Startup Events

Too hot to hold?: “Hot Trends in Life Science Tools” event reflects competition in biotech

Biotech is on fire with new tools

The October 1, 2014 “Hot Trends in Life Science Tools” event at Bio-Rad hosted by the Women in Bio San Francisco chapter highlighted the excitement of emerging biotech resources and profiled some of the women that are pioneering these technologies. However, each of the panelists has challenging competition to consider, as the scary side of great ideas is that they rarely come from only one source. The approaches these companies are taking, or will take, to carver out their niche in the rapidly growing biotech market should provide good parables for anyone considering entering the biotech startup world.

Dr Rachel Haurwitz, President and CEO of Caribou Biosciences, was the panelist that most represented how a hot idea in biotech spreads like wildfire and how focusing on a specific application of your tool can keep you relevant.

Caribou is in the CRISPR system genome editing game. When the CRISPR system was first described in Science in 2007 it was esoteric and best left to PhD molecular biologists. However, people wanted it and the demand sparked a race to simplify the system into a tool for anyone. Today, a search on Science Exchange brings up ten providers offering CRISPR contract services. To do-it-yourself, Addgene provides extensive resources and kits are available from Clonetech, OriGene, System Biosciences, Life Technologies, and more.

As a small startup, Caribou is avoiding being engulfed by the CRISPR blaze by focusing on a narrow market in a sexy field: epigenetics. Modifying epigenetic markers adds additional complexity to genome editing that the large kit makers are not ready to address, but that academic and industrial researchers need. This niche is giving Caribou time to grow and evolve. It also may make them attractive to those big companies.

Jessica Richman, President and CEO of uBiome, may face a similar challenge. uBiome is in the hot field of microbiomics and companies are popping up all over to stake early claims. Microbiomics is so nascent that the majority of these companies are in extreme stealth-mode; however all biotech startup expositions and competitions seem to include at least one, if not several. Watch closely, the microbiomics explosion will soon provide plenty of marketing and business development lessons.

Microbiomics and Dr Natalie Wisniewski’s PROFUSA, Inc., which is focused on implantable devices for monitoring tissue oxygen levels, also brought to mind the issues with “quantified self” product competition. Quantified self is commonly associated with “wearable” devices, like FitBit, Nike Fuel, and old-fashioned pedometers, but it can encompass any type of self-monitoring. Buy-in for these products is extremely low outside of tech bubbles like San Francisco according to TechnologyAdvice but more and more continue to flood into the market. Furthermore, NBC News reports consumers bore of them quickly with 40 percent of owners abandoning the product. This does not bode well for products that rely on a consumers attention span.

As an implantable device, PROFUSA is, according to Wisniewski, “what comes after wearables.” It has a medical application, but they will still face the wearable challenge of making continuous monitoring records useful to doctors. A The Daily Beast article highlights how these devices can be valuable tools, but concedes that most doctors have no interest in the data, which can come in an indigestible deluge. Without the acceptance of the medical community, and until doctors and insurance providers start requesting this information, self-monitoring devices may struggle.

As the title “Hot Trends in Life Science Tools” suggests, biotech is full of scorching new ideas; but it never hurts to remember that to keep a company vibrant takes as much innovation as that first idea.

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Nutrition Business Journal Summit Panelist Jessica Richman Discusses Big Data and Personalized Medicine


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Please visit my first blog as a Scientist for uBiome.

Nutrition Business Journal Summit Panelist Jessica Richman Discusses Big Data and Personalized Medicine

BayBio’s F.A.S.T. pitch showcase puts five companies on base

(My apologies, I tried not to carry on the baseball pun but it was a soft pitch.)


On Thursday June 12th, UCSF hosted the BayBio Fellows All-Star Team (FAST) Advisory Program final pitch showcase. The FAST Advisory Program provides eight weeks of intensive coaching on business model development, product development planning, and creating a viable commercialization strategy. The five teams of the program were polished and energetic as they presented to a room of biotech investors, advisors, potential future team members, and program alumni, like XCell Biosciences, who were finalists in the recent Oxbridge Biotech Roundtable OneStart Americas competition.

