Month: March 2014

Civic hacking

                

I recently watched Catherine Bracy‘s TED Talk on Civic Hacking. It’s an amazing way to empower citizens and an easy way to get involved in your community. Even better, it appeals to all ages, but especially the more apolitical set under 50. Despite the name, civic hacking requires no coding ability, only a desire to creatively solve problems. Check out the Code for America Brigades to learn more and get involved. I can’t wait for their map to be completely covered with pins! National Day of Civic Hacking is only a couple months away!

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OneStart Americas young entrepreneur bootcamp

              

“The most important connections will be with fellow entrepreneurs.” With these words from the Oxbridge Biotech Roundtable (OBR) founder and CEO, Daniel Perez, the intense one day Entrepreneur Bootcamp for the 35 semi-finalists in the OneStart Americas life science business plan competition opened on Saturday, February 8th at the Stanford University School of Medicine. The Bootcamp, presented by OBR and SR One, initiated the mentoring component of the competition with experts in key areas of entrepreneurship presenting to the semi-finalists in the morning and then providing one-on-one mentoring sessions and pitch feedback in the afternoon. This formal program was interwoven with casual networking throughout the day to the benefit of all attendees.

               

Matt Maurer and Jordan Epstein of Stroll Health network with OBR volunteer Laura Sasportas

OneStart is the largest biotech business plan competition in the world. For both of its two concurrent competitions, OneStart Europe and OneStart Americas, teams of life science entrepreneurs under 36 years of age apply in one of four tracks: drug discovery, medical devices, diagnostics, or health information technology. Americas entrants, who retain all intellectual property, compete for $150,000, free lab space at QB3 in San Francisco for up to one year, and business and legal support. In January, the 35 semi-finalists in the Americas competition were announced and Saturday’s Bootcamp initiated two-months of intensive mentorship for these elite entrepreneurs involving venture capitalists, pharmaceutical executives, and other entrepreneurs as they develop a comprehensive business plan.

“Ideas are cheap, it’s all about execution.” – Drug Discovery Discussion Session

“Time is your greatest risk.” – Nassim Usman

Bootcamp opened with general comments from Daniel Perez; Matthew Foy, partner at SR One; and John Daley, Stanford law student and OBR organizer of OneStart Americas, and then immediately went to the nitty-gritty of life science entrepreneurship with a “State of the Industry” presentation from Tamara Rajah, a partner with McKinsey & Company. During her talk, Rajah stressed the need for founders to focus on the patient and to disrupt markets as a means to add value.

               

Thorsten Melcher presents to Bootcamp attendees

Thorsten Melcher of Johnson & Johnson Innovation, and previously part of the “most successful biotech in Half Moon Bay,” followed up Rajah with a talk steeped in humor on “Building a Company”. Melcher cheekily apologized as he said, “I’m telling the stories in the German way, everything was horrible,” but the gravity of his advice to the eager audience was clear as he highlighted the need for the right people, the necessity of a network in fundraising, and the critical importance of execution. His sage advice on funding segued into Genentech Investment Director, Simon Greenwood’s, perspectives on raising capital. Greenwood focused on the need to create your own barriers to market entry and gave direct coaching on how to sell yourself to venture capitalists. During the question and answer, Jill Carroll, a partner at SR One, corroborated Greenwood’s advice and further emphasized the need to be first or best in class to get the dollars. Nassim Usman, CEO of Catalyst Biosciences, reinforced the timelines for funding and success introduced by Melcher and Greenwood saying, “Time is your greatest risk.” Usman was joined by Karl Handelsman, founder of Codon Capital, for a question and answer session on “Managing Failure and Risk”, where Handelsman summarized the key to successful risk management as, “Ask good questions, listen, and figure things out.”

In addition to the need to disrupt markets to add value, another theme of the day was the essentiality of the perfect pitch. Throughout the day investors, including Melcher, Handelsman, and Geenwood, put the pitch above all else, and “VCs don’t read” was heard several times, while  the value of a well-crafted executive summary was played down. Now enter the self-proclaimed, “deal killers of Silicon Valley,” Mike O’Donnell and Walter Wu of Morrison & Foerster. According to these two, lawyers do read and in their talk on “Corporate Structure and IP” they assert that as the people performing the due diligence required by venture capitalists, the greatest pitch may get you in the door, but a detailed written plan is imperative to getting the check.

