SDEE Launches New Entrepreneurial Boot Camp Series

By Amy Duncan, Goldfish Consulting, Inc.

Being an entrepreneur is challenging because there is so much to learn. It’s not just knowing about your product, but also understanding company formation, financing, and intellectual property. It’s no different for scientific founders with graduate degrees and years of experience. SDEE has regularly hosted workshops to aid entrepreneurs in getting started. Now they’re introducing the Entrepreneur Boot Camp. As a benefit to members, the Boot Camp is an 8-month program with monthly expert-led education sessions and small cohort mentoring sessions. Leading the way are Deborah Nguyen, PhD, Vice President, Biology, COI Pharmaceuticals, and Daniel Catron, Executive Director of Licensing and Business Development, Allele Biotechnology & Pharmaceuticals, Inc. With contributions from sponsors ALT, Morrison Foerster, JP Morgan, and Struthers Family Trust and help from experienced leaders in the community, they’re ready to kick off the inaugural SDEE Boot Camp with the first session scheduled in September 2019. I sat down with Nguyen and Catron to find out what SDEE Boot Camp is all about.

How the SDEE Boot Camp Got Started

“Being an entrepreneur is hard and becoming one is harder,” Catron started off. “We wanted to make it easier for people starting out. They have a vision and opportunity they want to pursue, but they don’t understand the steps to get there.” Catron designed and taught The Business of Biotechnology at Scripps Research that introduced concepts and best practices from ideation through commercialization. He heard from Allele founder and SDEE Committee Chair, Jiwu Wang, that SDEE was thinking about a boot camp that aligned with the concepts Catron had been teaching. A mutual friend introduced him to Nguyen. As they started talking, they realized they both have the same passion for helping scientists and entrepreneurs. Nguyen has mentored young scientists transitioning into industry throughout her career and has seen the challenges they face. “They may have a great idea for a new product or therapy, but they are not exposed to an industry environment during their technical training,” Nguyen said. “From understanding business concepts, leadership, and budgeting, to knowing how to position their science for investors, they don’t learn this in technical training.” Like true entrepreneurs, they set out to make the boot camp idea a reality.

SDEE Entrepreneur Boot Camp Attendees at Morrison Foerster

Lecture Topics – What Every Entrepreneur Needs to Know

Along with the SDEE Executive Committee, Catron and Nguyen identified topics important to early-stage founders. The list was built out of past experiences collectively, covering topics fundamental to funding and operating a biotechnology start up. “The group honed in on areas where they struggled and things they wish they would have known to more quickly move in the right direction,” Nguyen emphasized. Among the key topics is pitching. “Startup founders will find they are marketing themselves all the time,” Catron said. “It’s important to communicate effectively whether it be a brief elevator pitch, talking to the general public, or presenting to a potential funder. It’s almost a non-starter if you’re not able to do that. We want to equip them with the tools and confidence.” A complete list of lecture topics is presented in Figure 1.  

SDEE Entrepreneur Boot Camp Topics

Figure 1 - SDEE Entrepreneur Boot Camp Lecture Topics

Peer Group Mentoring – Driving Accountability and Action

A key feature of the program is the mentoring sessions guided by experienced entrepreneurs. Designed to cultivate peer-to-peer discussions and accountability, cohorts of six participants will further explore a topic, set goals, and hold each other accountable. Nguyen introduced the idea because when she speaks on panels, she’ll get a great response from attendees, but when she follows up, she finds that people haven’t taken any action. “What I’ve learned through my coaching practice and my work with Women in Bio is that peer group discussions and action items help hold you accountable,” said Nguyen. “I wanted to have peer groups with facilitators who can help attendees talk through start up issues as well as hold each other accountable to use the information.” Through the SDEE executive committee and their own connections, Nguyen identified five senior leaders—biotech CEOs and business owners with experience starting companies from scratch—to serve as facilitators and mentors in the program. The facilitators follow up with the peer groups on the topics covered in each session and help participants take action.  

Cohort Experience – A Built-in Support Group

Along with the expert-led lecture series and peer group mentorship, the participants will get to network with like-minded entrepreneurs all facing the same challenges. In experiencing the program together, participants within the cohort may naturally build a support group and possibly long-lasting relationships they can lean on through their entrepreneurial journey. “They’ll not only leave with education, tools, and goals, but they’ll also have a support group, a network to carry them forward,” Catron explained.

Boot Camp Outcomes

The key outcome Nguyen would like to see is for all attendees to reach a “go” or “no-go” decision. “Because many of the participants are self-funded or financed by friends and family, we want to help them determine next steps to ensure sustainability.” Nguyen explained. “This means helping them dig deeper, investigating IP and the competitive environment, to understand if their business model has legs and is fundable. We’ll see that in the pitches.” For those who reach a “go” decision, Nguyen hopes the course will help participants determine the next value inflection point and how to raise the money to get there. Furthermore, as members of SDEE, boot camp participants can leverage their membership and continue learning by attending SDEE workshops and participating in SDEE Investor Days. Maybe one day we’ll see them present at Founder’s Tales.

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