Build Your Bench: Summit Sheds Light on Key Strategies for Biotech Startups

BY Kyrstin Lulow
October 25, 2021
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Build Your Bench: Summit Sheds Light on Key Strategies for Biotech Startups

There’s never been a better time to be part of a biotech startup. We’re in the midst of a biological revolution that is opening near limitless possibilities for R&D innovation. On October 21, our virtual summit Build Your Bench: How to Start & Scale a Biotech Company connected founders, investors, scientists, and industry experts with over 500 attendees from around the globe. The event was filled with insights and practical advice on key trends in the biotech market, how companies are growing quickly while simultaneously building for scale, and the pivotal role digital solutions play in allowing startups to reach their full potential.

Welcome Address

Sajith Wickramasekara, Co-founder and CEO of Benchling, opened with why biotechnology has the potential to rewrite life as we know it — from the medicines we take to the crops we grow to the food we eat.

He also provided perspective on key developments in the market for startups, how biology is sparking vast changes for the world’s economies and societies, and why leveraging digital solutions is critical for startups to reach milestones faster.

 “Our mission at Benchling is to power the century of biology, and to equip you – those dedicating their lives to scientific discovery – with the best tools possible. We exist because one of the main things holding back this biology revolution is the need for better software, and we want to focus on giving you great technology, so you can focus on accelerating science.”
—Sajith Wickramasekara, Co-founder and CEO @ Benchling

Founders’ Panel: Tales from the Bench

In the next session, founders from Link Immunotherapeutics, U1 Bio, and Anagenex spoke about their strategies for attracting talent to their early teams and advisory boards, navigating venture capital investment, and making platform and infrastructure decisions.

Each panelist identified nuanced yet critical challenges founders face —-and how to overcome those hurdles. They stressed the importance of identifying and investing time in the most high-impact, early decisions. They also provided perspective on how to balance quick wins versus long term goals, and how to evaluate which path will ultimately lead to the highest chance of success.

Each speaker closed out with guidance for prospective founders. “Identify problems for which there are incremental, valuable solutions along the way to your billion dollar solution,” advised  David Nelles, Founder and CEO of U1 Bio. “It’s really hard but if you can tell your story well, you will raise money, and if you can’t tell your story well, you probably won’t.” added Nicolas Tilmans, CEO and Founder of Anagenex.

“Surround yourself with people that you trust and respect — experts in the field. Where you can go wrong is by not building a good team. The story is important and the team is important. And you won’t know until you try, — so just get out there.”
—Ashok Bandaranayake, Co-Founder and VP of Immuno-Oncology @ Link Immunotherapeutics

Venture Capital Panel: Top Things to Know Before You Fundraise

A panel of experienced investors from Canaan, Menlo Ventures, and IndieBio gave an insider’s look at how they evaluate early-stage biotechs, what founders should prepare before approaching investors, and why networking is an often overlooked part of building a successful company.

Each speaker also identified traits they seek in CEOs and founding teams. “We’re not just evaluating whether or not someone has a great technology. We’re evaluating whether or not they can be a great CEO,” said Julie Grant, General Partner at Canaan. Alex Kopelyan, Senior Director & Partner at Indiebio at SOSV also shared, “In our screening process, we often look for people who really have a fundamental desire to seek the truth around their science, their market, and the best way to build their company.”

To close out the panel, each investor summarized their advice in five words or fewer:

“Love what you do.” — Greg Yap, Partner @ Menlo Ventures
“Never give up.” — Alex Kopelyan, Senior Director & Partner @ Indiebio
“Build around yourself.” — Julie Grant, General Partner @ Canaan

Technology Focus: Building the Right Data Foundations

In this session, senior life science leaders from Snowflake, Amazon Web Services, and Third Rock Ventures spoke to the shift they’ve seen from on-premise, legacy solutions to cloud-based, modern software. “Building a strong, scalable technology foundation will let you innovate faster and more effectively,” shared Karina Chmielewski, VP of Platform Operations, Third Rock Ventures. “It will help you create a secure collaboration platform with your partners and allow your R&D team to focus on science, innovation, and discoveries.”

They also presented a framework for startups looking to better understand the power and potential of cloud-based technologies — as well as practical input on how to efficiently and effectively manage data, analyze results, and develop impactful collaboration.

“It gets back to ease of use and reduced friction on day one. Yes, it may take a little bit more effort to do one or two more things upfront — but long term it’s absolutely going to be a good investment.”
— Aaron Friedman, Principal Startup Solutions Architect, Healthcare and Life Sciences @ Amazon Web Services

Make Your First Year Count: Practical Advice For Biotech Startups

The initial decisions early-stage biotechs make will impact their R&D strategy, corporate development, and team culture for years to come. To close out our agenda, a diverse set of panelists from Recursion Pharmaceuticals, Vernal Biosciences, UC Berkeley, and Carta weighed in on how startups can navigate these decisions and approach their first year of growth.

The discussion ranged from determining an IP strategy to developing a strong advisory board to finding the right co-founders. “I urge people to really think about their personal values and use them as your guideposts because they don’t tend to change very much. Keep them in mind as you build relationships and your company,” said Christian Cobaugh, Founder and CEO of Vernal Biosciences.

“Start thinking early about the foundations of your company. You’re building amazing products and amazing businesses that help our world become a better place — but you need to make sure your foundation isn’t messy so that you can go build those products.”
— Natasha Arora, Head Law Firm & Service Provider Strategy @ Carta

Thank you to all the speakers and attendees who made Build Your Bench such an engaging and rewarding experience. Visit the event webpage to watch the sessions on-demand and access additional, related content.

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