“Don’t over invest in technology and under invest in biology.” – Drug Discovery Discussion Session

               

Entrepreneur panel of (from left) Foy, Daley, Perez, Iorns, Spellmeyer, Bethencourt, and Nag.

In the afternoon, audience participation drove a panel discussion on entrepreneurship including Elizabeth Iorns, cofounder and CEO of Science Exchange; David Spellmeyer, chief technology officer of Nodality; Ryan Bethencourt, CEO of Berkeley Biolabs; and Divya Nag, cofounder of Stem Cell Theranostics and founder of StartX Med. Topics included the value of accelerators, should you work with friends, how important is location, and balancing dilution with funding needs. When asked about operating in stealth mode, Bethencourt offered up the collaborative success story of Glowing Plant and Nag astutely asserted, “If you don’t share, you cut yourself off from being a better you.”

               

One-on-one mentoring sessions

The formal day concluded with discussion sessions in each of the four OneStart tracks: drug discovery, medical devices, diagnostics, and health information technology, followed by one-on-one mentoring sessions with successful entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and other experts. Each of the 35 semi-finalist teams practiced their pitch informally with a panel of investors and received immediate feedback.

“If you don’t share, you cut yourself off from being a better you.” – Divya Nag

“The most important connections will be with fellow entrepreneurs.” – Daniel Perez

               

Afternoon networking refreshments

Between sessions and during lunch, participants, speakers, mentors, and organizers ignored the rain and unusually cold Bay Area day to mingle outside sharing their ideas, commiserating over failures, cheering on successes, and forming important relationships. The networking relaxed when Bootcamp wrapped up at The Patio in Palo Alto. The response from attendees was overwhelmingly positive. Semi-finalists Jeni Lee of ViVita Technologies Inc. and Denise Lee of EpiBiome were impressed with the caliber of ideas and variety of people attending Bootcamp. They appreciated the opportunity to meet directly with investors and other entrepreneurs. PhD student, Jordan Despanie of Qairos Biopharmaceutics, enjoyed the opportunity to get advice on balancing his research with entrepreneurship and still making time for his hobby, screenwriting. Several attendees, like Luke Smith of Imani Health,  said they benefited from making contacts in the Bay Area even for things as routine as help finding housing.  

“Be prepared for the most scary and exciting time of your professional life.” – Thorsten Melcher

For the next two months, the teams will work intensively with their assigned mentor and new contacts to develop business plans. In May, the winning team will be selected from a pool of ten finalists based on criteria including innovation, impact to patient health, and quality of the business plan. It is an exciting time for these young thought leaders and exciting to get a glimpse of the future innovators of biotech.    

               

Aaron Hammach and Denise Lee of EpiBiome with Jeni Lee and Maelene Wong of ViVita

This article was originally written for the OBR Review and can be found here

Science writing tips from former Nature editors and OBR

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          Minard’s graphic of Napolean’s Russian Campaign. Purported to be near perfect. 

Why is a blog post on a scientific writing workshop so difficult to write? Perhaps it’s the vision of a reader slowly nodding with a slight smirk thinking, “I love the author’s ironic inclusion of mistakes in a post of pointers,” when in truth, I’m not that witty? Publicly posting writing of any kind, scientific or personal, makes the author vulnerable. Writing on writing tips only exposes the author more.

With that introduction I have already ignored several of the tips presented by Richard Gallagher and Natalie Dewitt to 50 graduate students and postdocs eager to improve their science writing skills Monday February 24th at the University of California, San Francisco. The event was hosted by Oxbridge Biotech Roundtable and moderated by Ben Cohn. Below are some of the tips from Gallagher and Dewitt, who are the founders of Accendo Editing and former editors at Nature.

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Know your audience

Employ the following advice always keeping your audience in mind.

Titles

Avoid clichés, colons, incorporation of acronyms into words, and inform.

In my first conference abstract of graduate school I broke two of the rules above with: “Forging a Genetic Tool: The Quest to Increase Homologous Recombination Efficiency in Toxoplasma gondii”. My graduate lab loved catchy titles. Fortunately, my “forging a genetic tool” isn’t overly cliché, returning few relevant Google results. On the other hand, Dewitt’s example of “mending broken hearts stem cells” returns over 90,000 results!

