- Date: June 11, 2019
When bringing a new technology or scientific discovery to the Health or Biotech market, there is a multifaceted process involved that often stretches beyond the scope of the research team behind it. Developing a business plan, fulfilling the legal and regulatory requirements, learning where and who to go to for funding, having an in-depth understanding of the market… This is just a fraction of a would-be Health entrepreneur’s checklist. For this reason, getting advice from a technology transfer expert is a vital step in getting a project off the lab bench and into the clinic. We recently spoke to one such expert, Esther Riambau, who is the Life Sciences Director at UPF Ventures.
In the second part of our two-part interview, she discusses the future of Health Innovation, and shares her advice on what Health entrepreneurs should and shouldn’t do when starting out.
How has the industry evolved throughout your career? How do you see it evolving in the future?
As previously mentioned, the last 15 to 20 years have been revolutionary. I can still remember when I got my first mobile phone. At that time, I was finishing my degree in Biology and the whole scientific community was focused on sequencing the human genome with the Human Genome Project (1990-2005). It took us more than a decade to map 28,000 genes, with no clear clue of that would lead to.
It is no wonder that I mention mobile phones… back in 2005 we were not ready to deal with such an amount of data. Nowadays, we do have analytic tools (supercomputers) which allow us to work with big amounts of data. It is estimated that their capacity will soon increase at a logarithmic scale with quantum computers. Moreover, genetic engineering, biochemistry and biomedicine have provided also many other tools to make it possible.
I do not have a crystal ball but I think Healthcare Innovation will require the collaboration of different multi-disciplinary areas, such as engineering, computer science, artificial intelligence or even virtual reality, enabling early-diagnosis, recovery instead of symptom-palliation, and prevention.
What are the biggest challenges in transferring ideas from the lab to the market? How do you help start-ups overcome them?
Challenges are quite the same ones; it is still a matter of being facilitators and making things happen. However, it is much easier to transfer technology nowadays compared to 15 years ago, since the ecosystem is much more mature and during all this time we have all learnt a lot (researchers, institutions, entrepreneurs, investors and companies) and there is a clear commitment from all the stakeholders to make it happen.
In the case where there is a promising and solid technology addressing an unmet need, at UPF Ventures, we can support entrepreneurs all along the way from the development of a product until its transfer to the market. Such a way involves thinking of a business model, getting to know the needs and market trends, mediating the technology transfer, raising funds, carrying out the business plan and getting in touch with Key Opinion Leaders. Each project is different and, from UPF Ventures, we aim to offer a ‘tailored suit’.
In your opinion, what are the best things a young life science company can do to succeed?
There is a lot you need to take into consideration but I will mention 4 basics you need to start an entrepreneurial project:
First of all, you need to set up a strong patent protection strategy, as well as other ways of protecting your intellectual property, standing up for your competitive advantage and establishing entry barriers. Investing in this matter is fundamental and crucial in order to get funding and get the project running.
Secondly, you need to have a good team, which is complementary and harmonious. People need to have similar values and share the same vision. This is an item often underestimated, but many companies fail due to misunderstandings. This is why pre-seed investors allocate part of their time to getting to know the people leading these projects, in order to check if they are capable enough to do it and if they can get on well.
It is also very important to know the market trends and unmet needs. You should bear in mind that at the very beginning, you have a technology, not a product. In order to talk about a product, you need to have focused on an indication, an administration route, a posology… Working on an indication which is not of interest for your target market can make a difference between either transferring the technology to the market and getting to the final user.
Finally, the funding. You will need to make sure each round of capital raising allows you to get to the following milestone. This is not all, you also need to find the right investor and also get smart-money to the company, in a way that they provide you their network and experience in the development of similar projects. The success rate will be increased if you are dealing with the right investor partner.
What are the things that they should avoid doing?
There are also many mistakes you should avoid, but I will just mention three of them:
Not talking about your project when the technology is already protected. Throughout my professional life, I have found many entrepreneurs who did not want to share their business ideas with me. This is something I will always find surprising since I am for sure not capable of replicating anything they do in their labs. By not sharing, they miss the chance to network and get in touch with companies, investors or people I could kindly introduce to them. Feedback is always something positive which will help you to make the right decisions.
Believing that you do not have competitors. This is one of my favourites since it makes me smile in my first meetings with an entrepreneur. Luckily, this is easy to solve as you just need to do good market research and you will find not just direct competitors and research in the field, but also indirect competitors and how this matter is being solved in clinical practice.
Covering up results that are not so good. It might sound surprising but I have heard from entrepreneurs who did not share results with their partners. Results which might have been key in order to make important decisions such as investment rounds, recruitment of key profiles into the team or even the decision of killing the project. So unwise decisions drag down the reputation of the entire team and show little honesty and values.
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