Entrepreneurship is rarely a one-person do-it-all-yourself enterprise. Many journeys are peppered with encounters with others who gave advice, lent a helping hand (and money), and provided services at low or no charge early in the start-up’s development.
A good example of this was on display at the UCSF Entrepreneurship club presentation by Cortexyme co-founders Casey Lynch and Steve Dominy. Cortexyme is just over 5 years old and started its life at UCSF as a hypothesis that the causative agent for Alzheimer’s is a bacterial infection. The company has now made it through Phase I safety trials for its first small molecule targeting the specific bacterial species. It has raised over $100 million, $75 million in its recent series B.
When Dr. Dominy began, he had an idea and some colleagues, but it just didn’t get traction in this early phase. It was all talk and no action. Bring in the “helping hand.” Dr. Dominy saw an offer from the UCSF entrepreneurship efforts that offered 1 hour free counseling from Life Science Angels (LSA). At first, he dismissed it, particularly because it required submission of a business plan – something he didn’t have at the time.
But then, he thought better of it, why turn down free advice from early stage investors? So, he applied and got a slot with LSA. In that meeting, one individual recommended that he speak with Casey Lynch, a serial entrepreneur. Again, he set aside the idea – he didn’t know Casey Lynch or have her contact info. But a week letter, he reconsidered. He reached back out to his LSA contact to get in contact with Ms. Lynch. And the rest – well, so starts the history of growing Cotexzyme from the germ of an idea into the clinical phase start-up it is today. The two became co-founders with Casey Lynch eventually assuming the role of CEO and Steve Dominy taking the role of CSO.
There are a wide variety of resources out there available to start-ups for the taking. The incubators, accelerators and co-shared lab spaces often provide a large stable of mentors and advisors. These include folks with expertise in marketing and product-market fit, regulatory, intellectual property, corporate formation, commercial contracts and financing, just to name a few. There are seminars, workshops, open office hours and other gatherings in which entrepreneurs can learn from others’ experiences.
Yet it surprises me how under-utilized these resources can be. It is too easy for founders, particularly scientist-founders, to be glued to the lab bench and immersed in the science, while missing the wider perspective and advice on offer to them. Yes – the science is necessary. Proof-of-concept in the life sciences arena is crucial for raising funds beyond friends and family and for creating strategic partnerships. But science alone isn’t enough. So, when opportunities arise – whether it be free one-on-one counseling, the opportunity to meet with a potential investor or a seminar given by someone with experience in the industry, consider taking a break from the day-to-day routine to integrate new perspectives – it’s free!