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Life Science Investing is Different than Software Tech Angel/VC Deals

Life Science Investing is Different than Software Tech Angel/VC Deals.

 

Companies seeking early stage investment in their biotech, life science, medical device or digital healthcare companies face al

 

l the hurdles that software tech companies face – and then some more.  Many of the hurdles have to do with misconceptions that people have about life science investing, and others have to do with the real differences that exist in this market.  Companies raising money in the life sciences have to go through all of the things that tech companies do, plus more, in able to successfully raise funding.  

Life Science companies should consider attending the RVC/CBSA BioScience HyperAccelerator to help them through the process. We guarantee participants will be amazed with the quality and usefulness of this unique content that can be found nowhere else!

 

What BioScience Companies Need to Know

Time-Lines – there are a lot of investors who think that all life science deals take ten years or more because of the huge regulatory hurdles that have to be overcome, and that the capital requirements could be in the hundreds of millions before the company gets to an exit.  These investors are missing out on lots of great opportunities.  What they don’t realize is that companies rarely move all the way down the regulatory pathway before achieving exits if they’re developing a novel drug, for example.  Usually the hurdle is Phase 1 Clinical Trials before a company is acquired, so the pathway can actually be shorter than for some tech investments.  Also, many companies are working on repurposing existing drugs for new uses.  In this case, all they need to prove is efficacy for the new use which can be a relatively short process.  Devices, in contrast to drugs, can achieve FDA approval in just months in some case.

 

FDA Regulatory Risk – many investors who don’t understand the biotech space have heard horror stories about the capricious, costly and time consuming process of FDA approvals.  While these fears are not totally unfounded, most companies pass through the process in a relatively short time and at low cost.  We budget about $50,000 and six months for a 510K approval process in some cases.  Angel investors have special opportunities to invest in pre-FDA approved companies because valuations typically double or triple after FDA approval, resulting in good returns for investors.  

 

Liquidity Events (Exits) are more obvious for many biotech, medical and life science companies because there is a clear playing field with companies that are regularly acquiring companies as a part of their innovation strategies.  There are enough players that companies who are intentional about crafting the best exit can create a situation with multiple bidders to result in the highest exit valuation.  Even if the exit pathway seems clear to founders, their presentations should include a clear description of their exit strategy in order to bring the most investors on board.

 

Intellectual Property is Critical – while most tech and software companies have dropped patent filing altogether, IP is the core to creating value in the life science and medical space.  Granted patents are always best, but at least having patents pending with a strong defensive strategy is critical for success.  Companies will also need to be able to demonstrate that they’re not infringing on the patents of others.  We’ve seen companies who we’ve found to be infringing on patents which made them uninvestable.  This is something that companies should research well and be able to demonstrate instead of doing a lot of work, only to have investors find that the project is dead on arrival after several years of effort.

 

Team Considerations – tech companies often suffer because they have a bunch of coders who’ve been working for years to come up with a product, but they don’t anyone on marketing, finance, or business strategy.  Life Sciences can have these problems when they’re staffed with teams of smart PhDs who don’t have the experience or track record to be able to raise funds, transform from a research organization to a marketing organization, or to understand value creation for acquirers.  Make sure your company has the appropriate finance and marketing team members on board before raising money.

 

Market Fluctuations – it seems like biotech is always way up or way down and the current market position may influence investors’ desire to jump on-board with these companies.  Founders should be prepared to talk about trends in the industry and why their company will be providing value that either transcends the current market situations, or that the investment cycle is expected to be long enough to stretch beyond any current market challenges.

 

Marketing Strategies for life science companies are going to be significantly different than for tech or other physical product companies.  Some life science companies build an expensive and time consuming strategy that involves hiring and training a sales force who then try to forge relationships with doctors and hospitals in competition with some of the largest and well funded companies in the world.  If the company survives that process and gets to an exit, then the first thing that the acquiring company is going to do is to fire all those salespeople and add the company’s product line to their own and get their own sales people up to speed on marketing it.  So, life science companies should think about how they add value to their acquirers.  Is their value primarily the product itself, the team, the market share, the sales organization, research under way, or something else?  Make sure that you’re not pouring resources into something that won’t create value for your acquirers.  With that being said, companies will need to establish a market presence in order to validate that the product is of interest to customers and will be a success in the market.  This benchmark may be achieved with as few as one thousand sales.  These can be achieved through forging partnerships with sales organizations rather than starting from scratch.

 

Valuation  for life science companies seems to have a significant spread which may be caused by inexperience on the founders’ side, or by the uncertainties in the market.  Companies that want to raise funds quickly should price their shares competitively with other startups and keep in mind that not every startup ends up with a five hundred million dollar exit.  

