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9 tips for scientists who want to become entrepreneurs

By 06.06.2024All

9 tips for scientists who want to become entrepreneurs

In our latest event, hosted in Strasbourg and co-organized with KPMG, we explored what it takes to make a biotech venture a success.

In this article, you’ll learn from one of the speakers, Prof. Thomas Baumert, how he became a successful biotech founder as a university professor and hospital physician.

About BaseLaunch

We partner with scientists and entrepreneurs to help launch and grow exceptional biotech ventures developing cutting-edge therapeutics. And we know how to do this – so far, our portfolio has raised over $600M in financing with an average series A raise of $28M per company.

Meet Thomas Baumert

”I’m Thomas Baumert, Professor of Medicine at the University of Strasbourg and Inserm, the French National Institutes of Health and founder of Alentis Therapeutics. I’m deeply engaged in the fight against liver disease and cancer through my work in hepatology and viral oncology.

As someone who ventured into the entrepreneurial world to bring my science to practical application, I’ve experienced firsthand the challenges of turning our research into a commercially viable business.

Founding a biotech company was a natural progression of my desire to see our scientific breakthroughs make a tangible impact on patient care. It’s been a journey of learning how to navigate the complex biotech industry, from a necessary mindset shift to engaging with investors, finding partners, building a team and more.”

Combating fibrosis and cancer through targeting Claudin-1

Thomas’ science is focused on understanding Claudin-1, a member of the tight junction protein family and cell surface protein used by the hepatitis C virus to enter cells. His research showed that, Claudin-1 is overexpressed and transmits disease-driving signals causing fibrosis and cancer. Unraveling the pathogenic role of Claudin-1, he and his team were able to discover and develop antibodies targeting only pathogenic Claudin-1: the “exposed” form found outside the tight junctions on cancer cells or injured fibrotic epithelial cells, thus keeping critical cell-cell junctions intact. Alentis Therapeutics, the biotech created by Thomas, has now developed several clinical-stage antibodies based on the research antibodies discovered by Thomas and his team at Inserm and the University of Strasbourg.

First-in-human clinical trials performed by Alentis have demonstrated the safety of this antibody in healthy volunteers. The antibodies are now studied in patients with liver and kidney disease as well as cancer. The marked overexpression of Claudin-1 in various cancers and its potential role in resistance to checkpoint inhibitors suggest broader implications for this approach, offering new avenues for the treatment across many solid tumors. The functional role of Claudin-1 in different fibrotic diseases such in the liver, lung and kidney provides an opportunity to treat fibrotic disease across organs for which no or only unsatisfactory treatments are available.

Transitioning from the world of scientific research to entrepreneurship is challenging. Especially so in the biotech industry. Thomas has done it successfully, transforming his science into a thriving biotech venture.

Drawing from his experience, he offered 9 tips for aspiring entrepreneurs with a science background.

9 tips for aspiring biotech entrepreneurs

1. Identify a commercially viable unmet medical need

It’s crucial not to base your business on what you think is an unmet need but on what investors recognize as such. Besides improving patient outcomes, your solution needs to present a sustainable business opportunity.

To identify such a need, you have to do market analysis or involve people to do it for you. Gather data and make an informed decision based on that.

2. Develop a platform

Thomas learned from one of his mentors to start with a platform, derive a product from it and then complete Proof of Concept. This approach not only demonstrates the broad potential of your innovation but also enhances its value to investors.

A platform ensures that you have backup molecules under development in case your lead candidate falls through. It’s the “don’t put all your eggs in one basket” strategy.

For therapeutic drug development, public funds are not enough. Venture capital is indispensable.

Prof. Thomas Baumert

A platform also facilitates partnerships and collaborations. Companies and researchers interested in specific diseases might seek to leverage your technology, offering additional resources, expertise and market opportunities.

3. Keep your platform pipeline alive

Although you’re supposed to derive that first product from your platform, success hinges on having multiple assets.

This diversification is crucial for long-term success and risk mitigation.

4. Complete Proof of Concept

Securing a Proof of Concept (POC) is a pivotal milestone. It serves as tangible evidence that your technology or therapeutic approach works, not just in theory but in practical, real-world scenarios.

