Sunday, May 4, 2014

The next wave of life science startups (and entrepreneurs)

On Wednesday, KGI held a major public event for the finals of our business plan competition. This year (as with last year), the competition was tied to our business plan class, which was first offered in Fall 2003, for our third graduating class of MBS students. Also like last year, the class was team taught by me (as the business guy and course coordinator) and Mark Brown, a KGI grad and senior scientist at a local KGI spinoff company.

This year we had 17 MBS students and 8 (PhD-educated) PPM students across seven teams. The students worked with four external sponsors (plus KGI) to develop detailed business plans — product, sales, marketing, operations and financing — for the patented invention provided by (in most cases) the university technology transfer office.

The teams included therapeutics, research tools/services and a medical device:
  1. Elegans Therapeutics: a novel treatment for asthma (California Institute of Technology)
  2. Insituomics: improved visualization of RNA transcripts (California Institute of Technology)
  3. Click-Brains: software that analysis neurological MRI scans (Children’s Hospital Los Angeles)
  4. Klondike Therapeutics: improved therapy for anthrax (Keck Graduate Institute)
  5. Cardiovascular Cell Source: improved quality supply for endothelial cells (UC Merced)
  6. Mucotherapeutics: therapy to clear mucus for COPD (UC Merced)
  7. Innovfusion: improved epidural infusion pump (BioFactory Pte. Ltd)
We had the most amazing panel of judges, who were all directly involved in launching, funding and/or running life science startups:
  • Robert Baltera, a director of the San Diego Venture Group, former CEO of Amira Pharmaceuticals until its acquisition by Bristol-Meyers Squib, a 17 year Amgen veteran (and a KGI trustee)
  • Craig Brooks, angel investor, head of two current life science startups (BCN Biosciences, Biostruxs) and a 19 year Amgen veteran who formerly worked for Procter & Gamble
  • Robert Curry, partner of Latterell Venture Partners, former general partner of Alliance Technology Ventures, former faculty member at the University of Delaware (and chair of the KGI trustees)
  • Stephen Eck, vice president of Astellas who previously worked for Eli Lilly and Pfizer, a board-certified hematologist/ oncologist (and a member of the Board of Advisors of the KGI School of Pharmacy)
  • James Widergren, a former senior VP, group vice president and treasurer of Beckman Coulter, angel investor (and a former KGI trustee)
From the discussion, the judges were most intrigued by one project, and so it was not surprising when Dr. Curry announced that Insituomics was selected as the winner of the competition. Several of the judges expect that the Caltech technology will enable the next generation of diagnostic instruments. Runner up was Mucotherapeutics, which spent three months translating an in vitro scientific discovery into a viable product.

Head judge Bob Curry with the winners of KGI’s 2014 business plan competition:
Jagan Choudhary, Jixi He, Ashi Jain and Melanie Ufkin 

Entrepreneurship is the lifeblood of any high-tech industry, including biotechnology and the related life science industries that have arisen over the past 30 years. Being entrepreneurial — and applied — are two of KGI’s core values, that we try to embody in our programs, courses, events, faculty and students.

Mark and I want to thank all the judges, the university sponsors and of course our student entrepreneurs for all the hard work that made this event possible.

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