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£15m boost for Start Codon’s life sciences super-accelerator

Jason Mellad, co-founder and CEO Start Codon
Jason Mellad, co-founder and CEO Start Codon

Start Codon, the life science and healthcare super-accelerator, has closed a £15m venture fund round which will underpin the company’s early stage start-up model for five years.

Investors in the fund include Novartis International AG and Cambridge Innovation Capital (CIC), with Novartis additionally working with Start Codon to identify exceptional technologies and entrepreneurs to join the Start Codon business acceleration programme, which aims to translate early-stage research into successful companies, ready for funding and partnership.

Novartis will also provide support and mentoring to the founders of the start-up companies, and opportunities for partnering as their research evolves.

Dr Jason Mellad, co-founder and CEO at Start Codon, said: “This venture fund is part of our strategy to provide our entrepreneurs with the funding they need for start-up costs, such as in-licenssing of IP, recruitment, and proof of concept studies. In addition, we provide the opportunity to network and learn from the most successful industry leaders in our sector.”

The first cohort of four companies – Enhanc3D Genomics, Drishti Discoveries, Spirea and Semarion – started their six-month intensive programme in February. A second cohort of four young start-ups began in August.

“The first six months are intensive,” Jason told the Cambridge Independent, “then there is a lighter touch of support – with regular catch-ups and attendance at board meetings – which continues until a Series A funding round.”

Start Codon – a finalist in the Award for Innovation category in this year’s Cambridge Independent Science & Technology Awards – was founded in 2019 by Jason and Dan Rooke. Founding investors include CIC, the Babraham Research Campus through Babraham Bioscience Technologies, Genentech, Dr Jonathan Milner and Dr Ian Tomlinson.

The model involves Start Codon taking an eight per cent equity stake and making a £250,000 SAFE (“simple agreement for future equity”) investment in the company – which also obtains office and lab space at Babraham Research Campus, and global-class mentoring.

Dr Michael Anstey, partner at Cambridge Innovation Capital
Dr Michael Anstey, partner at Cambridge Innovation Capital

“The goal is to build great businesses that start in Cambridge,” says Dr Michael Anstey, partner at CIC. “We’ve found incredible scientists and innovation and there’s a gap in money for pre-seed companies, and Start Codon is filling that gap.

“With Start Codon an alternative word to ‘accelerator’ is needed, as there are more than 20 initiatives in Cambridge that could be described as an accelerator, but this is unique because it involves office and laboratory facilities, true expertise and investment.

“No one else in Cambridge is providing these three things together. ‘Accelerator’ is overused, it’s more of a super-accelerator, though it’s not about speed, it’s about these three components together.

“Start Codon invests in early-stage companies and turns them, as is sometimes said, from a caterpillar to a butterfly with expertise, money and facilities to enable their transformation.

“At the Series A stage there is likely to be a plan, a management team in place and some sort of data, so they need capital growth.

“At pre-Series A, the seed stage, there are perhaps gaps in the team, or data is needed for proof of concept, that’s where Start Codon comes in. The money goes in at the seed stage and CIC is then well positioned to support the companies as they get to the Series A stage.”

“The investment will help us identify two cohorts a year for five years,” concluded Jason, “so there’s four more years to go, then ideally we’d go out and raise another fund.

“The next cohort is due in March and we are now in the process of searching for that third cohort, so that is open to any companies – not just companies that are already established, but companies that want to start on the basis of an idea can apply via the website.”

Sponsors of the 2019 Cambridge Independent Science and Technology Awards (43191308)
Sponsors of the 2019 Cambridge Independent Science and Technology Awards (43191308)

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