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Commercialising Science and Technology-enabled Innovation

How many iterations of a business idea does it take to succeed in biotech?


The Bioscience Translation Challenge event held on Campus hosted representatives of companies, VCs, investors, UK incubators, start-ups, high growth firms, R&D organisations and service providers.  61% of those in attendance were from companies outside of the Wellcome Genome Campus, coming together to discuss the current challenges and opportunities for transforming the bioscience and healthcare market spaces here in the UK. 


Introducing the session was one of the authors (and a panel member and CEO of Cartezia) - Dr Uday Phadke of a newly published book “Camels, Tigers & Unicorns”. This book represents an analytical Tour de Force for technology entrepreneurs; its content driven by original research and supported by hundreds of original case studies.  In it, the authors introduce the concept of the ‘three chasms’ that early-stage technology-enabled companies have to cross, and explore the tools that maximise the probability of crossing those chasms. It is a practical resource for those looking to gain a deeper understanding of the reasons why some enterprises arrive at the gates of the infamous ‘Valley of Death’ and others do not. The authors of the book suggest that the most challenging chasm is the second, which is the transition to a viable commercial proposition - it's the most difficult and the one for which there is the least assistance. “Managing it, is hard and complex”: says Uday “…and the growth of the biotech sector in the UK is going to be attributable to us being able to crack this challenge.”

Amongst the panellists is Dr Martino Piccardo- who is the first CEO of the Stevenage Bioscience Catalyst – an ambitious project to develop an incubator/accelerator as well as a world-class science park in Stevenage, right next door to the UK headquarters of GSK. Martino says that his experience has taught him that better translation of science into product or business means early academic intervention and engagement.

Dr Adrian Ibrahim, Head of Business Development and Technology Transfer at the Sanger Institute feels that the triple chasm model can be successfully applied to an organization because the model doesn’t require an aspiring tech entrepreneur to be able to do everything themselves, it simply clarifies that a realistic evaluation of what you are good at is crucial in structuring the right approach to commercialisation.

Overall, panellists agree that agility is the key to success and the profitable companies are the ones that are willing to experiment and iterate. Dr Shai Vyakarnam (Uday co-author and Director of the Bethany Centre for Entrepreneurship) cites one of the motivations for writing this recent book is to equip business leaders of the future to adapt to the twists and turns they have to make as they navigate the regulatory landscape weaved across a path of a growing biotech business.

All companies based here at the Wellcome Genome Campus that have been spun out in the last 7 years or so, have one thing in common; their founders were willing to take personal risks to make their businesses work.  Dr Robert Tansley, Investment Director at Cambridge Innovation Capital reminds the audience: “We need to celebrate the people willing to fail- they are a rare breed.”

Dr Tony Jones, Director of Business Development and One Nucleus and panel Chair wraps up before handing over to the audience for questions with a thoughtful statement about the challenge of unpacking the value chain and splitting it up into fragments being ultimately about an understanding of the customer and providing a solution to their need(s).

By the way, the answer is 7. An average of 7 pivots of the original business plan is what it takes to make a biotech business succeed in the current economic, technological and regulatory environment.  



27 Jul 2017