait while we could and build up a world-class manufacturing site that could support the demands of the market so that we could do so and provide product as safely and at the highest level as possible. And it was difficult, and especially here in New York, building that type of manufacturing was something that really hadn’t been done in modern day before. We’re now on the other end of that and something that I’m very proud of, but it was definitely a challenge to go through because we were trailblazers through that in a lot of ways.

Stacy Pursell:
What have you learned from your journey up to this point so far?

Joe Landolina:
I think it’s one of those things where you learn bits and pieces about yourself that you didn’t know were there. And one of the most important things here is really just the value in that, in perseverance, and being able to stick it through. And I think that some of the value in starting a company as young as we did is that you’re almost blessed by this naivety, where you don’t know what you don’t know.

Joe Landolina:
And as a result, you optimistically charge headfirst into your challenges, and that allows you to take things, challenge by challenge, instead of, I think if pulled me aside at 17 and shown me a decade-long path to commercialization, I may have gotten discouraged, and being able to get through it and see that you can do it and realize that it is possible when the vast majority of people that we spoke to in the very beginning said that even manufacturing of this product would be impossible to-

Joe Landolina:
The manufacturing of this product would be impossible. It feels good to have been able to do it and be able to get to the other side because it makes other problems pale in comparison.

Stacy Pursell:
Well, I like what you said about you don’t know what you don’t know and you charged headfirst into the challenges. And one of the things that I’ve learned consistently across with talking to different entrepreneurs, is they did not listen to the naysayers. And that’s what you did not, you just charged headfirst into the challenges. You didn’t listen to the naysayers. I’m curious, Joe, what’s been the most surprising thing to you so far during your career in the animal health industry?

Joe Landolina:
Really, two major things. The first thing is just the diversity of medicine and techniques that exist in animal health. It’s something where, growing up from looking from the outside in, you don’t realize how many types of procedures and how sophisticated the techniques are in the space. And it’s something that has been … especially with a surgical product, like VETIGEL. It allows you to really sit on the forefront of what’s being done in animal health, and to see the work that’s being on there and the techniques that can be used to save patient lives, it’s just amazing.

Joe Landolina:
And then, the second thing, compared to the human markets, I love how tight knit and how close and friendly the animal health market just overall. And we, as a young budding company, we have been benefited time and time again by veterinarians, by surgeons, by vet nurses and technicians, who are more than willing to tell us what they loved and what they hate about our product or the products that they’re currently using to help us make a product that can impact patient lives better. And that’s something that I’ve really enjoyed being part of.

Stacy Pursell:
And what does your crystal ball say about the future of the animal health industry, Joe?

Joe Landolina:
One of the things that I’m most excited to see in animal health is the emergence of a much more robust vet device market. And it’s something where I think that animal health today lags slightly behind the human space in the availability of devices that are manufactured for the vet surgeon, where there are very few vet device companies that exist today that are not requiring a surgeon to purchase human devices and use them on their own. And I’m really excited to see more types of technology that are designed vet first, as opposed to being designed for human use and then co-opted into animal health, which as you and I both know, it never quite works out perfectly when you try to take something that was designed for a human and fit it into animal health.

Stacy Pursell:
And Joe, today, I would love for you to share with our listeners about the kinds of specific projects that you’re up to right now at Cresilon.

Joe Landolina:
Sure. We have a lot of exciting things going on here. On the VETIGEL front, we have continued our global launch of the product. And so, we’re looking forward. In the first quarter, we’ll be doing a launch in the United Kingdom with VETIGEL, which will eventually turn into a launch in all of Europe. And that’s something that, again, based on the great feedback we’ve been getting here in the US, that’s something that I’m really excited to see and get to the other side of the pond.

Joe Landolina:
And then, on top of that with Cresilon, we just filed our first [inaudible 00:22:08] for human use. And so, that means that hopefully, and very likely, in the next 12 to 18 months, we’ll actually see our first human life saved with this technology. That’s something that I’m very proud of because it allows us to execute that mission in the same way, but on a much broader scale.