The first pitch from Colleen Cutcliffe of Whole Biome described their Complete Biome TestTM as a step to answering, “What does it mean to bring the microbiome into healthy balance?” This team has already established impressive collaborations with the Mayo Clinic to identify indicators of preterm labor and AOBiome to advance their ammonia oxidizing bacterial products. Cutcliffe kept the audience engaged by sharing Whole Biome’s “naïve entrepreneur” story (every start up has at least one) where the first check was in the mail but they had no where to put it. Their realization, “We need a bank account,” seems so obvious but it exemplifies how the basics get overlooked when consumed by the rush of innovation, partnering, and fund raising.

Cutcliffe envisions a different approach to microbiome modulation than my favorite OneStart finalists, Symbiotic Health (blog on the finals here). Symbiotic Health’s BactoCaps combat Clostridium difficile infections by dosing the patient with alternative, beneficial bacterial strains. Whole Biome will forgo this growing market of bacteria-filled capsules or “poop pills” in favor of more target therapeutics in the future. (For more on the “poop pill” phenomemon see Sarah Zhang’s Nature article here.)


Though not related to bacteria, artist Tobias Wong created gold poop pills for the INDULGENCE art collection to add a little shimmer to your bowel movements for $425.

Kelly Gardner pitched Zephyrus Biosciences’ single-cell western blotting technology. Single-cell methods are rapidly growing and improving, as reflected in single-cell sequencing being named Nature’s Method of the Year in 2013. Fluidigm is dominating the single-cell market and will probably show interest in Zephyrus soon if they have not already. This technology is an end-of-the-line assay since the cells have to die to be blotted, but I would assume stem cell cancer therapeutics companies, like Stem CentRx, that require single-cell resolution tumor typing will provide an eager market for this technology. 


               Zephyrus Biosciences team (image from Sky Deck, Berkeley)

Applied Molecular Transport, pitched by Tahir Mahmood, is adapting an alternative cholera-causing toxin identified in Peru to transport drugs into the cells of the gut. This allows for the conversion of injectable drugs into an oral format. Currently they are focused on inflammatory bowel disease, but could this be applicable to antibiotics, especially those to treat serious Gram-negative infections, like Achaogen’s plazomicin, thus shortening expensive hospital stays? Mahmood admits that ensuring “stability from mouth to gut cell wall” is a challenge but one they are actively addressing.

Kate Garrett and Ciel Medical are combating ventilator-associated pneumonia (VAP) with a suction catheter device and ventilator placement tool. When introducing Kate, Stephanie Diaz, President and CEO of Vida Strategic Partners, praised her clarity and ingenuity by reflecting, “Why can’t I think of things like that?” This ingenuity comes across in their MacGyver-style testing of these devices at the largest nursing conference in the US where they proved that 99 percent of nurses could place the suction catheter properly, but none could properly place the current alternative. VAP is  a leading cause of hospital related death and these devices will start saving lives immediately. 

The pitches closed with Adam Mendelsohn of Nano Precision Medical. The team members, described by Jo Whitehouse, CEO of JumpStart BioDevelopment, as rare, entrepreneurial “good listeners”, have developed the NanoPortalTM. This device is an implantable, all-titanium capsule for long-term, constant-rate delivery of therapeutic molecules. Currently the focus is on delivery of exenatide for Type 2 diabetes mellitus. Mendelsohn shared some eye candy graphics of the delivery dynamics that are now on their website, which went live two days before the event. Nano Precision is leaving FAST with more than extensive training: one of their program advisors, Wouter Roorda, introduced himself by telling the team all the reasons why they were doomed and is now righting all those problems as Vice President of Pharmaceutical Product Development.  


Static image of videos of the Goldilocks Effect. Visit the website to watch the video and trace the curve. It’s worth it! 

The night was a positive one, except for what has become the frustrating norm at life science and biotech events: the repetitive comments about angst-riddled postdocs and the constant internal struggle whether to stick it out or abandon science.  When introducing Zephyrus Biosciences, Jenny Rooke of Fidelity Biosciences remarked that every day she sees disenchanted and lost graduate students and postdocs. Every event continues to reinforce the obvious deterioration of the traditional system.

However, entrepreneurship is offering alternative options to challenge and leverage PhD scientists as exemplified by FAST and similar programs. There is still hope for science.