This is what investors care about. They seek to minimize risks and ensure a return on their investment. Only once you can prove your solution works, attracting investment becomes possible.

5. Secure IP early on

Securing IP belongs to the same conversation as completing POC. It’s invaluable. Protecting your innovations from the outset ensures that the results of your research are exclusively yours to commercialize.

IP prevents others from patenting similar inventions or leveraging your research for their gain and is almost always required by investors.

When securing IP, there are many best practices to follow and pitfalls to avoid. It’s best to start working with patent attorneys who specialize in biotech right from the start.

6. Engage with top-level investors and incorporate their feedback

Investors bring more to the table than just financial backing. They can offer valuable insight, strategic guidance and access to an extensive network.

Start conversations with potential investors early. Not just to secure funding but also to validate your business model and technology from a market perspective. Investors with a deep understanding of the biotech landscape can provide feedback that refines your approach and strategy, making your venture more attractive to a wider pool of investors and partners.

7. Build a strong, diverse team

Assembling a capable group of people from the outset will make everything easier. A diverse team brings together varied perspectives and skills, fostering innovation and driving the venture forward in a competitive landscape.

Building such a team isn’t easy.

You have to identify the key skills and perspectives you need and then find the people who can bring these to the table. Networking, both within and outside the scientific community, attending industry conferences and engaging with professional organizations are effective strategies for finding the talent you need.

Startup accelerators and specialized investors can leverage their network to help you find the missing pieces of your team.

This is exactly the strength of Alentis: the combination of an outstanding asset, science and a fantastic team.

8. Transform your science mindset into a business mindset

To be successful as an entrepreneur, you need more than “just” groundbreaking science. You have to adopt a business mindset that might take you outside your comfort zone initially.

Besides the mindset advice sprinkled throughout his other points, Thomas specifically mentions:

  • Don’t try to do it alone. The transition from academia to entrepreneurship requires adapting to a team-oriented environment, contrasting with the autonomy of leading a lab.
  • Be ready to take a step back. Shift your mindset from personal achievement to what’s best for the company. This sometimes means setting aside your ego for the company’s needs, which can lead to opportunities to contribute in roles like as an advisor or board member, often compensated with shares.
  • Choose your personal direction. Don’t neglect your academic research program while building your entrepreneurial skills and network until you’ve decided what path you want to take: business or research.
  • Remain adaptable. The way from groundbreaking research to a marketable product is rarely straightforward. It’s filled with unexpected challenges, evolving market demands and new scientific discoveries that can shift the landscape overnight.
  • Learn to communicate your idea to everyone. For example, understanding the mechanism of action is a common request from investors, but they favor straightforward narratives over in-depth science presentations.
  • Build strong relationships. Building and maintaining a network of investors, mentors and advisors provides not just financial support but also strategic guidance, industry insights and more connections down the line.

Transitioning to a business mindset is a continuous process. Seeking mentorship, engaging with entrepreneurship programs and immersing yourself in the biotech startup ecosystem are crucial in this journey.

Would I embark on this journey again? Absolutely. The process is a tremendous learning experience. Deciding whether to fully immerse yourself in the company or remain in academia is crucial, with benefits to both paths.

Prof. Thomas Baumert

9. Find the right partners

The role of partners that can provide support in the early phases is instrumental.

Engaging with your Technology Transfer Office (TTO) is key. They play a pivotal role not just in the startup phase but throughout the company’s development, handling patents, managing conflicts of interest and overseeing licensing agreements and milestones.

Incubators and accelerators help establish startups and work with businesses to find investors, skyrocket product development, provide support and achieve growth.

BaseLaunch provided the perfect environment for our growth, situated in a biotech and pharma hotspot. This location, coupled with the support from BaseLaunch, has been critical to our success. With an initial seed fund and access to expert advisors and investors, BaseLaunch helped transform our academic project into a viable business proposition.

Prof. Thomas Baumert
In short, by joining BaseLaunch, you can get:

  • Up to $500,000 in financing
  • Introductions globally to venture funds and assisting in negotiations with these funds
  • Access to our partners, global biopharma & investors
  • Company & team build-out
  • Access to labs & related infrastructure where needed
  • Support with IP licensing and incorporating your company

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