Category Archives: Biotech startup advice

Talent: The Biggest Issue In Biotech Boardrooms Today
September 25, 2014

As with everything in life, it’s always about the people.  Bet the jockey, not the horse.  Great entrepreneurs and C-level executives are very hard to come by in R&D-intensive biotech companies, and its probably one of the biggest bottlenecks in


Startups, Exits, And Ecosystem Flux: Bullish For Biotech
September 8, 2014

The world is awash in cool new tech startups and poised for “A Cambrian Moment”, according to a recent special report from the Economist. For those that haven’t read it, it’s a very interesting set of articles about the trends


Target Practice
August 18, 2014

Every life sciences company needs to make good program choices.  Big pharma creates value through smart portfolio management while small biotech companies can be defined by a single lead asset.  In both cases, the opportunity cost of poor decision-making can

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Lessons From An IPO
July 22, 2014

Raising money is a huge part of being a CEO, but nothing can fully prepare you for the experience of taking your company public.   Together with our team at Zafgen, I recently had the experience of taking our company public


Framing Up Capital Efficiency In Early Stage Biotech
July 17, 2014

Capital efficiency has become a mantra at Atlas, one shared by a number of other early stage biotech investors. It’s a term often repeated in discussions about building young companies, and yet it has become clear that there’s no consistent


Growing Beyond The Startup Phase: Lessons learned
July 1, 2014

So your biotech startup’s graduated to a Series A financing and your investors believe there’s nothing but champagne and robust clinical data in your future. Some classic analogies are applicable here; you’ve found a way off the island, you’ve defeated

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Operating Inside The Atlas Seed Portfolio
June 27, 2014

In early 2013, I enlisted as an entrepreneur-in-residence (EIR) with the Atlas Venture life science investment team as the firm focused on a seed-led investing strategy as a core tenant of Fund IX (here).  I viewed it as a great

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Goldilocks & The Pace Of Biotech Startup Creation
June 11, 2014

How many new biotechs should the industry be starting per year?  It’s a perennially asked question, and obviously not one with an easy and straightforward answer. On the one hand, if you believe only transformational new ideas should get funding,


Risk: A User’s Guide For Drug Developers
May 14, 2014

In my last post, I argued that the key to the success – and perhaps even the survival – of the biopharma industry is to excel at risk management. We are in an inherently risky business, where there are thousands of


Startup Tech Incubator Announces Biotech Experiments
April 28, 2014

Last week Y Combinator, the well-known and very successful technology startup incubator, announced that it was going to begin experimenting with biotech startups.  This announcement came as a surprise to many.  Several good posts on the subject appeared after a


Building Great Startup Teams In Biotech: A Three Hour Tour
April 18, 2014

Great teams build great companies, and biotech startups are no exception.   I’ve collected a few observations on great teams while collaborating at Atlas on more than half a dozen startups that have made it past the high-risk seed stage

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Running A Biotech Startup Prussian Style
April 8, 2014

Doing more with less, hanging on to fight the next fight, putting out fires on multiple fronts are all de rigueur here at the Atlas Venture NewCo factory (aptly coined by brother-in-arms, @michael_gilman).  Our seed model (here, here) focuses on


The Rookie Year and the Biotech CEO
March 12, 2014

Five years ago I stepped into my first (and so far only) CEO role. It seems impossible that it was five years ago but I definitely still remember many moments from my rookie year as a CEO – both successes


VCs: Adding or Subtracting Value to Biotech Startups?
October 14, 2013

Last month legendary investor Vinod Khosla commented that 95% of VCs add “zero value” and 80% probably “add negative value” in how they advise startup companies in their portfolio.  This is a stunning indictment of the VCs that Khosla has

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Ten Tips for Raising Startup Capital in Biotech
September 12, 2013

Summer is gone and the hectic autumn schedule is upon us (despite hitting 96F in Boston on Wednesday): back to the routine of board meetings, SABs, conferences, diligence sessions, and a ramped up travel schedule. Importantly, this also means that


The People Side of Biotech Deal-Making
July 24, 2013

Getting deals done with Pharma is critical to the strategy of many Biotech companies.  Pharma deals often offer less dilutive funding to advance a program or portfolio, market validation enabling future traction, and potentially important liquidity for shareholders.  Given their


The Nimbus Experiment: Structure-Based Drug Deals
June 27, 2013

A couple years ago we unveiled a new startup called Nimbus Discovery LLC which was experimenting with a new model that combined three key elements: Schrodinger’s cutting edge in silico drug screening and design platform, a truly virtual and globally

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Foundings Matter: Thiel’s Law Applied To Biotech
June 11, 2013

Thiel’s law: A startup messed up at its foundation cannot be fixed. Much like an organism, the “DNA” of a startup gets encoded at the outset – which genes or attributes will really matter going forward, and the possible deleterious (or


Phil Needleman’s Ten Commandments of Drug R&D
March 27, 2013

Pharmaceutical R&D is a very low velocity, high cost process, which makes it hard for any individual to gather the large body of experience required to inform better decision-making.  This is why pharma’s embedded institutional knowledge should be the source


Lessons Learned: Reflections On Early Stage Biotech Venture Investing
February 8, 2013

Venture capital is often called an apprenticeship business in large part because experience matters and takes time to accumulate.  But successful firms are able to translate and transfer experiential wisdom through institutional memory, which involves codifying what works and what


Unleashing Biotech Innovation With The Currency of Entrepreneurship
December 5, 2012

The translation of cutting-edge science into new clinically-relevant therapeutics is the ultimate goal of many academic investigators, industry researchers, and investors.  This stage of R&D is the most challenging, and typically frought with scientific and technical risks: taking a new


The Energetics of Fear and Greed in the Boardroom
October 25, 2012

Like many things driven by human nature, venture-backed biotech boardrooms often swing between the emotions of fear and greed.  Fear of losing your shirt, or the greed of demanding more of the story than is warranted.  It’s the age-old imbalance


Scientific Reproducibility: Begley’s Six Rules
September 26, 2012

The lack of robust reproducibility in the scientific literature is both shocking and troubling, and has been a widely covered topic over the past couple years. One of the earliest blogs here at LifeSciVC was on the dirty secret that


Biotech Scientific Advisory Boards: What Works, What Doesn’t
September 10, 2012

Almost every biotech has a Scientific Advisory Board, but few use them particularly well.   Although SABs can be hugely valuable in helping shape a program or portfolio, or raising the visibility of a startup, they can also be a colossal


Venture Debt: Under-Appreciated Tool for Building Biotechs
July 11, 2012

Cash-burning R&D-stage biotechs have big appetites for cash, which is typically addressed with an equity-based diet.  It’s also supported through corporate partnerships and other less dilutive means such as grants and foundation funding.  But another important and often under-appreciated source


High-Performing Boards in Early Stage Biotech
March 3, 2012

Having a highly functional and productive Board of Directors is a key ingredient for success for most companies, but its of particular importance for early stage startups. The web is full of advice around what are the “best practices” for venture-backed