Do biotech accelerators help therapeutic startups? This question, when posed to 3 biotech accelerator directors, was unsurprisingly given an affirmative answer, but each speaker had a different reason when saying ‘yes.’ Listen to the conversation or read our summary below to learn the boost an accelerator program can provide to a therapeutic company.
Do Accelerators Help Therapeutic Startups?
“The biotech space is so broad — small molecules, gene therapy, biologics — that it’s often difficult for even experienced entrepreneurs to be fully versant in all aspects of drug development. The resources of an accelerator allow founders to tap into expertise in an efficient way to move their products forward, at a speed that would be very challenging as an individual company.” Martin Graham.
“Unequivocally, I think there is really an important element to the accelerator model,” said Whitney Snider, Director of Alexandria LaunchLabs and Principle at Alexandria Venture Investments. “At the heart is access to incredible shared equipment; many companies, in order to accelerate their preclinical or even clinical development, have requisite needs.” Because accelerators have the infrastructure and ability to scale rapidly already in place, they are a lean way to progress with minimal capital expenditures.
Snider also emphasized the community and gathering of scientists with many backgrounds. Many startup teams are small, in the single digits, and interacting with other founders can help cross-pollinate ideas or lead to new connections. “There is a benefit to surrounding yourself with others who are going through the same thing,” agreed Stephen Chambers, Managing Director and Partner at IndieBio NY.
Chambers based his opinion on his prior entrepreneurial experience. “Having done numerous startups without the benefit of an accelerator, I much prefer the option of having one,” Chambers said. “Having to deal with numerous landlords, sourcing equipment — it’s a huge drain on resources before having any product. Your focus should be on the drug and the opportunity in front of you.”
Can serial entrepreneurs leverage accelerators to the same extent as first-time founders? Martin Graham, Executive Director of the Empire Discovery Institute in Rochester, New York, thinks so. “The biotech space is so broad — small molecules, gene therapy, biologics — that it’s often difficult for even experienced entrepreneurs to be fully versant in all aspects of drug development. By having the resources of an accelerator to engage with, founders can tap into that expertise in an efficient way to move their products forward at a speed that would be very challenging as an individual company.”
When Should Therapeutics Startups Apply to an Accelerator Program?
“At the end of the day, our hope is to accelerate companies that will tackle an unmet need in the medical space,” Whitney Snider.
“Early engagement is very important,” said Graham. Identifying the proper indication to take a drug to market can vastly influence a successful drug launch, and pinpointing the best indication can be tricky. “It isn’t always the most commercially attractive one,” Graham said. Accelerators can help ensure founders travel down a path to reach a proof-of-concept more quickly, and early engagement is key to choosing the correct indication.
Many teams are accepted into accelerators at very early stages, given the strength of the team and potential trajectory of the technology. Fundraising status is less important than the opportunity to have a large positive impact on human health.
“At the end of the day, our hope is to accelerate companies that will tackle an unmet need in the medical space,” said Snider. This motivates accelerators like Alexandria LaunchLabs to maintain a mix of companies, some actively growing and some nearing ‘graduation’ from the space, to keep a feeling of momentum among the founder community.
All agreed that there’s no perfect time for a startup to apply to an accelerator. The important thing is to find the right accelerator for your startup, given a company’s stage, technology readiness level, and focus.
How Can You Find the Right Accelerator?
“There is a benefit to surrounding yourself with others who are going through the same thing.” Stephen Chambers.
There are thousands of accelerators located across the globe. How do founders know if the match is best for their needs?
Chambers stressed that accelerator focus can be pivotal, especially for companies working on therapeutic drugs. “You really do need an accelerator that has a focus on one sector. This will bring their ecosystem: advisors, domain experts, mentors and the expertise that they bring.”
Find more, including tips on mistakes to avoid and reasons why New York is a great place for therapeutic startups, in the online conversation.