Five Ace Mentors – all of whom you may need: No 1
If the benefits of mentoring are only really appreciated after the experience, the mentors in this series tell us about the special contributions they have made to their mentees.
No 1 Concept development: coming up with something for which there is a real need and that is achievable, marketable and fundable. Jackie Young – in Life Sciences
No 2 Strategy and management: determining objectives; getting there; and making and managing the team. JMD – in Fintech.
No 3 Technical: designing, creating and delivering the product/service. Jo Rabin – in IT.
No 4 Marketing and sales: attracting users, buyers, customers. Andrew Grant – in modelling.
No 5 Finance: managing the funds.
No 6 Mentor and support Manager –helping to identify issues and provide mentors; and running events – Thibaut Rouquette – Startupbootamp
No 1. A Concept Developer like no other
A Lab head who encouraged her students to tackle issues that could have commercial appeal as much as scientific appeal, and helped them to realise their commercial capabilities as well as produce great science.
Jackie Ying was eager to push her already productive lab at MIT into the life sciences. Todd Zion was first attracted to her lab because of her fanatical work ethic; and her business-minded approach appealed to his nascent interest in becoming an entrepreneur – she says that every graduate student should tackle a project not only of tremendous scientific interest, but also of great commercial potential.
He was asked by Ying to see if the same technology her lab had used to make a nano-emulsion to coat the turbines in jet engines could create a platform for delivering insulin to treat diabetes. He spent two years trying to find a material that prevented the insulin from leaking out before he realised that the secret lay in chemically modifying the insulin itself. The discovery led to SmartCells, a company he and Ying co-founded in 2003, which was later sold to Merck for an undisclosed sum.
His business savvy drew the attention of Lita Nelsen, the longtime director of MIT’s technology licensing office because of the way he had run the company as a tight operation, and he was soon back starting another company with his former colleagues.
Ying says that roughly a quarter of her MIT students have founded companies or gone to work for a startup, but she has chosen not to take that path. ‘What interests me’, she says ‘is bringing the technology to a certain level where you can spin it off and then playing an advisory role to make sure that things are running smoothly.’
Andrey Zarur, one of Ying’s first graduate students who developed the technology that Zion later modified to create SmartCells says Ying ‘would take me with her on visits to companies to get funding for the lab. And I would make the presentation. People thought she was taking advantage of me because she made me do three PhD projects, but this was preparing me for the life I want’.
Ying went on to become the founding director of the Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology in Singapore – to spread the twin gospels of top-flight research and entrepreneurship that she had learned at MIT. Her record over the past 12 years suggests that she has done exactly that. IBN has generated more than 300 patents, 80 licences, and eight startup companies.
Sometimes, she suggests, faculty members need help in finding a project with commercial promise, and sometimes she needs to find partners in industry to help with a project. Overall she hopes to find a way for IBN to help nurture new companies without losing all the scientists who did the technology’s foundational work. ‘We will continue to help the firms with research’, Ying says, ‘and maybe they will give us not just royalties but some shares to the people involved.’
(Abstracted from ‘Science’, June 12, 2015)
Shorter, not longer, Accelerators
How do you come up with an idea for a business that meets a big need, will be desired by customers and is readily fundable. BT’s Hothouses, quicker though more complex and involving, suggest a counter-cultural model: do it as one problem, not as a series of problems. (http://wp.me/p3beJt-bf)