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Colons are a technical issue as they interfere with some search engines and importing titles with colons can result in weird changes to the title structure.

The incorporation of acronyms into words like “Grb-ing receptor activation by the tail” experiences a love/hate reaction from readers. Is a catchy title worth decreasing readership over or increasing criticism from irritated readers? 

Acronym incorporation can also be at the expense of informing your audience.  Titles like “Death by Numbers” and “An Open and Shut Case” provide no indication of an article’s content and may be overlooked.

Clarity

Use short words, short sentences, and short paragraphs. Graphics are important. Tell a story and don’t show off!

Anglo-Saxon language is the language of the people and the language of short words. It is concise and sharp. Anglo-Saxon dialect selects “use” over “utilize”, “by” over “via”, and “help” over “facilitate” as pointed out by Dewitt. Carl Zimmer’s “The Index of Banned Words (The Continually Updated Edition)” is helpful for eliminating superfluous language as well. Short sentences and short paragraphs will follow suit as you are mindful of clarity in your writing.

Well-crafted graphics can say more in a small space than words can in an equivalent space.

The Inverted Pyramid of News Writing is an example of such a graphic and it lays out a good method for telling a story in science writing. If your writing doesn’t flow and tell a clear story you will lose or confuse your readers.

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If you stick to short words, sentences, and paragraphs you will avoid the showy vocabulary or sentence structure better suited for Victorian fiction. Another trap scientists writing about science fall into is the need to prove their expertise through excessive detail. Stick to only what is necessary for the audience. If this pains you, try adding links for additional reading to the end of an article.

Minimize bias

Include alternative viewpoints and quotes from external experts and minimize hype.

Often I lazily overlook the inclusion of alternative viewpoints and quotes from people not involved in the subject of an article. For instance, in my blog on contract research organizations (CROs) I did not include the drawbacks of CROs. In my article on Mundipharma I neglected to include quotes from people outside of the patent acquisition deal. Such inclusions would strengthen the articles.

Odds are you are not working for Fox News so avoid the impulse to tell us how kittens are unwittingly killing us. Verify the hype surrounding novel discoveries through quotes from outside sources before reporting it. Excessive hype will only decrease clarity and perceived competency.

Engagement

Gotta have soul.

Gallagher defines the objective of science writing as, “To communicate knowledge that has been gained through scientific investigation in an accurate, engaging, and instructive fashion.” Accurate and instructive are easy enough for a diligent, detailed, and informed scientist but engaging is an art and something with which I struggle. The advice from Gallagher on adding soul into your science writing and keeping it vibrant is to include the human aspect of science. Did a novel discovery come about because of a researcher’s personal experience?  Who will personally be affected by a new regulation and can you include a quote from them?

Finally, a “hook” to bring readers in, perhaps by drawing a parallel to something universal or emphasizing the broad impact of your subject, is helpful.  Be careful with metaphors, though. See Philip Ball’s Nature article “A metaphor too far”.

Social media

Blogs, Twitter, and social media matter.

If you aspire to be a science writer you need to show an active interest and have an accessible example of your work. A blog meets both of those needs.

An active Twitter feed is equally valuable for showing your interests to potential employers in any field. Carol Stephen’s post “Twitter by the Numbers” provides some good guidance on how to manage your following to followed ratio. I use Twitter as a professional tool and manage my following numbers by not following my Facebook friends unless they maintain an active scientific/professional presence on Twitter. I also keep my tweets inline with my resumé and focus on professional development or interests listed on LinkedIn. As an engineer, I love congruence and clarity so keeping everything in my network reflective of and supportive of each branch is important.

And finally The Hook:

Why should busy scientists care about science writing and invest the time in improving? An article by Andrew Balas in the Journal of American Medical Informatics Association identifies the lag between significant discoveries in the lab and adoption into routine patient care as 17 years on average. Much of the burden to accelerate adoption falls on the discoverers and their colleagues to spread the information rapidly to a broad audience. If all scientists put forth the effort to improve their scientific communication and invest time in using instantaneous tools like social media, how much faster could people’s lives be impacted? This is why scientists should care.