Stacy Pursell:
Joe, I know that you were so busy. What does a typical day look like for you these days at Cresilon?

Joe Landolina:
Sure. I’m an engineer’s engineer, and what I mean by that is that I get bored if I do the same thing every single day. I love solving problems, but I’d rather not solve the same problem over and over again ideally. My typical day looks like this. I try to walk 10 miles every single day. That’s my way of clearing my mind. And so, I walk into the office and it’s split between meeting with customers. I try to attend at least one conference a month because I feel like if I don’t talk to customers about the product, I start to feel disconnected. So I like to be someone on the front lines.

Joe Landolina:
We have a very large group of investors that I’m very lucky to have. I spend a good amount of my time dealing with our investors and working with them to make sure that we’re going where we need to go. And then, growing the team is the rest of that. And so, we are a very fast growing team. We have 55 employees, but we have 40 open positions today. In order to scale, especially over the next 12 to 18 months, there’s a lot of growth that Cresilon’s going to need to see. So it’s a lot of ensuring that the teams that we’re working with have the resources that they need and have the correct people to be able to do what we need them to do as the business keeps growing.

Stacy Pursell:
What are a few of your daily habits that you believe have allowed you to achieve success during your career?

Joe Landolina:
I mentioned my walks, but I like consistency, where I found that there’s a lot of chaos that happens with entrepreneurship, where, like I said, there’s a rollercoaster, meaning that rollercoaster can be up one day and down the other, or it could be up one year and down the other, but having a consistent routine that you can fall back on, I feel like keeps you grounded and keeps you having time for family and for friends and for things that are not work, because at the end of the day, this job is not a nine to five job. This runs 24/7. And if you don’t have and/or try to keep some sense of consistency, it doesn’t work. So I try to keep some semblance of a routine, no matter how much travel, no matter how much other things are going on, and that helps me move forward.

Stacy Pursell:
I like that, the consistency there. Joe, what mentor has made the biggest impact on your career?

Joe Landolina:
Actually, it’s my grandfather. He was the one who started the vineyard and he was an entrepreneur, started a number of businesses and was really, especially in the earliest phases of my career, was my guiding light in helping me. I designed how I wanted to build this business and definitely was never or afraid to tell me if he didn’t like something that I was doing, or if he thought that I could be just doing something better. So I’d have to go with him.

Stacy Pursell:
What has been the biggest adversity that you’ve had to fight through during your career?

Joe Landolina:
Sure. Again, I think it would have to be that manufacturing. It’s something where it was a problem that no one had solved before in the world. And anyone we spoke to told us it was likely impossible. Like I mentioned, we were able to get through it, but it didn’t come easily.

Stacy Pursell:
What advice would you give the younger version of if you were just starting out on this journey?

Joe Landolina:
For better or for worse, I am my younger self. What I’ll say is that I always strive to get better, to do better, but what I don’t like to do is harp on what I could have done better, because I am a collection of all of the mistakes that I-

Joe Landolina:
… Because I am a collection of all of the mistakes that I’ve made and every single mistake we made, we learned how not to do it again. And as we move forward, I guarantee you, if we talk in 10 more years or in 20 years, I’ll have made a lot more mistakes than this, but I’ll be better for it.

Stacy Pursell:
Well, we find that most successful people tend to have idiosyncrasies that are actually their superpower. What idiosyncrasy do you have?

Joe Landolina:
I actually think it’s my walking. People think that I’m crazy sometimes for doing 10 miles a day. And I do it in dress shoes, nonetheless, but I need that time to, especially where you’re getting asked questions all the time by everybody all day, everyday. I like having my 10 miles of walking time where I can sit and decompress and think through the challenges of the day and help approach things from a much more level set mindset. And so I tend to get jittery if I don’t have my time to take longer walks.

