Dr. Neil Shahrestani – Co-Founder of Ikarian Capital

Burn the ships. Success is the only option.

Dr. Neil Shahrestani is the Chief Investment Officer and co-founder of Ikarian Capital – an equity Long/Short biotech and pharmaceuticals focused hedge fund based in Dallas.

Prior to co-founding Ikarian Capital, Neil graduated with honors from Columbia University with a degree in Economics and graduated from medical school with Honors before shifting careers to work on Wall Street for Goldman Sachs and later for SAC Capital. Dr. Shahrestani’s background in medicine and finance make him uniquely qualified to evaluate and invest in drug companies.

At Ikarian Capital, Dr. Shahrestani’s primary role is in biotech research; where he analyzes drug companies based off a multitude of factors. The disciplined research and risk processes involved in the analysis reflect the importance that Dr. Shahrestani and his firm place on long-term capital preservation.

As part of the research and risk assessment process, Dr. Shahrestani will determine the best entry and exit points for his investments by evaluating numerous factors such as: The molecular structure and biochemical components of the drugs in clinical trials, the structure and design of the clinical trials, the efficacy of the drug in patients, and the estimated sales of said drugs. This strategy allows Dr. Shahrestani to invest successfully in both long and short positions based on his evaluation of the drug, trials, and company lifecycle.

When he is not working, Dr. Shahrestani enjoys spending time traveling with his wife Kate. Furthermore, Neil and his wife Kate are passionate about empowering young women to live up to their full potential. In pursuit of this passion, they are involved in scholarship programs and girls’ softball in their spare time. Neil and his wife also volunteer at the homeless shelters near their home in Dallas.

Where did the idea for Ikarian Capital come from?

There is a Greek island called Ikaria that is famous for its long-life expectancy. Life expectancy on this island is over 100 years old and since we are working on preservation and longevity of capital in the healthcare space, we found the spirit of the name fit with us.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

I typically wake up around 4:30 or 5:00 and check out whatever is in the news for that day. I start the day by reviewing what is new for us with my analysts and we chart what we need to accomplish in the morning together. Then we have a lot of ongoing research projects and analysis of companies. So, my day is usually divided into two parts: taking care of what is new for us and then focusing on these longer-term projects that we’re working on.

What’s one trend that excites you?

Continued innovation is the most exciting trend in biotech today. Historically, the major players in the industry have focused on typical chemistry. Today we are utilizing more innovative strategies to create a more novel approach to attack diseases. We’re trying to find a puzzle piece that fits so that’s pretty exciting.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Prioritizing. I have found that if you can keep track of the most important things and make sure they are scheduled to get done first, the rest will fall in order. It’s also extremely important to know what to delegate to others, to ensure you can maintain focus on the most important matter at hand.

What advice would you give your younger self?

The advice I give to everyone is: “Nobody can tell you no.” Making the jump from being a doctor to finance is very uncommon. But who’s going to stop you? Throughout my career, I looked around for someone to say, “Hey, you can’t do that,” and used that to fuel me. So, the advice I always give to people who walk into my office is “Nobody can tell you no.” With that also comes a lot of responsibility, because if no one can tell you no, it’s all on you.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on?

Burn the ships. Success is the only option. I believe if you have a plan B then plan A won’t work. Most prudent folks would say put your effort in Plan A, but have a backup plan. My view and driving force has always been, no one can tell you no… so put all your effort and singular obsessive focus into Plan A because failure is not an option.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Concentrate on perfecting process. Once you define your process, constantly make sure it’s giving you quality data and results. We are constantly tweaking it, but we focus on making sure our process works and we stick to it.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.

To thine own self be true. This goes along with the last question on processes. I’m a physician that has a finance background. You could say it the other way around too, but the truth is I’m not a fast money trader or what we would call a “momentum guy.” I also don’t buy a stock and hold it for twenty years. I go back to the science and focus three to six months out and try to be an inch wide and a mile deep.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

Honestly, I would have to say the entrance fee for the SwissAlpine marathon I was in. I paid for my wife and I to run. We worked at it together and trained together and it was a really great experience for both of us.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. It’s similar to the advice I gave above. Don’t stop following your heart. All the money and success is secondary; follow your passion.

What is your favorite quote?

“Attack each day with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind.” – Jim Harbaugh


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