Event Review: Building your company with non-dilutive funding - the funding process from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (4 of 4)

August 26, 2017 SDEE Workshop:  Building Your Company with Non-Dilutive Funding 

By Roberta Vezza Alexander, PharmD, PhD

Welcome to the final part of the series, Building your company with non-dilutive funding. This part summarizes the talk of Tamara Mayer Schwent, Director of Operations, Sirenas, LLC at the SDEE event on October 26, 2017.

Tamara described the funding process from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF)

The BMFG is one of the non-profit organizations that provides funding for start-ups in life sciences. BMGF pays for overhead up to 15% and can pay for capital equipment. Interestingly, grants can go up to $50 million. Sirenas is one of the local companies that benefited from grants from BMGF. Tamara highlighted that BMGF only funds projects of interest to the Foundation itself. Thus, to get funds from BMGF, a company needs to align with the needs of the Foundation. In the case of Sirenas, the alignment was in the neglected diseases space, as BMGF was interested in Sirenas’s technology to find drugs for neglected diseases.

TamaraMayerSchwent.jpg

Sirenas got introduced to BMGF thanks to a collaborator that had received a grant. Sirenas participated in a presentation that the collaborator gave to BMGF, and this gave them the visibility that led, eventually, to funding. Initially, BMGF did a site visit, after which Sirenas was asked to develop a proposal. Sirenas worked closely with the Foundation to draft the proposal and delineate the scope of the research, results and deliverables, timelines, and budget. A publication strategy is also very important for BMGF.

A close collaboration during the proposal stage increases the chances to get funded. BMGF is very results-oriented and works closely with the grantees to ensure their success. There are monthly check-ins and progress reports with tight deadlines and, during the first 9 months, Sirenas had a second site visit.

Given the level of oversight by BMGF, a company has to have the time and resources to invest in new accounting and timekeeping measures to comply with BMGF’s requirements. The grantee is held accountable for the science and the budget but, if there are roadblocks, the Foundation helps establish rewarding partnerships. BMGF’s money can be used solely to fund the specific project that got funded and, in the case of Siranas, led to the discovery of an anti-malarial.

Recently, BMGF invited Sirenas to apply for a second grant and to give a keynote presentation at the 2017 Grand Challenges Annual Meeting during which Sirenas’s representatives met personally with Bill Gates for 30 minutes.

Here are the links to some useful websites:

  1. How BMGF makes investments: https://www.gatesfoundation.org/How-We-Work  
  2. Technology or product that BMGF could leverage to achieve their strategic goals:  https://www.gatesfoundation.org/What-We-Do
  3. Types of projects and organizations that have been funded by BMGF: https://www.gatesfoundation.org/How-We-Work/Quick-Links/Grants-Database#

 

The first part in this series can be found here

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