This is the second in a three part series on biotech accelerator programs. If you would like more information on why you should consider applying to an accelerator, please read my first post.
I have experienced the benefit of several accelerator, incubator, and mentorship programs in the biotech space, and I truly believe that EpiBiome, Inc. would not be where it is today without them.
Like selecting the right partner, selecting the right accelerator program first requires a deep understanding of your company's specific needs. This means understanding your company's strengths and weaknesses; what your greatest deficiencies are; and knowing where the gaps in your network exist. No accelerator program will offer every single thing that you need or ever will need, but if you understand what your current needs are, you can pick the accelerator with the right combination of strengths to meet your needs as a company today. Accelerator programs are typically short and thus it's important to optimize what they are offering that is useful to you now. If the accelerator offers you something that you aren't ready for, or can't add value to what you have already accomplished, don't apply. Here are four factors to consider when making your selection:
1. What is the program's reputation and track record?
As depicted in the hilarious series Silicon Valley, almost anyone can hang up a shingle and call themselves an accelerator. If they are offering what you really need, then by all means go for it. However, as mentioned in my last post, investors and other stakeholders will take real notice of companies selected by reputable accelerators. Some of these may be well-regarded due to their leadership position in a specific industry; others may offer a strong network in a variety of industries and come with a track record of success with the companies they have supported.
For example, Springboard Enterprises has accepted 617 women-led companies into its accelerator programs. To date these companies have raised $7 billion, and more than 80% of Springboard companies are still in business, including 11 IPOs. That's not just anecdotal stories from participants - that's real data. As part of the inaugural class of the Illumina Accelerator, we admittedly took more of a gamble, but based on Illumina's deep area expertise, stellar reputation, and knowing the leadership team involved in running the program, we knew it was a sure bet.
2. Does the program take equity or charge a fee?
Only you can determine if what you get in return is worth what you give up. Many founders get nervous when they see chunks of equity being given away, even if the percentage is in the single digits. Again, this comes down to understanding your company and its needs, and where you think you'll be in a year, realistically, with or without the accelerator. You must determine how valuable the accelerator's offerings are to you at this stage in your company's lifecycle.
3. Network, Network, Network!
I said it before and I'll say it again - do not underestimate the value of the accelerator's network to your company. Especially when considering participation in multiple or serial accelerators, you need to know if this accelerator program gives you exposure to a network that you wouldn't have had access to otherwise. Our participation in the California Life Sciences Institute FAST Advisory Program gave us an incredibly strong network of service providers and other mentors in the Bay Area. Illumina gave us a great industry-specific network, and exposure to investors and other stakeholders in the sequencing space. Springboard Enterprises gave us a nationwide network that we would not have had easy access to based on our location on the West Coast, and exposure to stakeholders particularly interested in supporting women-led businesses. Each of these programs added something both valuable and unique to our network.
4. Location, Location, Location!
Consider carefully where the program is based. If it is not local, will you be required to move or can you participate remotely (and will remote participation allow you to extract the value you need)? If it is de-centralized, is it still structured in a way to meet your needs?
A final note: After selecting a program to apply to, it is essential that your corporate counsel review the terms of the agreement. Good counsel will be able to see the big picture and long term objectives of your company including your exit, and as such assist with conducting the cost:benefit analysis of participating and negotiate terms as needed.
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.