Last week while attending a "virtual happy hour" with other biotech founders, several questions regarding participation in biotech accelerator/incubator programs arose. Should I participate? Will it really "accelerate" my company's progress? And wow-they want that much equity-and for what? Programs such as Springboard Enterprises, the Illumina Accelerator, and IndieBio now provide biotech founders with opportunities previously only available to their tech counterparts, but deciding whether or not to apply to an incubator or accelerator* can still be a daunting decision.
In the first of a three part series, I'll share reasons why you should consider applying to an accelerator program. In the next post, I'll dive into some specifics of program selection, and in the final post, I'll discuss the role of the accelerator and other mentoring programs as part of a broader business development and company growth strategy.
Here are four reasons that an accelerator might be right for you:
1. It Provides Crucial Resources to Extend Your Runway. Some accelerators offer incredible benefits when it comes to capital, resources, materials, and space. Early data generation was vital for EpiBiome's success in raising our Series A round, and having full use of Illumina's sequencing platform during our time in the Illumina Accelerator saved us from having to purchase equipment costing six figures plus. The money we saved lengthened our working runway before our Series A raise, and freed up cash to spend on headcount to get critical work done. Yes, there is an equity cost, but participation in these programs greatly increased the odds that we would survive long enough to reach Series A.
Depending on where you are located, appropriately sized and appointed lab space can be difficult or downright impossible to find, and can be incredibly expensive to boot. Both the Illumina Accelerator and the Johnson & Johnson Innovation, JLABS (JLABS) incubator have allowed us to have access to state-of-the-art facilities, without having to stuff ourselves into a warehouse with no climate control in a dodgy neighborhood.
2. It Provides an Invaluable Network. One of the most overlooked benefits of an accelerator program is the strength of its network. We have all walked into the foyer during a coffee break at a conference and mentally calculated the odds that we run into someone in any way useful to us. This type of bulldog networking is still important, but a well networked accelerator will know what your needs are, and who in its network is best able to meet those needs. Do not underestimate the value of the time that it took the accelerator to build that network. Many of the investors and service providers that we have are a direct result of introductions made for us by Springboard Enterprises, Illumina Accelerator, JLABS, and the California Life Sciences Institute FAST Advisory Program. Also, remember that a good accelerator has a strong network; a great accelerator should be like Hotel California, aggressively leveraging their network on your behalf and making introductions long after you "graduate" from the program.
3. It Attracts Investors. Like a wine recommendation by a friend whose tastes you trust, an endorsement of your company vis a vis accelerator admission may make your company more attractive to potential investors. Assuming the program you are accepted into is a reputable one, admission signals to potential investors that a savvy group of people (possibly even more savvy than they are in that particular space) has selected you out of a sea of candidates - likely the same candidates that are trying to get in front of them anyway, if you are competing in the same space. The accelerator has essentially done some of the diligence for the investor, separating the wheat from the chaff amongst sometimes dozens or hundreds of applicants and slightly de-risking the investment. We are sure to mention the accelerator programs we have been accepted into when pitching or promoting our company - and it makes a difference.
4. It Attracts Key Talent. Admission to an accelerator may help you attract key talent. For the same reason that accelerator admission can attract investors, so too can it attract top hires who will take the risk on a startup, but want to pick a company that shows strong early signs of success. I myself first heard about EpiBiome, Inc. when I saw a press release announcing that it had gained admission to the inaugural class of the Illumina Accelerator. Because I knew that Illumina is a strong leader in gene sequencing technology, and had an incredibly experienced senior leadership team running the Accelerator, I trusted implicitly that they had selected only the very best companies most likely to succeed. Even more importantly, I knew that EpiBiome would have the support it needed to truly flourish as an early-stage company.
Ultimately, it will be up to you to conduct your own cost:benefit assessment in order to determine whether a given accelerator, or any accelerator, will meet your needs. I challenge you to take a serious look at the accelerator programs available to you, and really fairly consider the cost of participation versus the potential upsides. In my next post, I'll walk you through some of the most important and sometimes overlooked factors to consider when selecting an accelerator program.
*A quick note on semantics: For the purposes of this series, I will use the term "accelerator" to refer to a variety of programs that include accelerators, incubators, and other mentoring programs, because advice for assessing the utility of any of these to your company is the same. Besides, the programs themselves are not consistent in their use of the terminology. If you are curious, you can google any number of articles on the distinction between these program titles. My best advice is to ignore the terminology, and focus on the terms of the programs.
Dr. Lucia Mokres is the Chief Medical Officer of EpiBiome, Inc., a precision microbiome engineering company that employs a genomics approach to profiling complex microbial communities and deploys bacterial viruses to selectively eliminate problematic bacteria without the use of small-molecule antibiotics. In addition to her work with EpiBiome, Lucia educates Stanford medical students, physicians and other healthcare professionals in bedside manner, teamwork, leadership, and nonverbal communication skills; and serves on the Association for Women in Science Mentoring Committee. She co-founded the Veterinary Innovators Network, a leadership and advisory group of veterinarians working in venture capital, entrepreneurship, innovation, and business. In her spare time, Lucia trains as an elite level cyclist, and is a national and state medalist in road and track cycling at the master's level.
Lucia graduated cum laude from the Colorado State University College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, and completed her postdoctoral fellowship at Stanford University School of Medicine.