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M&A I Lion, Netgenics come together (with some help from Friends)

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With Lion Bioscience’s $17 million acquisition of direct competitor NetGenics, former CEO of the beleaguered company Manuel Glynias has much to be thankful for. Among the blessings: Cleveland, a chemical abstract company, and most of all, John the banker.

The Lion/NetGenics story is a classic case of the power of connections. Rudy Potenzone, CEO of Lion’s US company who headed up the acquisition, gets plenty of calls from companies looking for deals like this one. He ignores most. But this one was a call from NetGenics’ banker, a guy named John whom Potenzone knew from previous deals he’d worked on. “Normally I would say no, but since it’s you, John…” Potenzone recalls saying when he got the call.

Turns out, Potenzone and Glynias had both attended Case Western Re- serve University in Cleveland — not at the same time, but it was still a connection. Another one: Potenzone had once worked for a company called Chemical Abstracts Service in Columbus, Ohio. When he left, NetGenics hired away many of his former staff members. Because of that, “I had always been kind of intrigued [by NetGenics],” Potenzone says, though he never really looked into the company until recently.

Glynias visited Lion’s San Diego office last fall on his roadshow tour “to try to get someone interested” in acquiring his company, Potenzone says. “They had gone through a fair amount of money. They seem to finally have gotten it right on the technical side,” he says, “[but] they were struggling to get the business value out of what they’d accomplished.”

Though the acquisition did come about rapidly, Lion didn’t just throw money at NetGenics. The first step was to figure out what it would cost to replicate NetGenics’ technology, and then plot out time to market. “It was at least two years out,” Potenzone says. He was impressed by what he heard from NetGenics customers, and by December he recommended the acquisition to Lion’s board in Germany.

The price tag, $17 million, is low compared to other recent acquisitions in this market. “Certainly they would’ve liked it to have been a lot higher,” Potenzone concedes. But for what he calls a technology buy, it was probably a good deal, at least for Lion. “We were really buying Discovery Center and the people who could run it.”

NetGenics’ offices will remain in Cleveland, and Potenzone has asked Glynias to stick around as senior vice president of strategic planning for the company. Strategy tip #1: milk those connections.

— Meredith Salisbury

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