Shaping Scientists into Entrepreneurs

By Arvind Gupta, SOSV General Partner and Managing Partner at IndieBio:

We were happy to share the accomplishments of 13 new biotech startups at the latest IndieBio Demo Day in February. It was a huge honor to be able to present them to the world after working closely with them for four months.

I want to tell you a couple things about IndieBio and what it is we’re trying to do in the world, and give a little bit of context to the teams.

Very simply put, IndieBio helps scientists become entrepreneurs. We do that through blending deep science and design in order to approach life science based product development in a new way. And through our learnings in the past four cohorts, we’re starting to get there faster and faster.

The IndieBio experiment has led to many collaborations around the world. We are learning how to expose what we know to other institutions, and learn from these other institutions around the world as well. We have partnerships now with almost all the top research universities in the world, as well as major government institutions like NIH and the United Nations. In fact, how we’ve been speeding up science and actually taking science and making it more relevant and applied has led to numerous international delegations to come to IndieBio and ask us how we can take our learnings and expose it to the networks and ecosystems they have in their home countries. And in the process, what we’ve found, and what we’re really starting to see, is we’re disrupting sector by sector and vertical after vertical new areas that biology has traditionally not touched — verticals like consumer goods, food and agriculture, therapeutics, manufacturing, and most recently, information technology as well.

In short, what we’re seeing is that biology as a technology is slowly starting to reinvent the world, one massive problem area at a time. Only biology has the power and the breadth to actually affect the things that matter to us most — living systems themselves.

Our amazing team at IndieBio consists of people who all bring such different viewpoints to biology and what we’re trying to do, which together creates one of the best things I’ve ever seen. I’ve asked each of them to say something about what we’ve been learning:

Ron Shigeta, Chief Science Officer:

Talking about science, there are a couple things I want to say. First of all, it’s an extreme pleasure to have seen our latest IndieBio cohort share a whole bunch of new things that nobody’s ever seen before. Some of the teams presented solutions to problems that have been longstanding issues in research for years (Ravata, Venomyx). Others have invented completely new things (Scaled BioLabs, Bioinspira).

The companies can start at nearly any level of previous work. A quarter of the companies had come in with nothing but a paper plan and had done no physical work. Another quarter had been working on their projects for two years or more. All of them together had come to this point where they could present tangible work which showed how their technology is real, commercializable, and valuable.

The reason this works for us, as I see it, is because the companies themselves form a collaborative community. The team helps them combine to make things happen as a network. But it’s not going to stop right there. The IndieBio team and the science team in general continues to work with the companies as they move through the rest of the process to be full-fledged profitable companies. We recently graduated our 55th company, and we’ll be with them all the way. The science team will help export the analytics pipelines and the technical development pipelines that they develop during the program into new spaces. We help them build out their lab spaces and find the lab spaces if they need them. Jun and I will also be working on new technologies and bringing them into the community and into our lab to disseminate over the entire portfolio. IndieBio science will continue to be with them all the way.

Jun Axup, Science Director:

As Arvind had mentioned, the biggest goal of IndieBio is to transition scientists into entrepreneurs. We do this in three ways. First of all, we shift the mindset of science from academic discovery to product development. In our fourth cohort, every company had not only achieved their scientific milestones by Demo Day, but they had also built a product that customers want. And in turn now, the customer feedback is what drives their science. Secondly, we practice clear and effective communication to explain science to the world. And lastly of course, we train scientists in all aspects of business.

Alex Kopelyan, Program Manager:

Just like the science is accelerating, the IndieBio businesses are progressing faster than ever. For the first time out of all four of our classes, every team has gotten to revenue, raised hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars in funding, or gotten partnerships with key players of their industry before the end of the program. And to do this, the teams started interacting with key players very early to learn from the market and find true product/market fit. That means the teams are actually doing product and business development from each of these interactions, and for the very early teams, they are actually building the foundation and fundamentals of their business in the process. So during the four months at IndieBio, we really believe teams are learning skills which take many other biotech companies years to learn.

Ryan Bethencourt, Program Director:

As our teams evolve, we evolve. So beyond IndieBio, we continue to support our teams as they start to scale their sales and marketing infrastructure. That means that as these companies pass the million dollars in sales mark, and sometimes million dollars in sales per month mark, we continue to support them and help with building sales, marketing, and also raising the follow-on capital they need from millions of dollars in their seed round up to their Series A where you’re looking at tens of millions of dollars moving forward. In addition, we help our teams as they start to scale from both a recruiting and operational perspective. Taking your team from a two to four person team to a 20 to 30 person team is hard, and we help with advisors, mentors, and additional support as well. Several of our teams are over 30 people in size.

As they’re looking at new industries, they’re also tackling regular markets. That was our initial vision actually. When we started IndieBio, we felt it was really important not just to tackle the regular markets, but the more regulated markets. Our teams are moving into food, healthcare, infrastructure, and many other areas which are normally very difficult-to-tackle industries, and getting approvals, including FDA approvals and others.

So, what’s next? Well in the words of one of my favorite authors, visionaries, and scientists, Arthur C. Clarke, “The limits of the possible can only be defined by going beyond them into the impossible.” With IndieBio, we are constantly delighted to introduce new biotech companies pushing the edges of the possible.

Originally published at on May 12, 2017.

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