Sikich LLP is a 1000 member business advisory firm that offers technology and accounting services to a broad array of companies. In operation for more than 35 years, about 10 years ago the company started offering its services to life sciences companies, tailored to fit their specific needs. Big4Bio editor Marie Daghlian recently met virtually to discuss the “Sikich Success for Life Sciences” based on NetSuite with three members of the firm, Mike Kean, partner and head of its ERP and CRM practices, and Senior NetSuite Consultants Christopher Manchester and William Tamulynas, to learn more about how Sikich can help life sciences companies succeed.
B4B: Tell me about your organization, what you do, and how you can help life sciences companies.
Mike: We are a 1000 person CPA firm with various disciplines in traditional CPA services and technology services—mainly ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) and CRM (Customer Relationship Management) solutions, IT solutions, and security solutions. Our goal is to help clients all across the mid-market deploy and support these solutions. Our technology group consists of experienced business people who help clients put better systems in place, get more out of their investments, and work with them to go to the next level. We work with people long-term. We refer to the people we work with as our clients because we not only put a system in place, we work with them as their business changes and moves forward. I like to call us “their third party rolodex.” We work in many industries and have an increasingly strong focus on life sciences.
William: From a biotech specific standpoint, we are targeting companies at the early stage of their life-cycle, when they are pre-revenue, and helping them implement the core financials, the ability to track spending across departments and program/projects, in order to help lay the financial and technical groundwork for the company. We have done about 70 projects and we have numerous industry expert consultants who help them grow with NetSuite, so as they go public or go into clinical trials with one or more of their programs, we are there to support them.
B4B: When a company decides to use your platform, SuiteSuccess for Life Sciences, do you provide tech help if they have problems or can’t figure something out with the platform?
Christopher: You can think of our services encompassing a bunch of different areas, starting with design work—understanding how closely a biotech company fits our SuiteSuccess for LifeSciences model, and what may make it slightly unique. The process really starts with alignment. From there we move into full implementation services, typically over 30 to 60 days, which is a rapid deployment. We offer customization and integration services where the software may need to be tailored in a fashion for a niche business practice or model. We also integrate to other applications such as expense management tools, purchasing tools, lab systems, and various applications. Training is also a big aspect of what we do, making sure the users understand the software and get the most out of their investment. And then, ongoing support—we consider them clients and it is a long-term relationship, and we’ll be there for their full life cycle.
B4B: How do you market your services?
Mike: We have pockets of clients in different industries areas across the United States. In the life science space, 80 percent of our business comes from client referrals. Our satisfaction rate is in the high 90s with these clients. We’ve built this space out and are doing a great job for everyone. In the life sciences space, people move around a lot, so we are always getting referrals. They get value for what they spend to have our systems and they can go public with what we have put in.
As opposed to going in and saying, “tell me about your business,” we walk in and say, “we know how life sciences works, this is best practices across all of them, what do you guys think of that?” Instead of them telling us what to do, we are able to tell them. Often we hear things like, “gee I didn’t think of that.” We can help them ramp up the process. And again, “live in 60 days” allows them to go focus on the jobs they need to focus on.
B4B: When did you begin your life sciences practice? How many years have you been doing that?
Mike: My organization merged into Sikich four years ago, which Chris and Bill were already part of. I have been working with life sciences companies with different products for the last 10 years. The boom has really come with Netsuite. We used to use Great Plains Microsoft Dynamics GP (an ERP software solution) before. And then ironically, Netsuite comes with some features that have enabled us to support life sciences, and support a company going public a lot faster. We started focusing on this area 10 years ago with different products, and we just settled on Netsuite recently.
B4B: Can you run me through a case study?
William: One of the areas where we have had a lot of success is the ability to be flexible, both from a consulting and from a product standpoint. These companies are always thinking about where the next round of money is coming from. When a company wants to do a round of financing or to go public, knowing they have the right technology and the right partner is important, because you can’t predict exactly when that date is going to come, but when it does come, are you ready to meet those challenges and are you able to quickly adapt your business and be able to change at a rapid pace? I think that’s where we have a lot of success—the flexibility to change and meet their needs in a timely fashion.
