How to start your own company and be successful

The HBA Metro chapter hosted a webinar around an emerging topic that’s coming up often in inner biotech circles – How to start your own company and be successful. Our panel of experts included Dr. Jahanara Ali, former senior vice president and director, BioAccelerate Prize, Partnership Fund for New York; Stephen M. Goodman, co-founder at Mid Atlantic Bio Angels; Mary Howard, program manager, ELab NYC; and Dr. Eric Vieira, director of special research programs, CUNY. The discussions kicked off with Dr. Jahanara, who echoed the webinar’s sentiment: there is a ton of entrepreneurship activity in and around NYC, and now is a great time to consider hanging that “open” sign and connecting with like-minded individuals to get your idea off the ground.

We discussed first and foremost how to get started as an entrepreneur in this industry. Tips included working directly with researchers, partnering with universities who may have the technology you need, and joining networking groups, development programs and events such as ELabsNYC, Mary’s eLab, NYC Emerging Tech Summit, NY Bio Industry Group and the virtual investigator program at NYU. This type of networking comes with face time with potential mentors, high visibility to angel investors, and having your idea vetted by scientific  and marketing experts; but once the mentoring and networking is over and it’s time for the pitch, what are the next steps? Mary Howard stressed the important of a business plan – without one, you just can’t create your pitch.

Now it’s time to fund your startup. The outlook so far for financing? Pretty good, according to Stephen Goodman, who shared his professional insight around financing and what angel investors look for in an investment opportunity. Look first towards non-diluted funding mechanisms supported by the local government, such as the partnership of NY. Also consider disease foundations - a lot of them are making grants (Alzheimer’s Association). Once you’ve exhausted this type of funding mechanism and your company has been developed further, talking to angel investors, otherwise known as venture capitalists (VC) would be a next step. One important aspect of the VC conversation will be the actual cash needed: is there any other source of funding so the investor can take some cash off the table? Figure out exactly what you need before talking with this group.

Big pharma should also be considered as potential investors; according to Stephen, they have become much more aggressive in early stage funding due to the cuts in internal R&D. He likened US Pharma to Hollywood studios: they are enormous marketing machines that develop big blockbusters, but then look for the little movie at the film festival that they can make into a big money-maker.

Lastly, advice was given on how to best setup your pitch. It’s a known sentiment that most of the founding scientists love the science and they are eager to teach about this aspect of the project, but haven’t thought about the things that are important to an investor. Is it a commercially viable product? Who is the customer? How will the science change someone’s behavior? Keep these things in mind, make sure you have a strong team in place for the funding round, and good luck.

In summary, the webinar was well-received and we had a great round of Q&A. The main takeaways from the program? We are currently in a hotbed of opportunity to launch early stage products, especially through technology licensed by academic institutions. To do this successfully, though, you’ll need to network and create a strong team! Be prepared when it comes to your funding rounds, and rehearse, rehearse, rehearse.

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