 

Life Science founders have a lot of opportunity in front of them if they understand their market and how to take advantage of it.  Founders should be prepared to dispel myths and to focus on the clear strategy they have for product development, regulatory strategy, marketing and exit.  These will lead to most investor interest and fastest pathway to funding.  Life science and medical investments currently comprise about 30% of venture capital investment which shows that investors recognize the opportunities that this space brings.  Founders and investors alike should have a clear understanding of the differences between life science and software/technology investments and how to take advantage of them.

 

All companies raising capital should be well versed not only in the specifics of their industry, but should also prepare solid strategies and complete the following steps before starting their fund-raising activities.

Ten Steps for LifeScience Companies to Prepare for Venture Capital

  1. Exit Strategy Canvas – identify comparable transactions in the market for both dollar amount and multiples of revenue.  Identify early, mid and late stage values the company presents to acquirers. Identify who the acquirers are at each stage of the company’s development.
  2. Business Model Canvas – this is the core business strategy document that allows a company to understand their unique value proposition, their customer, the channels used to reach customers, core metrics, partners, and how they spend and make money.  This one-pager is key to understanding the key concepts behind any company.
  3. Strategic Plan – Not your grandpa’s strategic plan, but a two-page document that provides a roadmap from where the company is today through its growth.  This is the difference between success and failure during Q&A with investors and for the company overall!  Research shows that companies with written strategic plans outperform those without plans by 65%.
  4. Go to Market Plan – people take this for granted when they’re heads-down in the science or tech development, but this is the key risk companies face – getting customers to actually buy the product.  Without a strong go to market plan, you’re out of luck with investors who are always concerned about this key risk.
  5. Proforma – you need more than a great idea to raise money, you’ll need to model out your use of funds, needs for capital, revenues and expenses.  A good detailed proforma that is well researched and validated is a must for planning your business and for determining your capital needs and valuation.
  6. Finance Plan – you need to know how much to raise now (this is harder than you think) as well as your future raises between now an exit.  You’ll need to know this to help model your cumulative dilution and to understand what the major milestones are that you’ll need to achieve at each level of funding.
  7. Valuation – let’s make this simple.  You can’t raise money without knowing your valuation, regardless of whether you’re using equity or convertible debt.  Go through five valuation models and play them off of eachother to have a defensible position when it comes time for negotiation.
  8. Term Sheet – this is the key document used in negotiating the deal.  Make sure that you’ve got a term sheet in your pocket before you meet with investors so you have a solid understanding of the key terms and how they’re used in venture deals.  
  9. Executive Summary – When investors ask for information, they’ll want a two-page executive summary and pitch deck.  The executive summary has all the core elements of your company in a concise format that investors can use to determine their interest in moving forward.
  10. Pitch Deck – when you get in front of investors you’ll need a pitch deck to present your information.  Get this done professionally so that you can communicate effectively in a highly competitive capital market.

 

Life science companies can get templates, education and mentor assistance in creating all of these in a two-day BioScience HyperAccelerator hosted by Rockies Venture Club and the Colorado BioScience Association.   The two day workshop is $995.00 per company and includes a one-year membership in the Rockies Venture Club for the primary participant and a free subscription to the IdeaJam platform to help companies securely get feedback and input on their Provisional Patent Application.  Companies using the IdeaJam platform can file patent applications in a fraction of the time and cost of using patent attorneys.

Apply to Join the BioScience HyperAccelerator here ===> https://rockiesventureclub.wildapricot.org/event-2614776

 

The Next Session is August 29-30th in Denver.  Apply by August 22 for preferred admission.

 

Connecting Parallel Startup Universes

Denver Startup Week was huge for the Denver entrepreneurial scene! It was vibrant with a ton of activities and wide participation from the Denver area. Also in Denver during the same week was the Rocky Mountain Life Science Investor and Partnering Conference, put on by the Colorado BioScience Association. For a bio nerd and startup junkie like myself, it was a very rewarding week. I enjoyed both events, I’m thankful to have been able to IMG_2471participate, and I’d go back next time they come around. CNBC even covered both here and here. My perspective is on the intersection of the events – or more accurately, the lack thereof.

I’m beginning to obsess over this idea. How do we connect the parallel universes of Colorado startup industries? Life Science/Biotech isn’t the only silo, but outside of tech it’s the only one I’m immersed in. Brad Feld talks about the issue in his book Startup Communities, and specifically highlights an unsuccessful interaction with a Boulder biotech group. I won’t say that any person or any group is to blame for the current split – only that we’re here now, and it needs to get better.

