Incubators can provide a lifeline for biotech start-ups, but it makes a real difference if the companies know how to present themselves and find an incubator that’s right for them, according to a panel discussion with tips for biotech startups at the 2022 BIO CEO & Investor Conference, hosted by the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO).
Taking place on the second day of the conference, the panel provided an overview of the role of incubators in the biotech ecosystem, looking at how small companies can benefit from these innovative communities, and where to focus their efforts once they get the initial support of an incubator.
The panel recommended that start-ups seeking funding must understand how the incubators prioritize the research projects that will get the most attention and, in some cases, funding.
Regardless of the size and the type of incubator, and the services they offer (such as mentoring and guidance, securing necessary labs and equipment or seed investment), the relationship starts with an application process, panelists said. Start-ups, therefore, should have a clear picture of what they need as an entrepreneur and what the incubator they are applying to is looking for.
Dr. Glennis Mehra, Director of Biolabs@NYULangone, said her incubator evaluates the applicants “based on the scientific foundations, specific team execution plans, and clear milestones as well as the economic impact and ecosystem impact”.
Vivian Doelling, VP of Investments of North Carolina Biotechnology Center (NCBiotech), said her incubator is looking at “team technology, IP, market competition, etc.” when selecting 20-25 out of 80 applicants a year so “it’s a pretty deep dive and due diligence” into those individual companies.
Her tips for biotech start-ups: “build an IP strategy, make sure to have sound advice and a strategy to move forward, and that they have the expertise to ensure their IP strategy matches their company’s long-term plans.”
As moderator Chris Garabedian, CEO of Xontogeny noted, when promoting access to capital, incubators also have an evaluation process that helps them determine which of the applicants are ready for a funding pitch and, in line with the services they offer, they mentor start-ups and lead and connect them with potential investors and investor hubs, syndicate parties, and VCs.
Sally Allain of Johnson & Johnson JLABS emphasized the possibilities offered by the public-private partnerships, mentioning J&J’s Blue Knight initiative in partnership with the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) that not only offers mentorship to companies that are working on next technologies, but also expert programming and sponsored residencies for some QFCs.
Julie Gilmore, COO of Business Development at Eli Lilly, recommends starting the initial dialogue regardless of how perfect you think your pitch might be, since “we do like engaging early, so take the lead.”
The tips for biotech startups that Christopher Jeffers, Managing Director of the funder Hibiscus BioVentures, offered: “reach out for help early and reach out to people that do development” since it’s a different world dealing with these venture communities. “It’s a lot harder to fix a company than to build it right,” he said, so the beginning is important.