Interview with ELabNYC Program Manager Mary Howard: Part 2
December 05, 2016
In the second part of our interview, ELabNYC program manager Mary Howard gives us some tips for transitioning from the research lab to the boardroom, assembling a successful biotech team, pivoting your company when necessary, and implementing financial metrics.
DP: What key ingredients should life science entrepreneurs look at when forming a solid team?
MH: It is such an important question, and there’s a reason why investors often say they pick the team first because the perseverance and the integrity of the individuals just can’t be underestimated. It’s what we look for in our final interviews in our screening process. It’s something that we would strongly encourage anyone who’s building a company to also look at. You know, there’s wonderful research that’s done that’s very important and meaningful. Building a company is a very involved, long-term effort, and you’re talking about personality characteristics and luck, and some of luck is about timing. So, we can’t control for timing or other aspects of luck, but you look for people who really want to do this. This is what they’re driven to make happen. If you can find that, you have more of a chance of being able to weather those setbacks that will inevitably come and figure out your way through some of the challenges you’re going to run into. It’s important, and that resiliency is really, really key.
DP: When should they add team members relative to funding levels?
MH: That’s so individual to each venture. We approach this for each company to develop their own plan. You know for some, you have to have big groups to even get the wheels turning. With others, there may be ways to work – outsourcing or with a smaller team and get critical data together – and you don’t have to have so many people. It’s a very specific set of circumstances for each venture. However, if you choose certain paths, if you choose to bring in funding, if you choose to pursue grants from national organizations, there’s a structure that you really need to have in place to be able to appear credible, to manage the money, and to account for what’s been accomplished with the funding that you’ve been provided, and you need to have some way of showing that you have those skills to shepherd and steward those funds you’ve applied for to credibly accomplish what you say you will do. So, certainly, whenever you are looking for funding, you have to look at who’s on your team and make sure that you not only have all of the technical product development resources in place, but you have administration, accounting, legal and resources that will allow you to execute, complete and report on what you’ve done with money in a way that protects you and protects the people who are entrusting their funds to you.
DP: Mary, what are some of the telltale signs a company needs to pivot, and for those that are successful, what common qualities do they share?
MH: Well, this is a really good question and because at some level we are talking about opinions. We’re talking about the future and no one really knows what’s going to happen. So, it’s very tricky. Whose opinion do you pay attention to? So, one of the things that we try and do gather a group of people from different backgrounds – from science backgrounds, from business development backgrounds, from investment backgrounds – who are engaged in life science – either scouting for technologies or investing in technologies – that can provide a matrix of feedback about your plans. We try and create an environment where the innovator can get as much feedback as they can on what they propose to do, so that they can understand whether their plans have any support. If the preponderance of the feedback is that there really isn’t much support for this, much interest in it, or much enthusiasm for introductions to other people, then these are good signs that this is time to rethink what your plan is.
DP: Mary, any closing thoughts?
MH: Yeah, I want to say that New York City has been incredibly dynamic over the last four years. When we started, there were not very many startups that people could point to. There are now 76 startups that have come out of the ELab program, and ELab alums are seeing each other and starting to form that community that we really hope would both be connected to one another and support one another. These companies are very interesting. They are starting off on national and global foundations of connections, research collaborations, clinical trials and pilots—they’re getting funding from overseas. So the whole prospect of what it means to start a business has expanded in this incredible global hub of New York City to be one that has been facilitated by these people’s interest and personal relationships all over the world. So that I think is going to be a challenge for us. How do we continue to support these organizations that are in their formation thinking of themselves as global organizations? We have been really thrilled to be working with EisnerAmper as they have been expanding their footprint nationally and globally and are able to support some of these plans that are, as we see it, increasingly global from the get-go.
DP: Mary, thank you so much for your time, and keep up the great work.
MH: Thank you so much Dave for the opportunity to talk about this.
DP: And for you listeners, don’t forget to check out ELabNYC.com. In case you missed it, check out part one of this interview, available at EisnerAmper.com, where Mary discusses ELabNYC’s entrepreneur training and mentorship program, tells us about the different types of organizations it partners with, and shares a couple of interesting success stories.