Denver Startup Week has been successful twice in two years, and grew significantly from 2012 to 2013. It was not quite, as their signs suggested, a “celebration of everything entrepreneurial in Denver” but it’s getting there, and I only expect the event to grow and become better. It is led by inclusive entrepreneurs, so there is significant community support.

IMG_2473The Colorado BioScience Association’s conference also stands on multiple years of success. Launched in 2009 as a biennial (every 2 years) conference, it brings startups from 5 states: Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, and Montana. The 1-day event featured 30 big investors from Colorado, both coasts, and in between: VC’s, public company venture arms, and Angel investors. 30 startups also presented, pitching for everything from angel rounds to getting ready for an IPO. InnovatioNews has a great review of the day here.

Within their own communities, both events were huge. However, almost everyone I talked to at DSW about the biotech conference had no idea it was going on, and many at CBSA’s only found out DSW was going on from the signs on 16th St, since Basecamp was only 4 blocks away. It was close enough that I walked over from the Ritz during a networking break.

There are bright spots in the gap, however. Rockies Venture Club leadership, volunteers, and a few of their top Angels were all over both events. The fact that RVC was founded in 1985 and serves a variety of industries probably helps in that area. There are other people building connections and bridges between the parallel universes, and we need to encourage and cultivate that. This year DSW added a manufacturing track, and I have every reason to believe they’ll keep growing the events. Denver did have a broader focus than Boulder Startup Week, in comparison. BSW was also a great event this year, albeit primarily focused on software and internet. I attended and loved it, and I’ll proudly wear the BSW t-shirt with the 1’s and 0’s logo, even though I can’t write a single line of code.

The noble idea that brings entrepreneurs, creators, artists, and (good) investors together is the belief that we can always make things better by creating value. Startup communities grow organically and tend to be messy, and that breeds collaboration and innovation. I have no doubt this chasm will be bridged; entrepreneurs will lead the way, and the process will add value to anyone involved. The Boulder and Denver startup communities were once pretty segregated, and we’ve seen incredible progress there. Connecting the parallel universes within the Denver/Boulder area is a positive sum game and must be seen that way. It will not be an easy or quick process, but it is worth the effort.

Tim is a regular contributor to the Rockies Venture Club blog and a Master’s of Engineering Management student at CU-Boulder. He holds a bachelor’s in cognitive neuroscience from the University of Denver, and has worked for startups since he left his corporate life as a licensed investment advisor.

Twitter: @taharveyconsult

 

 

BioCare Thinks Infrared Light Heals People

Jon Weston is convinced that his company’s product can help take away pain, help the body heal twice as fast in some cases, and even save lives. It is particularly interesting to see a former pharmaceutical executive get so excited about a non-drug, non-invasive therapy that helps people use less medication. After I saw him pitch, I had to find out more.

I was first introduced to BioCare’s product when Jon presented at the Angel Capital Summit in Denver earlier this year. He showed the LumiWave, a powerful and safe near-infrared light therapy used to relieve pain and promote healing in many tissues in our bodies. The device uses rectangular pods of LEDs a couple of inches wide to emit a frequency of light, which provides pain relief, increased blood flow, and even the growth of new blood vessels when applied to an injured area. This means that in addition to relieving chronic pain like arthritis, it can cut healing time by more than 50% in some injuries – and in other cases can re-start healing where the body has been stagnant in an injured state for years. The science is fascinating, but too involved to go into on this site – check out my explanation here. (coming soon)

I had heard of (and played with) infrared light therapy before, since my father, a MD in Michigan, had been using another device in his practice for the better part of the last year. He’s been finding profound and sometimes unexpected success, especially in curbing or curing a variety of chronic ailments for patients who weren’t responding effectively to traditional medicine. My mom tried it on her arthritic hands, and the pain all but disappeared after a few weeks of sessions. My dad calls pretty frequently to talk about the latest treatment or a cool new medical device, but it meant more to hear my mom talk about how a light therapy took away pain that has invaded her life for years.

While that device certainly helped people heal well, they have some limitations. They’re not as easy to use, and not cheap, either – the units he’s purchased have cost over $2,000 per light. BioCare’s product was entirely different from the other infrared treatment devices I’ve seen (and dramatically less expensive) so I had to take a closer look.

I gave Jon a call to hear about it in more detail, and we were able to grab coffee by DU, where he got his MBA, and I got my bachelor’s degree. He is a molecular biologist by training; a former pharmaceutical executive who spent years bringing products from R&D to market for companies like Searle (now Pfizer) and Gambro. While some of these medications went on to do very well, he’s convinced that infrared can be safer and more effective than traditional drugs for some problems. A number of years ago he met BioCare co-founder and Chairman Sherry Fox, who worked with her late husband (a biomedical engineer with 15 patents) to develop the initial technology for the LumiWave. Jon came on board as COO in 2005, and stepped into the CEO role in 2009.

