Want to know what's happening next in healthcare?

MedCityNews is the leading online news source for the business of innovation in healthcare.

“MedCity news is a peerless national resource for those of us who really want to stay on top the very latest news in healthcare from incumbents to startups. ”

Elliot Menschik, DreamIt Ventures partner; Venturef0rth founder; Penn professor

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Burrill’s comments on Elk Run give me whiplash

11:02 am by | 9 Comments

Steve Burrill, CEO of Burrill & Co.

Pop quiz time: when did Steven Burrill say he hopes to complete a $1 billion deal to finance the Elk Run BioBusiness Park in Pine Island, Minnesota?

A. End of September

B. End of the year


C. Neither of the above

D. All of the above

If you answered D, give yourself a cookie.

The San Francisco-based biotechnology investor is known as an eloquent, thoughtful speaker. But when it comes to the $1 billion fund, Burrill seems to trip up.

Consider the past two weeks. In early September, Burrill told MedCity News that he hopes to sign papers with a sovereign wealth fund in 30 days.

On Wednesday, he told the Star Tribune that he hopes to close the deal by year’s end — a revelation that earns front page coverage.

On Thursday night, Burrill & Co. issued a press release that sought to “clarify that investment discussions are ongoing.”

“We have been in active discussions for several months with one potential investor who has an interest in the project,” Burrill said. “However, contrary to the impressions conveyed in the press coverage, no decisions have yet been made, and there can be no guarantees about the actual outcome, at this point.”

Perhaps the press wouldn’t get the wrong impression if Burrill stuck to one answer, which maybe should be, “I just don’t know.”

Let’s be completely frank. Burrill’s zig-zagging on the fund hurts his credibility and that of Elk Run, which already has plenty of skeptics. These days, raising  just $10 million can earn you rock star status, never mind $1 billion. So Burrill’s perpetual teasing is starting to wear a little thin.

Yes, raising money is tough. Yes, there can be no guarantees. That’s why it’s best to avoid giving meaningless timelines and using phrases like “firm commitment” and “we’re at the goal line.”

As Burrill noted himself, a deal is not done until a deal is done.

Burrill has been on a public relations offensive lately, correctly noting that he already has brought considerable money and clout to Minnesota.

He’s clearly stung by the criticism of Elk Run. Perhaps that’s why Burrill feels he has to demonstrate progress on the fund. But his inconsistent timelines and vague promises only fuel the critics and skeptics.

An investor asked me the other day why Burrill would say anything at all until he had actually raised the money. Good question.

In hindsight, the press release is probably the script Burrill should’ve stuck to: “We’re making progress. Hopefully, we’ll have a deal soon.” I can live with that.

Of course, no one will remember this if Burrill raises the fund.

But until then, silence is worth a billion bucks.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Copyright 2015 MedCity News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Thomas Lee

By Thomas Lee

Thomas Lee was the Minnesota Bureau Chief for MedCityNews.
More posts by Author


Night of Columbus, otherwise known as Short when posting in the PB. Here are corrections on your facts. 1) Denis Cortese is no longer CEO of Mayo and has not been for some time now. His comments were made in a closed meeting in Olmsted County, with the announcement of his retirement coming not so long thereafter. Written correspondence from individuals on the Board of Governors and with Mayo legal are very clear in that "Mayo is not involved or invested in Elk Run." Fact 2) Figures on the investment in Elk Run by Tower vary depending on which document you read. The lack of transparency and the argumentative and belligerent attitude adopted when individuals ask questions that should have straight-forward answers is causing problems. No one has questioned Tower's investment, but there are documented problems with how some of their business has been conducted. Answer the questions without resorting to abuse and attacks. Fact 3) If you have a problem with China you may want to take the issue up with the Hormel Institute, University of MN, State of MN, and Alex Marks of Tower. The first three have significant partnerships and trade agreements with China and Alex Marks (Tower's Alex Marks) traveled to China with the Governor of TN as part of a trade mission. Alex wrote a series of articles on his trip for a TN newspaper. Fact 4) Since you have clearly exhibited ignorance about Tower/China/biotech partnerships, I won't even attempt to enlighten you on other topics of global importance. As for my use of aliases to speak for residents of Cannon Falls, etc.... sorry to disappoint you but I do believe the residents and leadership of Cannon Falls speak for themselves. Fact 5) Hwy 52 through Cannon Falls is listed as one of the deadliest sections of road in the state. It's a matter of priorities. A highway interchange to a pipe dream vs highway improvements for safety. You should be more cautious about putting caustic and inflammatory remarks about people on sites like this, especially when your facts betray your ignorance about the project and it's developers. As I said to you at the Pine Island coffee, I have yet to hear of anyone who is opposed to Elk Run and/or thinks it would not be of benefit to the region. I have; however, heard a great number of people express concern over the ethical and legal questions that have arisen. Caustic, irresponsible, and factually wrong posts like this one do not aide Tower or Mr. Burrill. In fact, I would think they do the opposite.


Burrill's comments on timing are not necessarily inconsistent. "Signing" a deal and "closing" a deal are not always the same thing and do not necessarily need to happen at the same time. An everyday example of that -- home buyers typically "sign" the purchase agreement approximately 30-60 prior to "closing." That said, Burrill would be wise to simply stay quiet.


