Starting young with business mentoring!Many of our assignments at Ithaka over the years have included coaching & mentoring of senior-level management teams within large& small Life Science Companies. Our external perspective plus our few (!) grey hairs of wisdom has provided expertise ranging from organisational structure & strategic focus through to intellectual property management& access to debt & equity finance.
Clearly, the earlier practical experience can be gained, the better it is for successful technology commercialisation. To this end, the Biotechnology Young Entrepreneurs Scheme (Biotechnology YES) was set up as an innovative competition to encourage entrepreneurial culture by young researchers. For over 5 years, Ithaka has provided mentors to support this UK-wide programme & the following are some glimpses from the recent Biomedical YES workshop held at the Stevenage Bioscience Catalyst for Open Innovation.
The Biomedical workshop ran over three days in October. In the mornings of the first two days, eighteen teams with five members in each, attended presentations on technology transfer and the commercialisation of ideas. In the afternoons each team started to build a business plan for their hypothetical start-up company. Mentors were on hand to give advice, answer questions, and provide a focus for the team’s ideas.
On the final day the participants made an oral presentation of their business plan before a panel taking the role of equity investors. Two teams were selected to progress through to the National Final in December where they compete against winners from the other six themed workshops.
As a mentor on the first afternoon, I met with six of the teams for approximately 30 minutes each. The sessions run back-to-back so there is no time to rest! A wide range of biomedical business ideas were pitched from novel diagnostics through to intriguing medical devices and innovative therapeutics. The first requirement was to quickly understand a team’s business concept and then to help them mould it into shape. There tend to be strong and quiet voices and the mentor assists in drawing out ideas from everyone and building real consensus.
A common issue at this (early) stage is for teams to agree what the business model will actually be e.g. are they a technology developer planning to license to a Corporate or a Company with manufacturing and distribution selling to end-users. They need to base their ideas on science that is realistic but currently hypothetical; often a cause for much discussion!
Since the ultimate aim is to convince the panel to invest in their idea, company and team, the mentor helps them to ‘get into the mind’ of an investor and emphasise the importance of reducing business risk and achieving a successful exit. Each team member has to assume a different management role within the company and the mentor helps teams to tease out what skills are required.
My colleague from Ithaka, Paula Wittels, joined the sessions on the second afternoon and mentored five teams all developing business plans for exciting new technologies. They all showed a high level of enthusiasm and commitment and had made an enormous amount of progress in a very short time. Just as in the real world they were facing problems of regulatory approvals, identifying subcontractors, finding commercial partners and working out just how much money they should ask for to support their new businesses. Most of the individuals were undertaking PhDs but they all said to Paula that the programme had opened their eyes to new careers that they hadn’t previously considered.
In conclusion, all the teams demonstrated a huge amount of enthusiasm, ability and of course youthful creativity and energy. If all of the ninety young delegates come away recognising that business success is not just about having a novel technology, it will have been a success!