J. Craig Venter has a history of proving the conventional wisdom wrong. His team at Celera Genomics Group (CRA), in Rockville, Md., speaks of the Venter Factor. "He knows the difference between the really outlandish good ideas and the impossible ones, and he challenges people to accomplish them," says a Celera Vice-President, Mark D. Adams.
In the early 1990s, Venter set up his own nonprofit research institute after the National Institutes of Health wouldn't fund his genetic research. Venter ended up becoming the first to read the entire genetic code--the genome--of a living organism, a simple bacterium in this case. Then Venter, 54, topped that when Celera, the for-profit company he set up in 1998, decoded the human genome last year, making headlines round the world.
Now the onetime surfer and Vietnam hospital corpsman faces the challenge of turning his scientific triumphs into profits. "Our revenue last year was $43 million," he boasts. "Show me another biotech company with real revenue in its second year." Nevertheless, some on Wall Street say that Celera must move from generating revenue by selling subscriptions to its online database to generating profits through actual drug discoveries. Venter says that will happen when the time is right. Is that answer good enough? Well consider this: So far, the Venter Factor has never failed to deliver.