The facts and figures reported over recent years can leave us in no doubt that numerous locations around the globe have developed their entrepreneurial support ecosystems in Life Sciences & Healthcare to enable effective creation and growth of new businesses, writes One Nucleus CEO Tony Jones.
The Cambridge cluster has been a trailblazer in many of the critical factors supporting such evolution of the start-up environment, creating an asset pipeline that attracts global attention.
The past year alone saw funding rounds and acquisitions of companies in the region exceed $3Bn. This was added to by regional champions AstraZeneca, Illumina and Abcam spending well over $40Bn on acquisitions to continue growth as sustainable independent businesses. It should be noted however that the overwhelming majority of such investment was sourced from private venture rather than capital markets.
A perennial question that remains for all leaders of these businesses is whether to sell or not sell. Absolutely that decision is influenced by available growth capital, including from public markets as the requirement for cash grows with the product pipeline development.
One could look at the US leading clusters, where critical mass of later stage company portfolios, greater depth of analyst coverage, more specialist investment funds and attitudes around Nasdaq have all been mentioned as reasons why clusters in eg Boston, San Francisco and San Diego attract such investment to enable companies to remain independent longer and head towards IPO. How influential each of those factors is on its own is still debated.
There is growing interest from the much-needed international crossover investors in ex-US opportunities and that bodes well for the companies looking to join Nasdaq longer term to access the above capital pool. The journey to Nasdaq will be via AIM or even main LSE market in London if the domestic investor interest continues to grow, perhaps having been piqued by the Covid-19 response across this sector.
For sure the life science leaders in those US locations will tell you that their job is not easy either and there is clearly no lack of ambition from their peers elsewhere. Maybe the trajectory of growth impacts. Irrespective of location to some degree, businesses with aspirations to build sustainable revenues that mean they can access such capital ideally need to reach a shape suitable to attract such investors. In a recent Business Weekly article on this subject, Andy Richards remarked “Our companies do need to get bigger and fast” So what can help? has been a question One Nucleus has been considering.
One Nucleus remains focussed on supporting our members and the wider network in maximising their success wherever possible. We are fortunate.
There is an immense depth of expertise and experience within our network and the Virtual Innovation Centre programme aims to harness the full extent of that value to address the challenge Dr Richards described when needing to attract cross-over investors for true scaling of companies.
One Nucleus collaborates with numerous accelerator and innovation centres as partners in this endeavour, targeting this new support at the next growth phase of their graduating companies, amplifying their impact further. The achieved and potential global impact of the cluster’s excellence in life sciences has been demonstrated innumerable times.
Being virtual, the Virtual Innovation Centre can welcome participants from anywhere in the world. This means we can make the most of the local strength but equally attract innovation to our ecosystem as it develops into whatever the future may hold.
The initiative itself will comprise a structured programme of support. Whether with each cohort or one-to-one, working with an array of global One Nucleus Corporate Sponsors and Partners it will help those business leaders create great companies as they become increasingly operational and active dealmakers.
Our Partners in the Virtual Innovation Centre already include global players such as Thermo Fisher, Fish & Richardson, Taylor Wessing, Lonza, EBD Group, Penningtons Manches Cooper, Catalent and George James Ltd. Accepting there is no magic one-size fits all solution to address the growth challenges for all companies, the support will be tailored for each company’s need.
At the launch event, after outlining the rationale and aspirations the initiative, the programme led into a fascinating panel discussion around the challenges and bear traps companies can face at this stage. To set the context for the Virtual Innovation Centre an international panel of those leading and dealing with such matters were asked by the moderator Rowan Gardner (Precision Life) to discuss the barriers to scaling-up enterprises from a technology, investment and people perspective.
There were some great points made by the guests. You can view a recording of the discussion on YouTube where explanations of the convergence of technologies, evolving regulatory landscapes and investor confidence was used by Ayokunmi Ajetunmobi (BioCity) to highlight “Great technology does not always make a great business” as the starting point of what needs addressing. This was developed further by Bjorn Arvidson (STUNS Life Sciences) questioning ‘How do you find your second product, avoiding being a one-trick pony.”
Not losing perspective that it is not all about the technology and there must be commercial development plan prompted local leading light Benjamina Bollag (Higher Steaks) to emphasise the communication needs and focus. “Keep it simple and keep your eye on the end goal” was her simple but sage advice.
Jason Mellad (Start Codon) elaborated further, “remain agile and able to scale, put a plan in from day one, build and upskill the team and accept technologies come and go”. Rounding out the scene setting before getting into the detail, Ryan Bethencourt (Wild Earth) took a philosophical stance to set out some thresholds, “Always go for the 10x problem not just a bit better, since cracking that will create the required excitement and is not much harder.”
As much as we celebrate exciting science, inventions and innovations, it is people that make things happen. In the words of Rowan Gardner: we all need a ‘kick ass team, be brutal and be able to lead that team with grace’.
It was not surprising that a significant portion of the session therefore focussed on this complex aspect of growing a business. Scaling a company quickly can be brutal on the personnel involved. Accept that not everyone is suited to scaling up and do not be afraid to make changes to the team as needed.
Highlighting the benefits of an initiative such as the Virtual Innovation Centre in that building such teams begins with having a strong network and being able to connect. Good people attract good people, talent attracts talent. There were many other pearls of wisdom shared about how to create the frameworks to encourage questioning. Indeed, question everything, even when it is uncomfortable and do it early.
Work at the culture you build and never forget that whether recruiting the best people; pitching to investors; or commercialising the product, you are the one who has to sell your vision and make the audience care. Rowan rounded out the discussion reminding us that ‘capital-story fit is equally as important as product-market fit’ when summarising the advice. Storytelling is key.
The One Nucleus Virtual Innovation Centre is now open for applications from life sciences companies active in research and development who were incorporated at least a year ago. Selection for the programme, first cycle to commence in April 2021, opening the opportunity to receive precision support from our wealth of experts and the wider ecosystem.
Further information and how to apply is available at https://onenucleus.com/virtual-innovation-centre