Mary Hartman...eat yuor heart out...here is a verbatim from Mayo's Top Guy. Read it and squirm.... “Mayo Clinic is supportive of Elk Run, and we’re excited about potential collaborations. This development and the opportunities it presents have the ability to benefit patients, add jobs, create revenue for the state of Minnesota, and improve the medical and biotech community of which Mayo is an important member.” -Denis Cortese, M.D. President & CEO Mayo Clinic We have no idea where you get your "stories" but you seem well connected to the under world. Somehow you speak with authority that you gained from one of the two bi-polars you seem to have. Fact: Tower is the largest single investor in ELk Run so far....More than 15 times times that the amount of State investment. FACT: ELk Run is a shining example of collabiration between market sectors and and innovators in eth business to CREAT jobs. FACT: Because of people like you China and India will continue to thrive. FACT: If you get a more productive hobby than cutting the good that Bio-Business will bring to the State of MN, you may feel happier. You should refrain from taking on so many aliases one commenting on behalf of Cannon Falls, while others speaking about Wild Tigers and their relationship to world domination. FACT: Cannon Falls is NOT ready now, and may not be ready for sometime to come to get the land and buy out all land owners for the interchange. FACT: Tower donated the land for the uinetrchange...saving the tax payers (you cliam to care about) tons of mulla$$ dinaros$$$ Marks, etc... I agree with you though...that the likes of you will fade away once construction starts...like you should. Facts


Mr. Swenson, Dr.Frank Prendergast is the one who brought Mr. Burrill to the table, according to Dr. Prendergast. This is in and of itself interesting because Mayo has repeatedly denied involvement with Elk Run while Burrill has repeatedly made reference to Mayo's involvement in the project. The Post Bulletin has reported that Mr. Burrill said this project will fail without Mayo and so we once again enter muddy waters where it appears someone is not being completely honest about the nature of the relationships between individuals/corporations receiving tax dollars to pay for the infrastructure for a pet project tied to the "soul mate" of Governor Tim Pawlenty, lobbyist Greg Johnson. In the meantime, Tower Investments and/or their Project Manager have been caught paying kickbacks, brokering land deals without a license (taking fees upwards of $350,000.00 for one deal), property flipping, satisfaction of one mortgage numerous times, violating agreements with banks holding multi-million dollar revolving loans, lying to the Legislature to secure funding for a highway interchange - which is also tied to payments he will receive......but Khani Sahebjam of MnDOT and Cecile Furkle of the Legislative Auditors Office, are unconcerned and "satisfied" and so our tax money keeps on flowing to Tower/Griffin/Pine Island. Terry Ward of MnDOT (Region 6) asked me if I would "feel better" and "stop asking questions" if the billion dollars appeared; which to me implies that ethics, integrity, common sense, and sound business practices should not matter as long as someone shows up with a briefcase full of money. Mr. Burrill announced that he was creating a billion dollar fund to help pay for infrastructure costs at Elk Run when he first joined this party. The announcement was made in 2009, after the economy had tanked, which seemed bold but taxpayers gave Mr. Burrill the benefit of a doubt and sat back and waited for him to make something happen. Then in February of 2010, in Rochester, Mr. Burrill obfuscated and avoided answering questions about the project and the fund and instead told us the billion dollar fund was irrelevant. This time around we're told that there is a foreign investor who wants to drop a billion dollars and that the deal will be signed by the end of the month. But wait....that's wrong and we are now told that there is kinda, maybe, sort of, perhaps..... an interested billionaire who wants to sink money into Elk Run because of the devices and patents coming out of Mayo - which claims it is not involved in the Elk Run project. I wonder what the sales pitch to prospective tenants is?

David Swenson
David Swenson

I have to ask why a person of the stature of Mr. Burrill got involved in this in the first place? With this project you follow the tenet of "follow the money". I dont think anyone would risk their hard earned reputation over something like this unless there were significant compensation in the mix. I believe its time for everyone to come clean or be forced to under subponea.

H. Michael Sweeney
H. Michael Sweeney

What's really strange about the Elk Run mystery, is that no one in media is looking beyond the hinky financial aspects. There is plenty wrong out there that is newsworthy, but of course, that's all mere conspiracy theory disinformation, isn't it (according to Burrill and cronies)? Investigative author H. Michael Sweeney (me) thinks that whenever there is smoke, you should check for a fire, especially when it the one's saying there is no fire are the ones with empty cans of gasoline in their hands. I smell smoke. Lots of it.


One of the most startling aspects of this project was pointed out to me today when someone observed that in the midst of all of the questions and scandal, none of the Elk Run partners seem to feel any shame.


Very interesting! In Rochester the Post Bulletin combined your reporting with others to produce an above the fold headline of "Who's giving Elk Run $1 billion". Wonder if they'll have the courage to say that they got it wrong?

Farmer Bob
Farmer Bob

I'd like a little more clarification. Mr. Burrill said he spent 100 million in the state already, but we only know of maybe 10 (million). Does Mr. Burrill have a problem with simple mathematics or is this a new math? Additionally, how much of this investment money is guaranteed by the taxpayers of Minnesota through the new Angel Tax Credit funding? Mr. Burrill, is the only reason you issued your newest press release a CYA effort so you can make sure you get taxpayer money for the new highway overpass, which will ensure that Geoffrey Griffin and John Hoehne get payed? Minnesota citizens are dying in Cannon Falls while you are busy making empty promises on behalf of people who cannot seem to put together a straight-forward and legitimate land deal. The blood is on your hands, Mr. Burrill, which you are using to shake with the MnDOT, Tower Investments, and some unknown SWF who may or may not be using his or her own blood money to gain access to valuable land and resources here. What goes up then? A mosque?