July 25, 2018

Five must-dos for potential biotech start-ups

NFX
NFX’s Managing Partners Gigi Levy-Weiss, James Currier, Advisor Stan Chudnovsky and Managing Partner Pete Flint. Photo by Christopher Michel on Flickr.

Thinking about a biotech start-up? James Currier, a four-time VC-backed CEO and manager of NFX’s biotech fund, shares his valuable advice. This article is brought to you by NFX, a Silicon Valley based venture firm that is transforming how true innovators are funded. Learn more about NFX’s investment philosophy at https://www.nfx.com/why.

You are at the lab bench, working on something nobody else in the world has thought about more than you. You see the benefits it could bring to the world if you can get it out there. You start thinking to yourself, “I should make a company out of this.”

If you’re thinking about creating your own biotech start-up, then James Currier is just the kind of person you need to talk to. James manages NFX, a $150M seed venture fund with a focus on biotech. He was the first investor in 130 companies, including Mammoth Biosciences, a San Francisco based company that just announced its first-of-a-kind CRISPR bio-sensing platform. What’s more, James is a four-time VC-backed CEO himself, including Jiff, a successful enterprise health benefits platform backed by Venrock, J&J, and GE.

At a recent SynBioBeta thought leader retreat, James sat down with a small number of graduate students, postdocs, and other researchers thinking about initiating their own biotech start-ups. Here’s what he had to say.

1. Be as smart about people as you are about the science and technology

People are the cornerstone of your business. Your EQ needs to be equal to your IQ. Most biotech companies fail to realize this and stay small even when they have great technology.

“Who are the top 5 people around you?” James asks. “Get them on your team. Settle for nothing less than the best people you’ve ever met.”

2. Be as smart about business as you are about the science and technology

A great science idea is not the same thing as a great business idea. “You’ve got to validate that there is actually money to pay for a product made with your tech,” James says. Spend time understanding your customers, their needs, and whether your technology provides a product that people need and can’t get somewhere else.

“Entrepreneurs assume that engineering is the hard part, and business is easy”, adds Elliot Menschik of Amazon Web Services. “Actually, it’s the opposite. Business takes every bit as much effort, if not more.”

Apple park

The new Apple Park in the heart of Silicon Valley. The network effects of the San Francisco Bay Area are no small reason why biotech is thriving here. Photo by Carles Rabada on Unsplash.

3. Be part of the Silicon Valley Network

There’s a reason Los Angeles continues to be the center of the movie industry, and San Francisco is the center of the tech industry: It’s the network.

In Silicon Valley, everyone helps each other. “The little nudges you get – advice here and there over coffee – that’s the magic,” James says. So get out there and meet people. Don’t wait to be connected: Be proactive and talk to other entrepreneurs. Learn from them and meet their most important network nodes.

4. Act with speed

“Do it by lunchtime, not by next month,” James says. “Do it in the next hour, not by next week.” It’s not about working harder, he says. It’s a mindset.

“What makes us go slow? The fear of looking bad”, he says. “Drop that fear. Speed makes you look good and is the most powerful tool a startup has.”

At NFX, James has a “f***-it” button. You hit the button and just do it.

NFX

James Currier of NFX advises biotech start-ups to talk with investors for free, golden advice. Photo courtesy of sreel.com.

5. Speak to venture capitalists

Investors are usually happy to give free advice, which is golden. VCs have seen hundreds of companies, they know what tends to work. “McKinsey would charge you millions for that kind of advice!”, James says. Pitch investors, go to investor forums. Meet the movers and shakers and ask them lots of questions.

This article is brought to you by NFX, a Silicon Valley based venture firm that is transforming how true innovators are funded. Learn more about NFX’s investment philosophy at https://www.nfx.com/why.

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