In addition to BayBio, the FAST Advisory Program is supported by Abbott, Pfizer, Bayer HealthCare, Gilead, and VWR

OBR OneStart Finals Gala


                           Resilience takes home the signed check

The Oxbridge Biotech Roundtable (OBR) and SR One hosted the finals gala for their OneStart Americas competition on May 22. The ten finalists, narrowed down from an impressive pool of 35  semifinalists, each gave their two-minute elevator pitch throughout the course of dinner at The City Club of San FranciscoResilience Pharmaceuticals, founded by Retsina Meyer and Veronica Weiner, took home the grand prize with their posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) preventative and will now be relocating from Boston to San Francisco as the newest members of QB3@953


                          Lively pre-dinner networking

Resilience’s story has that American Dream air about it, well a PhD biologist’s American  dream, a dream to see academic research change lives in years not decades. Started as a MIT thesis project by Meyer, the cofounders took their academic research out of the lab and are commercializing a preventative for PTSD based on manipulating levels of the “hunger hormone”, ghrelin. Boston Magazine published a synopsis of their work last year. As research funding shrinks and scientists are forced to evaluate the efficiency, efficacy, and applicability of their research more critically, Resilience represents the new paradigm and not an outlier.

My personal favorite teams of the night were Symbiotic Health of New York and MetaMixis of Vancouver. Gerard Honig presented on their BactoCap technology that exploits other commensal bacterial strains to cure Clostridium difficile infections. Cameron Strachan of MetaMixis shared their plans to replace chemical manufacturing processes with brilliantly engineered bacteria. Jens Echstein, President of SR One, praised MetaMixis beginning with, “Microbes are the best chemists.” Sitting together at dinner, Cameron enthusiastically shared some of MetaMixis’ current projects and since they will be relocating to Stanford this summer, hopefully I can keep up with their progress firsthand. 


              Strachan pitches MetaMixis to the judges

Jordan Epstein of Stroll, the only IT team in the finals, made a strong case for their medical pricing transparency app. The problem they are tackling is an overwhelming and important one and their success could be hugely disruptive to healthcare in this country (blog post on medical pricing transparency coming soon). 

Many of the semifinalist teams came out to the event too and it was exciting to hear about the recent progress of EpiBiome and ViVita, two of the teams I met at the OneStart Bootcamp back in February. A OneStart win would have just been the icing on the cake for these young entrepreneurs.

It was an impressive night of inspiring innovation from biotech pioneers under 36 and these intrepid innovators are the ones to watch as they create the future.


         Amazing OBR volunteers like Henok Eyob and Jeroen Blokhuis made OneStart possible

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

Oxbridge Biotech Roundtable and SR One bring OneStart Life Science Entrepreneurship Competition to the Americas

Applications are invited from young, enthusiastic Life Science Entrepreneurs for the chance to translate their cutting edge research into a successful startup. The winner will receive $150K, lab space, and business and intellectual property legal support. 

LONDON, Nov. 20, 2013 – Oxbridge Biotech Roundtable (OBR) has partnered with SR One to bring their successful OneStart Biotech Business Plan competition to the Americas. OneStart Americas invites individuals or teams of burgeoning life science entrepreneurs under 36 years of age to apply in one of four tracks: drug discovery, medical devices, diagnostics, or health information technology. Thirtyfive selected semi-finalists will undergo two-months of extensive mentorship from venture capitalists, pharmaceutical executives, and other entrepreneurs in order to turn their idea into a comprehensive business plan. 

Entrants will compete for $150,000, free lab space at QB3 in San Francisco for up to one year, and business and legal support. Winners will be selected from a pool of ten finalists based on criteria including innovation, impact to patient health, and quality of the business plan. The only stipulation is that the prize money be used to develop the idea. Unlike other entrepreneurial competitions, all intellectual property is retained by the winning team and neither OBR nor SR One claim any equity in the winning idea.

Launch events for OneStart America will be held in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, and Boston.

More information including launch dates, entry requirements, building a team, and the application process is available here. Furthermore, if you are passionate about entrepreneurship but do not have a clear idea of your own or would like to form a team to help develop your idea, create a profile with the Co-Founders Hub here.