Stacy Pursell:
And what do you struggle with the most? What is your weakness or your kryptonite?

Joe Landolina:
Podcasts.

Stacy Pursell:
Podcast?

Joe Landolina:
Yeah.

Stacy Pursell:
Why is that?

Joe Landolina:
Oh, well, it’s just, sometimes it’s hard to put all of put all my thoughts down into succinct dances for these questions, but I’m so appreciative that you let me on here, nonetheless.

Stacy Pursell:
Well, you’re doing a great job. We’re glad you’re here, Joe. What message or principle do you wish you could teach everyone?

Joe Landolina:
So especially the entrepreneurs that are listening, I know that there are so many people here that want to start companies, but my advice to anyone looking to start a company is, may actually seem counterintuitive, but it’s don’t, it’s do not start a company unless you are truly passionate about what it is that you’re doing. And I came out of a very entrepreneurial school, so I saw lots of great startups that were highly successful. And I saw a lot of people trying to start things just for the sake of starting a thing, it’s not because everyone else was. And I could not have done this for 11 years without being truly passionate about wanting to get up and do this every single day. And I consider myself truly lucky that I haven’t once in my career woken up and thought, you know what I’d rather not come into work today.

Joe Landolina:
This has been something where I enjoy what I do, and I enjoy the problem that we’re solving. And if I didn’t do that, I don’t know how I’d be able to tackle that rollercoaster. So it’s something that if you are going to get into entrepreneurship, wait until you have something, that again, you can truly see yourself passionate about. And one of the best pieces of advice that I’ve received, there was a professor who asked me, “Joe, I want you to close your eyes and imagine yourself at your retirement party. Are you retiring from this? Can you be retiring from this? And if the answer is no, or even maybe don’t do it.” And I think in a world where there’s so much instant gratification, it’s hard to think about, but it’s… You can’t fake true passion for what it is that you’re doing, you need that in order to make something succeed.

Stacy Pursell:
Joe, some of our guests say that they’ve had a key book that they read that really helped them to change their mindset and their approach to success. Do you have a key book in your life that has impacted you the most? And if so, I’d love to hear about that.

Joe Landolina:
Sure. So it might be funny cause it’s not as entrepreneurial a book as maybe some others are, but there’s called Napoleon’s Button: 17 Molecules That Changed History and the title sounds kind of funny, but it comes from the story when Napoleon made his troops march into Russia. The buttons on the jackets for his troops were made out of tin and what they didn’t know was that tin in extreme cold would crumble and it turns into powder. So that means that as winter came the buttons on the jackets that were supposed to be keeping the troops warm, fell apart and they were unable to keep themselves warm and as a result, Napoleon had a failed campaign. And it was funny. If you’re a war historian, you can point to a bunch of other issues.

Joe Landolina:
But one of the simplest things was just that their buttons didn’t work. And that book, I read that in, I think I was a freshman in high school and it really stuck with me for two reasons. So the first of which is that I really enjoyed how something at the molecular level and something that’s entirely chemical that we may overthink or overlook could have such a drastic effect on the course of modern day history. But the second thing is really just, it’s a constant reminder to make sure that we don’t overlook the minutia of things, because it can be important. And it’s something that I’ve always taken with me and the very least, it’s a funny cocktail story to tell. But it stayed in the back of my mind, especially as we’re growing the business where, when you could have something with true scale, but you need to make sure that you’re not only thinking about the big picture, you’re also thinking about the small picture as well.

Stacy Pursell:
Well, Joe, you’ve got the mic. What is one thing that you want to share with our listeners of The People of Animal Health podcast before you drop the mic today?

Joe Landolina:
Stacy, what I really want to just say is just give my thanks for you, to you for putting this together. I’m so appreciative that you had me on today and this is a great conversation. Thank you.

Stacy Pursell:
Thank you, Joe, for being here. We enjoyed it.

 

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