Could you give some information on your educational and professional background and how that led to you getting involved in IndieBio?
Sure! I have worked in Science for 30 years. I completed my PhD at Princeton in Biophysics and Biochemistry, then I held Postdoctoral roles at Stanford and Harvard medical school focusing on diabetes and antibiotic biosynthesis. I spent 15 years in industry covering various roles and saw quite a few different things and that helped develop an interest in being an entrepreneur in particular establishing a start-up. Being based in San Francisco is encouraging because people are willing to listen to and help entrepreneurs launch interesting and new stuff. I have worked in a number of start-ups in fact I helped establish a Biotech workspace called Berkeley BioLabs. Through this work Ryan Bethencourt (Berkeley BioLabs Co-Founder) and I met Arvind Gupta who was a partner in venture capitalist firm SOS Ventures. Ryan, Arvin and I got together and Co-Founded IndieBio. IndieBio was setup about 16 months ago.
What about IndieBio excites you, is there anything about IndieBio that makes it unique to other accelerator programs and is there anything about IndieBio you would like to improve?
IndieBio is continuously improving. The work companies do here is being continually re-examined from class to class and we make it better the next time. We don’t have a playbook we are just constantly rewriting a new one. Life at IndieBio is extremely exciting. We are a start up by ourselves. We get to fund start-ups and live the start-up life. We invest in companies who want to change the world with brilliant ideas using Biotechnology. So far we have helped start 42 companies and a lot of these are making great progress. There is nothing more rewarding to see a company begin with this brilliant idea almost too amazing and witness the idea becoming something real.
— IndieBio (@indbio) May 6, 2016
The IndieBio accelerator program spans over a four month period. Are the four months intense? Would you describe the working environment a high pressure environment?
It is incredibly intense the program is designed to take something from the lab or with a carefully laid out plan and potentially turn it into a company with a product in four months which requires a huge amount of work but with the right support and resources IndieBio can make this possible. This program is not about pushing companies but about helping companies grow. We will not let a company leave if we feel their idea is not sufficient. Although the program is intense it is also fun. At Indiebio there is a tremendous working environment. Some of these people have tremendous power and we can help them find a way of framing this power people can do unimaginable and unbelievable things.
Which Company has made the most progress since the IndioBio SF Demo Day on the 4th Feb 2016?
Some of our companies grow faster than others but do keep in mind IndieBio was only set up 16 months ago so they are still quite young. Some companies have raised 700K to 1.7m for seed funding and are preparing for the next round of funding the “A round” and may have this funding closed out by the end of the year. This is incredible progress in 16 months.
However if some companies are making rapid progress it does not mean the other companies are plodding along or defective in any way. These are all great companies and people are willing to wait for great products. A long project can be funded if a company is very aggressive about making progress and showing evidence of moving forward. Big projects can have big payoffs so people are willing to invest in that.
Having the right team can push a company forward by good organization, knowing their target market, knowing what their customer wants and what the customer will get for the price they pay for the product.
— IndieBio (@indbio) March 7, 2016
I had to wear a heart monitor recently and undergo lots of hospital tests for vital sign monitoring but the heart monitor fell off after two days and it was supposed to stay attached to me for 14 days. The Hospital instrumentation that was attached to my body was also very bulky and uncomfortable. That got me thinking about “V-Sense Medical” one of the companies from the last IndieBio batch that are working on vital signs biotechnology. Can you tell me how they coming along?
V-Sense are working away on the East Coast in Marylyn. They are making a device that can detect vital signs through a couple feet of concrete. They are no wires attached to this device. It replaces the whole stack of instrumentation that sits beside a hospital bed. They were able to shrink their device from the size of a briefcase down to a 2.5 inch cube and are working on something the size of a cell phone now. This device can be placed into someone’s home or healthcare facilities and track the human being walking around the room monitoring key vital sign information . Another example of Amazing Biotechnology!
For the current batch of IndieBio are there any companies that stand out to you? What is their product?
I don’t think it’s wise for a mother to point out her favourite child. All of the 15 companies in the next batch are truly great. I will talk about some of the companies to give an idea of just how life-changing these products can be.
• Qidni Labs are producing an implantable kidney. This implantable kidney can be implanted into people’s abdomen helping them to live a more normal life. If a kidney fails patients have no option but to undertake kidney dialysis treatment. Nowadays people have to visit their doctors 3 times a week for kidney dialysis treatment. The treatment can take up to 3 hours and the patient is hooked up to machines. Qidni Labs is an example of a hard hitting company wanting to change the world using biotechnology.
• Miraculex is making non sugar protein based sweeteners 20 to 30000 more times powerful than sugar. These sweeteners have the capacity to change the planet. 1g of this sweetener is equal to a 10-30kg bag of sugar and the sweeteners can have a big influence on how much calories people have to take in. These sweeteners are sourced naturally from rare plants in Africa. They are harmless towards human health and have very little aftertaste. Current artificial sweeteners can have an aftertaste, contain lots of sugar and may be made from chemicals.
