“The most important connections will be with fellow entrepreneurs.” With these words from the Oxbridge Biotech Roundtable (OBR) founder and CEO, Daniel Perez, the intense one day Entrepreneur Bootcamp for the 35 semi-finalists in the OneStart Americas life science business plan competition opened on Saturday, February 8th at the Stanford University School of Medicine. The Bootcamp, presented by OBR and SR One, initiated the mentoring component of the competition with experts in key areas of entrepreneurship presenting to the semi-finalists in the morning and then providing one-on-one mentoring sessions and pitch feedback in the afternoon. This formal program was interwoven with casual networking throughout the day to the benefit of all attendees.
Matt Maurer and Jordan Epstein of Stroll Health network with OBR volunteer Laura Sasportas
OneStart is the largest biotech business plan competition in the world. For both of its two concurrent competitions, OneStart Europe and OneStart Americas, teams of life science entrepreneurs under 36 years of age apply in one of four tracks: drug discovery, medical devices, diagnostics, or health information technology. Americas entrants, who retain all intellectual property, compete for $150,000, free lab space at QB3 in San Francisco for up to one year, and business and legal support. In January, the 35 semi-finalists in the Americas competition were announced and Saturday’s Bootcamp initiated two-months of intensive mentorship for these elite entrepreneurs involving venture capitalists, pharmaceutical executives, and other entrepreneurs as they develop a comprehensive business plan.
“Ideas are cheap, it’s all about execution.” - Drug Discovery Discussion Session
“Time is your greatest risk.” - Nassim Usman
Bootcamp opened with general comments from Daniel Perez; Matthew Foy, partner at SR One; and John Daley, Stanford law student and OBR organizer of OneStart Americas, and then immediately went to the nitty-gritty of life science entrepreneurship with a “State of the Industry” presentation from Tamara Rajah, a partner with McKinsey & Company. During her talk, Rajah stressed the need for founders to focus on the patient and to disrupt markets as a means to add value.
Thorsten Melcher presents to Bootcamp attendees
Thorsten Melcher of Johnson & Johnson Innovation, and previously part of the “most successful biotech in Half Moon Bay,” followed up Rajah with a talk steeped in humor on “Building a Company”. Melcher cheekily apologized as he said, “I’m telling the stories in the German way, everything was horrible,” but the gravity of his advice to the eager audience was clear as he highlighted the need for the right people, the necessity of a network in fundraising, and the critical importance of execution. His sage advice on funding segued into Genentech Investment Director, Simon Greenwood’s, perspectives on raising capital. Greenwood focused on the need to create your own barriers to market entry and gave direct coaching on how to sell yourself to venture capitalists. During the question and answer, Jill Carroll, a partner at SR One, corroborated Greenwood’s advice and further emphasized the need to be first or best in class to get the dollars. Nassim Usman, CEO of Catalyst Biosciences, reinforced the timelines for funding and success introduced by Melcher and Greenwood saying, “Time is your greatest risk.” Usman was joined by Karl Handelsman, founder of Codon Capital, for a question and answer session on “Managing Failure and Risk”, where Handelsman summarized the key to successful risk management as, “Ask good questions, listen, and figure things out.”
In addition to the need to disrupt markets to add value, another theme of the day was the essentiality of the perfect pitch. Throughout the day investors, including Melcher, Handelsman, and Geenwood, put the pitch above all else, and “VCs don’t read” was heard several times, while the value of a well-crafted executive summary was played down. Now enter the self-proclaimed, “deal killers of Silicon Valley,” Mike O’Donnell and Walter Wu of Morrison & Foerster. According to these two, lawyers do read and in their talk on “Corporate Structure and IP” they assert that as the people performing the due diligence required by venture capitalists, the greatest pitch may get you in the door, but a detailed written plan is imperative to getting the check.
“Don’t over invest in technology and under invest in biology.” - Drug Discovery Discussion Session
Entrepreneur panel of (from left) Foy, Daley, Perez, Iorns, Spellmeyer, Bethencourt, and Nag.
In the afternoon, audience participation drove a panel discussion on entrepreneurship including Elizabeth Iorns, cofounder and CEO of Science Exchange; David Spellmeyer, chief technology officer of Nodality; Ryan Bethencourt, CEO of Berkeley Biolabs; and Divya Nag, cofounder of Stem Cell Theranostics and founder of StartX Med. Topics included the value of accelerators, should you work with friends, how important is location, and balancing dilution with funding needs. When asked about operating in stealth mode, Bethencourt offered up the collaborative success story of Glowing Plant and Nag astutely asserted, “If you don’t share, you cut yourself off from being a better you.”
One-on-one mentoring sessions
The formal day concluded with discussion sessions in each of the four OneStart tracks: drug discovery, medical devices, diagnostics, and health information technology, followed by one-on-one mentoring sessions with successful entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and other experts. Each of the 35 semi-finalist teams practiced their pitch informally with a panel of investors and received immediate feedback.
“If you don’t share, you cut yourself off from being a better you.” - Divya Nag
“The most important connections will be with fellow entrepreneurs.” - Daniel Perez
Afternoon networking refreshments
Between sessions and during lunch, participants, speakers, mentors, and organizers ignored the rain and unusually cold Bay Area day to mingle outside sharing their ideas, commiserating over failures, cheering on successes, and forming important relationships. The networking relaxed when Bootcamp wrapped up at The Patio in Palo Alto. The response from attendees was overwhelmingly positive. Semi-finalists Jeni Lee of ViVita Technologies Inc. and Denise Lee of EpiBiome were impressed with the caliber of ideas and variety of people attending Bootcamp. They appreciated the opportunity to meet directly with investors and other entrepreneurs. PhD student, Jordan Despanie of Qairos Biopharmaceutics, enjoyed the opportunity to get advice on balancing his research with entrepreneurship and still making time for his hobby, screenwriting. Several attendees, like Luke Smith of Imani Health, said they benefited from making contacts in the Bay Area even for things as routine as help finding housing.
“Be prepared for the most scary and exciting time of your professional life.” - Thorsten Melcher
For the next two months, the teams will work intensively with their assigned mentor and new contacts to develop business plans. In May, the winning team will be selected from a pool of ten finalists based on criteria including innovation, impact to patient health, and quality of the business plan. It is an exciting time for these young thought leaders and exciting to get a glimpse of the future innovators of biotech.
Aaron Hammach and Denise Lee of EpiBiome with Jeni Lee and Maelene Wong of ViVita
This article was originally written for the OBR Review and can be found here.