Alumnus Profile

Scott Dylla and Brian Slingerland

Brian Slingerland '00 (right) and Scott Dylla

The catalyst

by Sookhan Ho

Photos by Jay Watson Photography

With five cancer drugs in human clinical trials, Stemcentrx was acquired in June by AbbVie Inc. in a deal valued up to $10.2 billion, one of the biggest biotechnology deals in history.

Brian Slingerland (finance '00) co-founded Stemcentrx, a biotechnology company in San Francisco developing new types of cancer treatments.

After launching his career in investment banking, Slingerland resigned from Goldman Sachs as a managing director in 2008 to co-found two companies: tech-focused investment bank Qatalyst Partners; and Stemcentrx, with research scientist Scott Dylla.

Slingerland was eager to "be an entrepreneur rather than just service entrepreneurs," he said. And the cancer-related deaths of three relatives, including a beloved aunt, brought new clarity to his focus. "After three of these in succession, frankly I hated cancer. And nobody had any good answers for how we were going to cure it."

That is, he said, until he met Dylla and learned about the stem-cell approach that seeks to identify and kill "the root cells that initiate cancer and perpetuate it."

Brian Slingerland, keynote address, Pamplin College of Business commencement, May 2016

Speaking at the Pamplin College of Business commencement in May 2016, Slingerland offered graduates three points to keep in mind:

"You have what it takes to be the catalyst to start innovative businesses that change the world. The best ventures have a sound balance of technical and business skill. And most ventures will not get off the ground without a business mind like yours."

"Make your avocation your vocation. I encourage you to align your passion and personal mission with your job. And if you do, you'll have a sustainable career that you'll love. It'll be very tempting over the years to maintain the status quo and choose the less risky path. But I cannot emphasize to you enough how amazing it is to work every day on something that inspires you, instead of just working for a paycheck."

"Choose a life partner, and surround yourself with friends who will give you honest advice and encourage you to pursue your dreams and reach your potential. While I was pitching to investors the idea of starting Stemcentrx and recruiting our first employees, behind the scenes, it was my wife, Emily, and my parents and my close friends who encouraged me and gave me the confidence to start Stemcentrx."

Brian Slingerland '00


When did you first think about being an entrepreneur?

"When I operated my own lawnmowing business starting at age 10 and captured strong market share in my neighborhood in Syracuse, New York. It was very exciting."

Why did you want to be one?

"I admired people who have built, from the ground up, great companies, cultures, and products — especially ones that change the world for the better."

What was it about the stem cell approach to cancer that had you persisting for six years to start Stemcentrx?

"This was a new approach to treating cancer that had massive potential to be revolutionary and needed to have a chance to be tested in cancer patients."

Sookhan Ho is the Pamplin College of Business communications director. Portions of this article are excerpted from the college magazine's story on Slingerland.