Going with the Phlow
Veteran CFO aids pharma startup that has big mission
Small Business | J. Robert Mooney, CFO
Phlow Corp., Richmond
Without Bob Mooney, Phlow Corp. might never have gotten off the ground.
“I do not believe I would’ve had the courage or the willingness … to start up Phlow if it weren’t for Bob,” says Dr. Eric Edwards, co-founder and CEO of the Richmond-based company that is developing new ways to manufacture essential medicines.
“This is the second venture for me,” says Edwards, who co-founded Kaléo Inc., a Richmond-based pharmaceutical company that has developed innovative injection devices for treating allergic anaphylaxis and opioids overdoses.
Edwards co-founded Phlow with Frank Gupton, a pharmaceutical and chemical engineering professor at Virginia Commonwealth University who retired from a pharmaceutical company and whose longtime research efforts have focused on advancing pharmaceutical processes. After Edwards and Gupton began discussing the formation of Phlow, “Bob was the very next person who lent his sweat equity, his expertise and his office space to get this thing started,” Edwards says.
As Phlow’s chief financial officer, Mooney was instrumental in landing a $354 million federal contract awarded to Phlow in May 2020 to reduce America’s dependence on foreign supply chains and produce domestic production sources for medications and pharmaceutical ingredients at risk of shortages. Mooney also was a key organizer in the $20 million Series A financing that Phlow secured earlier this year from private equity investors.
“Bob has a ton of wisdom,” Edwards says. “He’s done so much in so many different settings.”
The 77-year-old Mooney has an extensive resume, which includes three decades at a large, public accounting firm, followed by CFO positions at Ethyl Corp. and several smaller and startup businesses. He also was the CFO at the Mason School of Business at William & Mary, his alma mater. Most recently, he was managing director of NRV, a Richmond venture capital firm he co-founded with Ted Chandler, former chairman and CEO of LandAmerica Financial Group Inc., and Jim Ukrop, former chairman and CEO of Ukrop’s Super Markets Inc.
“I’ve always found great satisfaction in helping these companies get started,” Mooney says. For now, he’s letting others take the lead on NRV as he concentrates on Phlow’s daily needs. NRV did not provide startup funding for Phlow, but Mooney knew Edwards because he served on Kaléo’s board of directors.
Phlow has been able to hire pharmaceutical innovators from around the world, Mooney says. “The reason people come here isn’t because we’re paying more,” he says. “It’s because of the mission. We have about 40 people who have never worked together before doing things that have never been done before.”
While most of the medicines it’s developing won’t be in production until at least 2022, Phlow already has a coalition of large children’s hospitals ready to take advantage of the supplies. More than 80% of the active ingredients in today’s pharmaceuticals are produced overseas in areas where labor costs are lower and environmental laws are looser, according to Phlow.
“That’s come back to be a major, major concern,” Mooney says. Phlow has set out to change that and to ensure that this country has an adequate supply of medicines, particularly generics, to treat anyone in need.
Over the past several years, Mooney has been lauded as an unsung hero who makes things happen in business and the community. He led fundraising and renovation efforts for the Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School; he ran the campaign to raise $75 million for Richmond’s CenterStage complex; and he chairs the finance and investment committee at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. The list goes on and on.
For now, Mooney’s focus is on Phlow, and he’s not planning to step away from the working world anytime soon. “As long as I’m healthy and have the capacity, I intend to do it,” he says.