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12:00 AM
 | 
Apr 11, 2011
 |  BioCentury  |  Finance

A Remembrance: The venture capitalist as artist

A Remembrance: The venture capitalist as artist

Jean Deleage was one of the privileged few who could count many firsts in his life. But he didn't just help start the biotech industry and then ride off to a long retirement. Instead, he kept his hand in - ultimately funding 97 companies - and retained his fresh outlook on life until his death last month at age 70. As we say with admiration in the West, he died with his boots on.Like so many in the early days of biotech, Jean came to the industry orthogonally. Born in France in 1940, his education had nothing to do with biotech: he received a masters degree in electrical engineering and a Ph.D. in economics.But Jean never actually practiced engineering. "The usual joke is that I learned the dangers of electrical current at school and stayed away from it the rest of my life," he told Ed Penhoet, a director at Alta Partners who along with Bill Rutter was able to found Chiron Corp. with Jean's investment.Jean joined Sofinnova Partners in Paris in 1971 and opened the firm's first U.S. subsidiary in San Francisco. Europe's loss was America's gain.Although he first came to Silicon Valley to fund high tech startups - and successfully founded companies such as Tandem Computer - he found himself sharing an office with Bob Swanson, who was working on forming Genentech Inc.Jean became one of the first investors in Genentech, writing a $50,000 check to the company in 1977.He went on to be the first investor in companies including Chiron, Rigel Pharmaceuticals Inc. and Plexxikon Inc.In 1979, he went out on his own, forming Burr, Egan, Deleage & Co. with partners Craig Burr and Bill Egan. In 1996, he co-founded Alta Partners.Jean also was the first U.S.-based VC to bring his startup expertise back to Europe and fund companies such as Flamel Technologies S.A., U3 Pharma and Crucell N.V.In 1993, Jean was awarded the Legion of Honor by the French government in recognition of his career accomplishments. In 2009, he received the NVCA Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Venture Capital Association.But Jean was far more than simply a list of achievements, as the reader will discover in these tributes from colleagues who invested with him, and the CEOs who were his partners in creating an industry.

Brook Byers

Partner, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers I first met Jean in 1978 at a dinner in San Francisco to talk with Bob Swanson about his business plan for Genentech. I last saw Jean in 2009 at a dinner in Boston to talk about the recognition we were to receive with others the next day at the NVCA annual meeting. At both dinners, Jean was the same person with his own genuine individuality: witty, philosophical, fascinated with science, enthused about entrepreneurs, and visionary about what biotech will do.In the intervening years, Jean became a role model and mentor to so many in our industry, including me. Time spent with Jean was always special, with thoughtful conversation, laughter, and his characteristic shrug of the shoulders as he weighed the pros and cons of issues.Jean helped build companies, the biotech...

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