Three keys to how scientists can succeed as entrepreneurs

Wednesday 11 Jul 18

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Charlotte Johansen Vedel
Chief Translational Officer (CTO)
DTU Biosustain
+45 30 91 46 21

Contact

Anders Østerby Mønsted
Communications Officer
DTU Biosustain
+45 24 67 79 47

Commercialising scientific research requires a heavy focus on patenting, risk taking and people with an entrepreneurial mindset.

At this stage, venture capitalists already have a strong eye on the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Biosustainability, DTU. However, there is a long and bumpy road from being interested in new technologies to actually investing.

The key to open doors to the industry is to secure patent rights.

“In science, results are almost always published, thus, patenting becomes absolutely essential if you have a desire to commercialise. If you do not have a patent on a certain technology, why should a big company or a venture capitalist then decide to invest millions? It is very risky and investors always want to minimise the risk,” says Chief Translation Officer at the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Biosustainability, DTU, Charlotte Johansen Vedel.

Since she started at the Center in August 2017, her finest task has been to get an overview of which projects that have a translational and commercial potential.

"If you do not have a patent on a certain technology, why should a big company or a venture capitalist then decide to invest millions? It is very risky and investors always want to minimise the risk"
Charlotte Johansen Vedel, Chief Translational Officer

“Some projects are best suited to go out as a spinout, others have a greater advantage of being a startup or making a license agreement with an industrial partner. It should always be based on a judgment from project to project. There is no reason to form a spinout if it only has a slight chance of surviving because no one is interested in investing,” emphasises Charlotte Johansen Vedel.

The Chief Translational Officer mentions BioPhero as an example of a spinout that has managed to get investment, while the projects in CHO Core could benefit from making license agreements with industrial partners.

The right person in the hot seat

One thing is patents, another one is market analysis, but a lot also comes down to which individuals that are working on commercialising a project.

“Investors study the business case, but my experience is that they also focus a lot on the team that they are potentially going to invest in. Do they have experience? Do they have an entrepreneurial mindset? If an investor has just the slightest doubt that the person leading a project only will invest 10% of the time on the project and 90% on work in the lab then they will run away,” according to Charlotte Johansen Vedel.

Based on her background in DuPont she further mentions that there are several examples of how great ideas have been turned into major failures because the CEO did not have the capacity to execute. On the other hand, a ‘bad’ idea can also be translated to a unicorn (a privately owned startup with an estimated valuation of $1 billion or more) with the right team of people selling the idea.

A commercial aspect

Scientists are not commonly known as experts in business planning, market analysis and raising capital from venture funds. In order to guide them with the more commercial aspects, Henrik Meyer and Eva Balslev have been hired by the Chief Translational Officer to be project leaders on some of the interesting ongoing projects at the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Biosustainability, DTU.

Obviously, there are challenges when bridging the gap between research and the industry, but CFB undoubtedly has great potential due to its structure and its clear focus on cell factories.

“You do not make a cell factory and then place it in the freezer on -80 degrees in 40 years. Personally, I would love to commercialise it,” says the Chief Translational Officer.

Currently, 12 spinouts have been formed at the Center.

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