B4B: What about a story?
William: Yes. On day 1, we are talking about a 25-person company launching their financial system so that they can make purchases, pay vendors, and do some of the core basic financials. Typically they all start on Quickbooks. They have drugs or therapies in the discovery phase and are starting to do preclinical development. Our software and consultants begin to help them understand what they are spending on each aspect of the development process and the challenges that come with those contracts.
The software is financial-focused and also incorporates policies and procedures around spending the money. When these companies are issuing contracts, they have purchasing level authorities that have to get board approval, say a VP can approve $100,000 and a CEO can approve up to $2 million. The software helps manage these things.
B4B: It sounds like your software helps the company maximize its burn rate.
William: And manage all their programs so they understand where they are in the process, both from spending management and budget management.
B4B: Perhaps the company is now at a point where they need to raise some money. They’ve been talking to investors and buysiders. How do you help them at this phase?
William: We don’t necessarily help with the decision. Once they go public, you’ll hear SOX controls mentioned a lot – we help them out there. We help them produce SEC financials and filings.
Mike: With our system in place, the company can move quickly when the market is right. There’s raising money, there’s going public, and there’s getting acquired. That is one of the outs. Having a system in place that can produce a clean audit becomes required and very important.
Christopher: Whether you are raising money, going public, or getting acquired, you will need a clean audit. Part of that is having a system that has the policies, controls, and measures built in to be able to achieve that end.
B4B: Who are your competitors? Why do you consider your service best-in-class?
Christopher: One reason is that our system is cloud-based so you don’t need servers or other hardware, which in our current environment lends itself readily to virtual employees. We are seeing virtual employees now, but also well before the pandemic.
Mike: We were able to get accountants who could work from home three days a week because commutes in big cities were becoming unmanageable. Our competition could be some of the other mid-market package offerings or some companies wanting to go to Oracle (the owner of NetSuite) early. The problem with going to Oracle early is that it is very expensive and takes a lot of overhead, lots of pieces, and do you really want to spend all your money there versus spending it on developing your drug or device—it’s a cost-benefit thing. Some of our clients end up going to Oracle down the road, some stay with us. It’s a very fluid thing but having our tech ability to merge into other areas is a pull. The reality is that right now we don’t have a lot of competitors in our space because we have done a good job with this product. It’s become the de facto product. The challenge is that people hold off on deploying it until they are close to going public or a large transaction and then its helter-skelter time. Sikich is a partner of NetSuite, which it implements and sells.
B4B: How do people usually contact you?
Mike: Initially we get a call and can meet them in person or virtually. We get them at such an early stage that sometimes the CFO is coming off another job, the controller is part-time and finishing another job somewhere else, they know they need to put a system in place as their drug development advances, and we are referred in to help. Sometimes it’s face to face and sometimes it’s all over the web. Right now we are deploying all over the web because we have to—Teams, Zoom, etc. We can do 100 percent remotely, whereas historically some of our early meetings were in person. Onsite meetings are not required.
Christopher: I think we were trending toward more remote deployments naturally before the COVID-19 situation. Early on where we really gained momentum was in meeting people face-to-face and building relationships in the industry. As the snowball of our business turned and became more of an avalanche and we were meeting a lot of people, we gained great experience in this space, which gave us the ability to build out a solution to meet their needs. This gave us the ability to provide successful remote engagements naturally.
B4B: Do you have any clients such as incubators, or a situation where a VC-backed management team manages several startups that are often built around the development of a single compound?
Christopher: Yes, we just took two of those live recently. The system allows us to segregate the companies with management having access to the whole system while the separate companies only access specific elements. We can also help management do spinouts when the child entities are ready for that in their development stage.
William: The software also allows management to go out and sell or buy additional companies.
Mike: Our brand: Sikich Success for Life Sciences powered by NetSuite
A sponsor of Big4Bio, Sikich offers a formula of professional services uniquely crafted to address your business’s challenges and opportunities. Their comprehensive skillsets, obtained over decades of experience as entrepreneurs, business owners and industry innovators, allow them to provide insights and transformative services to help strengthen every dimension of your business. More information available at sikich.com.