The Best Advice from the Biotech Entrepreneur Bootcamp


By Brita Belli

The Biotech Entrepreneur Bootcamp on May 22 brought together leading venture capitalists, business leaders and attorneys in panel discussions before an audience of nearly 200 Yale faculty, postdocs and grad students looking for insights into how they might develop their research ideas into commercial opportunities. The event was sponsored by the Yale Office of Cooperative Research and during the lunch session, audience members who had signed up met one-on-one with panelists to discuss their startup ideas, while others were invited to join OCR staff at tables to discuss topics including: intro to disclosures and patents, corporate collaborations, consulting and conflicts of interest and startups. Below, a selection of some of the more notable advice to arise from the panel discussions.

Panelists featured include: Carrie Cox, CEO of Humacyte; Harry Penner Jr., Executive Chairman and Cofounder, New Haven Pharmaceuticals; Vikas Goyal, Senior Associate at SR One; Jerry McMahon, CEO of Kolltan Pharmaceuticals; Ivor Elrifi, Partner at Cooley LLP; Tim Shannon, CEO, Arvinas, and Venture Partner at Canaan Partners; Brian Gallagher, Partner, SR One; Milind Deshpande, President and CEO, Achillion Pharmaceuticals and Brian Bronk, Principal at Sunrise, Sanofi Global R&D.

On Good Vs. Bad Ideas

  • “Marvelous science is just the beginning. You have to understand the entire process. Who’s going to pay for it and why?” –Carrie Cox
  • “How do you distinguish an idea that will make it to market? Most important is pulling together the right people with the right degree of tenacity to market these opportunities.” –Harry Penner Jr.

On Business Plans

  • “Every idea we look at has huge risk. Great plans send a message that this is a team that is smart and reactive and resilient. The idea is well articulated and addresses risks head on. And you are doing the most cost-effective things first.” –Vikas Goyal
  • “Grab their attention immediately with how compelling it is, who’s on the team and how you will execute. What’s in it for the investor? How will I use your money to get to a point that’s a milestone?” –Harry Penner Jr.
  • “No one wants to give you millions of dollars and hope and pray they’ll get their money back. I usually tell people: ‘Tell me what you can do with $200,000 that will bring some value to get to $1 million.’”—Jerry McMahon

Founder’s Role

  • “One of the strong ‘don’t’s’ is to go to your best friend [when looking for a CEO]. People who get financed have experienced management teams that have been funded before.” –Harry Penner Jr.
  • “It’s a terrible idea to hire a CEO in the first year. You should hire a really good drug developer.” –Vikas Goyal

The Importance of Intellectual Property

  • “The investor will ask you about three things: idea, team, IP. IP is your exclusive right to make the product. Patents are a fundamental part of the company’s value.” –Ivor Elrifi

Getting Funded

  • “When you think it’s hard to get funded, it’s because it is. While your idea is incredibly compelling to us, to most investors it’s incredibly risky.” –Tim Shannon
  • “Venture capital is a high-risk business. When we develop an investment thesis, we need to see 5-10X return. A lot of these things won’t work. Roughly 40-50% of investments fail, about the same number you break even. Only a small percent return profits.” –Brian Gallagher

Qualities of a Scientific Founder that Make a Startup Work

  • “Deep understanding of the target and the biology.” –Milind Deshpande
  • “Willingness to collaborate.” –Brian Bronk
  • “Calm demeanor.” –Ivor Elrifi
  • “Knowing what they don’t know.” –Ken Carter

Final Words of Wisdom

  • “Go for it. There’s nothing that’s not surmountable with passion. Don’t be afraid to fail.” –Tim Shannon
  • “Be passionate. Be resilient. Be humble. You only need one door to open. It’s an iterative process. Learn along the way.” –Brian Bronk
  • “Find partners and mentors.” –Ken Carter
  • “Keep moving—there isn’t a dead end. There is somewhere to go.” –Vikas Goyal