Making the right start as a Start-Up with the PULSE programme
Pablo Lubroth attended the 2018 PULSE programme (Programme for Up and coming Life Science Entrepreneurs, which is run annually by the BIA together with the Francis Crick Institute) in order to develop plans for novel cell therapy companies arising from Horizon Discovery. Here, he shares his experiences of the programme and how it informs his current role as an Investment Manager at the UK Innovation and Science Seed Fund (UKI2S).
As a corporate development associate, I was responsible for developing the operational plan and route to market for a range of novel cell therapy projects. Throughout the PULSE programme, my colleagues and I addressed some of the existential and practical questions that all entrepreneurs should ask themselves before embarking on the start-up journey. In my current role, investing in early stage biotechnology companies at UKI2S, I still ask these same questions when analysing an investment opportunity:
Why does the company exist?
Most founder-scientists start building a business proposal with the technical hypothesis, aiming to find out whether the technology works. This is an essential part of venture creation, however, it is also important to answer the commercial hypothesis to understand if customers will eventually buy and use the product. This process can help in three ways:
- Understand the specifics of the problem (or unmet need) that your customers are facing, rather than guessing the pain points
- Inform the experimental strategy to prove effectiveness of your technology at solving these problems
- Minimise the likelihood of a technology push and increase that of a market pull
This process will inform whether the company should be changing something in its plans from business model to the target market and, more importantly, it determines whether there is a need at all for the technology.
We take this approach with all our investments. For example, MicrofluidX (PULSE 2020) went through a customer exploration exercise early in its inception, which led the founder to identify the most pertinent problems in cell and gene therapy manufacturing and address these. With the help of the PULSE programme and also through the contacts made there, the company fine-tuned its roadmap for the future. The company is addressing a massive unmet need in the space, and combined with an excellent team and plans, UKI2S decided to invest as part of the recent £1.4m seed round.
What are the gaps in the team?
It is essential to be honest about both the strengths and weaknesses of the team. Once identified, technical gaps can be solved by hiring team members but it is crucial to have a complete technical team ahead of starting the company and fundraising. It is also possible to fill management skill gaps with additional hires or through advisory or Board roles. At UKI2S, we help early stage companies bring in experienced advisors, Non-Executive Directors and Chairs to provide the necessary experience and networks to allow the company to increase its chances of success.
What is the plan to de-risk your technology?
The company needs to be clear on the technical milestones it will achieve, how much it will cost and how long it will take. This will enable the company to understand when and how resources have to be allocated and it is essential for investors so they understand how the funding will be spent. In my opinion, this is a better way for early-stage start-ups to show clarity on what they want to do than the ‘classic’ business plan headings.
These questions are pervasive across the entrepreneur and investor mindsets. The answers to these questions will change over time and it is important for every start-up to be able to adapt to this new information. The PULSE programme is the best start for any up-coming entrepreneurs to understand how to test your technical and commercial hypotheses, find strengths and weaknesses and discuss your plans with investors, partners and existing entrepreneurs.
Are you starting a synthetic biology company and looking for finance and industry expertise? Please get in touch at [email protected].