It’s no secret that medical device companies need a longer runway than other startups due to the intensive R&D process. Techstars CEO David Cohen joked at a Silicon Flatirons event this week about a “17 year accelerator” if they were to have one in the biotech industry. Many investors aren’t comfortable with or don’t understand the R&D process, so thankfully BioCare has been able to bootstrap the company so far. Before opening it up to investors, they wanted to make sure the biggest risks were taken care of – the technology was sound, real units were selling and being used extensively, and strategic partnerships were in place. They’ve also had the chance to acquire patents, an over-the-counter FDA clearance, and they’re sailing toward the next approval level. Their patents and years of progress in these areas provide particularly high barriers to entry for even large medical device companies.

While IP is great, it doesn’t make money… well, until it actually makes money. That’s why it’s so valuable to have product sales and revenue while rounding out the R&D process. Aligning with lean startup practices, they signed high value, paying customers (who generated real market feedback) as early as they could. They’ve made some pivots, and their open-mindedness has allowed them to find some of the fastest growing sectors of their potential market.

It can be both a blessing and a curse to have a product that can be used so widely. Pinpointing not just the largest markets, but the ones most motivated to act on their literal pain points was of key importance. Perhaps the most common use of infrared light therapy is for the treatment of osteoarthritis or other types of chronic pain, like my mom had, so that was BioCare’s first major application. While the chronic pain segment may have the largest number of people and dollars in it, Jon saw early on that the only way to really make a difference there is with widespread adoption by the health insurance companies, not known for moving quickly and fairly preoccupied with legislative items at the moment.

While the insurance companies are still moving toward adopting infrared, he wasn’t going to wait for permission. The sports medicine and physical therapy industry was another reasonable market choice, and once they tried, he saw considerable traction here. This segment is especially motivated to pay for faster healing times, especially at the highest levels of competition, where there is also often significant pain with injuries. Thankfully for BioCare, the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs was only a short drive from Denver, and the Olympians took to it very quickly. The effects were so dramatic and positive that the Manager of Sports Medicine and Training for the US Olympic Centers offered to be on BioCare’s advisory board. She’s joined on the board with others who have volunteered after seeing the device in action – a few top orthopedic surgeons, three professors of medicine, and a trainer for the US Naval Academy, among others.

While sports medicine seems to have done very well for BioCare, they’ve kept an eye out for other substantial markets on the horizon. The most exciting and revolutionary development recently is the treatment of injuries that are less obvious and often more damaging – traumatic brain injury. As a neuroscience nerd, this was particularly riveting for me. More of the science here (coming soon)

For the treatment of traumatic brain injury (TBI) BioCare is partnering with Cerescan, an industry leading, Denver-based brain imaging company. I was able to tour Cerescan with CEO John Kelley, who told me they have tested literally a team’s worth of NFL players for the diagnosis of TBI, some after suicide attempts. There is another group terribly affected by TBI – our nation’s military. BioCare and Cerescan joined with the Tug McGraw Foundation for the Invisible Brain Injury Project to study just that. This project will continue remarkable pilot testing they’ve done with veterans so far.

The military experience often adds a dangerous element to a volatile situation in the brain – the high prevalence of PTSD upon returning from service. The number of deaths from combat is horrifying and significant – and the increasing number of veterans who take their own life is a sad, and unfortunately frequent tragedy. It is made worse by being poorly understood, with few effective treatments and no real cures available – so far. In the initial round of testing, they’ve seen remarkable success with every patient they’ve tried it on. One particularly moving story involved a vet with TBI, PTSD, and a few recent suicide attempts. After a brain scan confirmed his neurological issues, and then a number of weeks in treatment, he was off all of his psychiatric medications. He had a follow-up scan, and then went back to work for the first time in a year and a half. Other participants have had similar stories, and while this treatment still needs to be validated in a study with a larger sample size, all signs are pointing in the right direction.

If these treatments continue to work so effectively, how much value will someone place on getting their life back? What will the family think as they watch a loved one go from nearly dead to “feeling like their old self again”?

I see a fair number of startup pitches. Most have at least pretty good ideas, and nearly every entrepreneur projects a hockey stick-shaped growth. A few have the chance for real traction, and it’s rare to find a company that claims such a big impact on the real quality of life for its customers. Biotech is hard to launch, but when it works, it can return big. It will certainly be interesting to follow BioCare as they attempt to change the world by healing the people in it.