• MycoWorks are using Fungal Mycelium from mushrooms which is the part of the mushroom that grows under the ground to naturally grow plastics, rubbers and leathers. Hand Accessory handbags and clothing are an example of products that can use these materials. The Fungal Mycelium material feel great, contains no glues or chemicals, and can be used as a fertilizer after production as it decomposes naturally.
Biotechnology can have the ability to change the world and put us back on balance with the earth. 8 billion people are living on planet earth. This is a lot more than the earth was designed to handle. The processes for these companies are so good that companies are willing to sell at the price we are paying for these materials. The company has to be economically viable. Willing to sell their products at the price people can afford to pay for.
A useful piece of information that Scientists and Entrepreneurs should understand is doing good is not something you should get paid for. You are doing it because it’s the right thing instead of counting on your product for extra profits. For example one of our companies from the last batch Memphis Meats have produced a cell cultured sausage meat ball for $3000. It tastes like a real sausage. Memphis are working very hard in their lab to produce it at a price that is the same as meat currently sold in the supermarkets.
— IndieBio (@indbio) February 22, 2016
Can you give any information about the next IndieBio SF Demo Day?
The next IndieBio SF Demo day is on the 14th of July. The 15 companies will have the opportunity to present their great products to an outside audience. People can sign up on our website http://sf.indiebio.co/ for the mailing list, to get notified and to get the links of the event sent out. Anybody can attend.
Do you have any advice for biotech enthusiasts out there who have a start-up idea but are unsure what the next step is?
Asking for advice, making friends and networking are good ways to see if your idea has any weight to it. People must be able to take constructive criticism for their ideas because this will test its potential and readiness.
I have met a lot of people who have had great ideas but have not put that much thought into it. For example making biodegradable plastics is a great idea but how are you going to design biodegradable plastics? Questions like this need to be looked at to see how real one’s idea is. A lot of people are passionate about removing animals from the food chain. If an idea like this is to materialise you need to be willing to put your money where your mouth is. Do I have the skills to execute this idea?
If anyone has a great idea we would love to hear about it. You can submit an application here but the idea has to ready.
Do you think it is an advantage for the founders of a Biotech Start-Up to have experience in the Biotech industry first?
Not necessarily it depends on your biotechnology. One’s idea may not be centred on what is being produced in industry. In this instance industry experience may not be relevant. For me I worked in industry and I saw a lot of different processes/ products which was useful for me.
At IndieBio we have people from various backgrounds. Some have just completed their PhD’s or Postdoctoral degree’s and are doing great. Others have worked in Industry and there are a lot of different ideas that can be got from working in Industry. A lot of stunning ideas out there and all experiences are valid.
Do you think Start-Ups should have an exit strategy in place in case their product does not come to fruition? Before implementing an exit strategy would it be a good decision for a start-up to pivot their product?
If you don’t have a product after a sufficient amount of time your company is going to die. That will be the only exit. If your product is not working companies will not invest in it and you should always have to have a plan B. If there are still some funds available pivoting should be an option especially if you want to make a real go of setting up a start-up and have decided after a lot of consideration that what you were originally doing is heading for a dead end.
Sometimes a plan B can be something simple for example if you do not get an expected test result maybe the test method should be altered a certain way or sometimes your plan B might be to pivot. It may not be ideal but pivoting as Plan B may be the solution.
Have you any advice for young professionals who are looking for openings in biotech to find out if this is an area of interest?
Biotechnology is changing all the time and the applications for biotechnology potentially touches about everything human beings do. If there is something you are really passionate about, learning about Biotechnology may help you bring Biotech into a new sort of market. Biotechnology has the potential to make a lot of things better, capacity to change a lot of undesirable processes. Is there something Biotechnology can do to alter an undesirable environmental process or remove an obnoxious chemical in use?
For example in Europe an enzyme renin produced by bacteria is used in cheese production to make milk curdle. The curds turn into the cheese. The other way of making milk curdle is scraping the insides of a goat’s intestine and putting this into your cheese. People don’t like bacterium in their food but the bacterium is wiped away after the enzyme is produced. This way of making cheese is cheaper, safer and more appetizing.
— IndieBio (@indbio) May 24, 2016
Another company in the current class Ardra are trying to replace current chemicals like petroleum used in cosmetics by using natural resources. Sort of stating the obvious but putting petroleum on your skin is not healthy for you.
I also wanted to say that there is an Irish version of IndieBio in Cork. They run a summer program. It is a whole separate crew over there doing their own thing. So IndieBio is running all year round. You can check out IndieBio in Ireland here . So if people cannot make the San Francisco IndieBio please keep in mind there is an IndieBio demo day in Ireland.