And in this Corner…

29 May

By Dennis Ford, CEO, LSN

I wanted to discuss the general vetting process for scientists, whether it be vetting scientists to present at a conference or selecting scientists that are developing early stage products to invest in. LSN’s staff attend a lot of life science conferences, and we are always interested in the types of companies asked to showcase their technologies at these events. This is always interesting to see, because sometimes spectacular technologies are presented by poor presenters, and in other cases, less interesting technology can be made to appear groundbreaking by the right speaker. Considering that LSN is organizing an Early Stage Life Science Investor Conference September 16th, I wanted to explore the concept of “vetting” presenting companies more deeply, as we select companies to present at our event.

The process of vetting potential investment opportunities is an interesting topic, especially in the case of early stage biotech firms because there is really no formulaic way to vet scientists other than the obvious data gained through trials – but the issue is for early stage biotech firms robust data simply isn’t there yet. I would like to point out that the VC community has had some very smart minds “formally vetting” science for a long time, but as we all know, the results have not been the greatest. The question is simply, why? If VCs can’t pick them, then who can?

Investing in life sciences almost reflects the nature of the field itself – trial by experimentation. An investor cannot simply evaluate a potential investment based on a firm reaching a few key performance milestones. There are also many science research publications that track the leading edge science and cover the latest and greatest strides forward in the space, but being highlighted in such publications rarely has a direct correlation to success in the market.

A lot of times, it really isn’t the fundamental science or underlying technology, but rather the person(s) driving the endeavor that determine success or failure. My take is that it all comes down to the inventor/entrepreneur and their own personal quest to move the science and technology forward. This is why so many investors end up investing in a management team rather than in the specific technology that the scientist is developing. This however leads to another challenge – if early stage life science venture success is a function of science (which can be objectively validated) and people (an aspect that is impossible to quantify on a start-up scale), then who can evaluate the true quality of an investment?

I will posit that if you had 100 leading scientist entrepreneurs, all with great science and inner drive, that only 20 of these scientists (applying the 80/20 rule) are capable of learning what they need to learn to do the rest of the work that would get their science to the market. The extra work I am referring to here is taking that giant step of learning rudimentary sales and marketing skills that enable an entrepreneur to go outbound and seek out the capital needed to move down the pipe, and realizing that you need to spend money to make money. I talk to gifted scientists on a weekly basis, and there is no doubt that their hearts and minds are in the right place. However, it is only a minority of these scientists that are so possessed that they will virtually learn anything and do whatever it takes to get their science to market.

Scientists that know what they need to do to succeed realize they need to get their messaging down so that it can be understood, and understand that they need to learn rudimentary marketing skills. In my mind, if they budget the funds, make the commitment to do the marketing, attempt to create the web presence and buy a database to enable them to go after investors and partners, then they are committed and aware, and thus vetted enough to deserve a chance to pitch to investors.

LSN is putting on an early stage investor conference in Boston September 16th, and LSN is soliciting presenters from a dozen or so of the top private and academic incubators in the U.S., as well as European and Asian scientists looking for early stage funding. We vet by word of mouth from our early stage science and business development partners, from our own in house science team reviewing responses from our newsletter’s request for innovation, our early stage investor network, and from our own LSN client base.

However, at the end of the day, it is the investor who needs to do the vetting, and ensure that the person on the other side of the term sheet has what it takes to succeed. We will have some great and interesting technology at the conference, and will also have some early stage investors that most entrepreneurs are not aware of. I understand that there is a vast difference between academic and private, and where the two intersect is where we are focusing the event.

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