Presentation day showcases success of Accelerate@Babraham start-up competition
By Sarah Brereton
The first ever life science bio-incubator programme competition at the Babraham Research Campus, Accelerate@Babraham, has ended on a high for the competition winners with the promise of ongoing mentoring and an invitation to present at the renowned Babraham Investor Conference in 2019.
After a competitive pitch process, five winning ventures - Antiverse, Qkine, VisusNano, Oppilotech and Kalium Diagnostics - were awarded £20,000 each and use of the Campus’ communal bio-incubator facilities between September and December this year, as well as a programme of bespoke seminars, presentations and one-on-one mentoring. In addition, SNPr, a spin-out from the Babraham Institute, was also invited to attend the programme.
The three-month programme culminated in a final, invitation-only, presentation day, held in the Cambridge Building on the campus. The ventures had 10 minutes to present their science and business plans, together with their experience of the programme to a distinguished audience of mentors, investors and Accelerate@Babraham strategic partners - all in attendance to hear the progress of the winning science start-ups.
The presentations demonstrated the progress the companies have made - with several reporting successful prototype builds, refined business plans and even the winning of additional international awards- and were overwhelmingly positive about the Accelerate@Babraham competition.
Dr Ajay Mistry, CEO of Oppilotech, said the £20,000 injection had helped the team to achieve a lot in a short space of time: “We used the funding to buy compounds to screen against a new drug target. We have initiated the screening and already have an active compound”.
VisusNano also reported making great strides in three months, including winning best healthcare company in Hong Kong, featuring in the Top 500 for Hello Tomorrow and its CEO, Dr Joanna Gould, was named in the BioBeat 50 Movers and Shakers report.
Joanna said: “The minute you say you are based at the Babraham Research Campus in Cambridge everyone gets very excited, so that’s been really useful. We have had some great publicity, but we’ve also made progress with the drug release profiles in the lab, been approached by two major lens companies and are also now speaking to a number of investors.”
Dr Rowina Westermeier, co-founder of Antiverse, said: “The Accelerate@Babraham programme has acted as a gateway for us to have those first introductions, make new connections and grow our network, which will in turn help our company to grow. It has accelerated us and given us the opportunity to get feedback on our strategy from people who have actually done exactly what we are trying to do.”
As well as the use of communal equipped laboratory space at the campus, the start-ups received one-to-one mentoring from world-class scientific and business experts, bespoke training sessions and access to the Babraham Research Campus’ highly experienced life science, healthcare and investor networks.
Dr Tanya Hutter, co-founder of Kalium Diagnostics said that she had met lots of high-level people which she would not have met otherwise: “Karolina [Dr Karolina Zapadka, Accelerate@Babraham’s business acceleration manager] did a really good job bringing in a range of very senior level experts."
Kalium Diagnostics’ co-founder, Liz Norgett, added: “And it’s not just the fact that they are high-level, but the fact that she has hand-picked them specifically for us, tailoring them to our needs. Each winning company has different mentors based on what they are doing and what the mentors have done. It’s a flexible programme which is why it’s so good.”
Although the three-month programme has now concluded, the start-ups reported that they are ready to take their ideas to the next stage and that the networks and relationships they have developed in the past three months will have long-lasting benefits.
Dr Catherine Elton, CEO of QKINE said: “My overarching learning point from Accelerate@Babraham has been that input from many mentors and peers helps to build a strong framework for a new company and test the business model. I learnt that we need to aim bigger to grow a sustainable business and build investor value as a result of this.”
All of the participants thoroughly endorsed the value of the programme and said they would recommend Accelerate@Babraham to other life science start-ups. Dr Luba Chakalova, head of science at SNPr, said: “I would eagerly recommend the Accelerate@Babraham programme to early start-ups. Provided the timing is right, participation in the programme would be extremely useful in helping a start-up to become investor-ready.”
To celebrate the success of Accelerate@Babraham, the Babraham Research Campus also hosted a drinks reception on Monday evening, bringing together the teams from the six start-ups involved in the inaugural programme, with the strategic partners, mentors, investors and other supporters who had provided support along the way. In addition to toasting the success of the inaugural programme, each start-up also had exhibition space at the reception, displaying posters of their work, to enable further discussions with investors and key Babraham Research Campus staff.
What's next for the entrepreneurs?
So, what’s next for the first ever Accelerate@Babraham ‘graduates’? Where do they see themselves in 12 months’ time?
Kalium Diagnostics: "We will have raised seed-funding, progressed our technology, achieved some key milestones and be fundraising for further investment to scale up."
Antiverse: "We would like to see ourselves in a position where we had a fully functioning, well performing model that is approved by our first customers."
VisusNano: "In a year's time, I would hope that all of the in vivo trials will have worked well and that we have a product that would shortly be entering the veterinary market in the UK. And we would have raised our next Series A round - that would be great."
Oppilotech: "Raise money! Continue to interact with established contacts."
QKINE: Aim higher. Find lab space – grow a great company!
SNPr: The main focus is securing funding. We will explore all relevant opportunities, such as engaging with potential investors and applying for Innovate UK funding.
Even though the official programme has now concluded, all participants have been offered an additional three months of mentoring and the opportunity to present at the next Babraham Investor Conference in May 2019.
Derek Jones, CEO of Babraham Bioscience Technologies, said: “I’m thrilled to see what the first group of Accelerate@Babraham trailblazers have achieved and how they have developed during the course of the programme. This is a learning experience for us too and we’re now looking forward to refining what we do to ensure we can build upon the success of this year’s accelerator for future cohorts. Being able to support life sciences ventures from concept through to company, providing space from a bench to a building, is a distinct feature of the campus.”
Dr Karolina Zapadka, business acceleration manager at Babraham Research Campus, said: “It’s been a pleasure to work with such innovative entrepreneurs. The people behind these ground-breaking start-ups are future life science pioneers and we share in their successes, which are also successes for the wider Campus, the Cambridge life sciences cluster and UK life sciences as a whole.
“I’d like to thank the incredibly experienced group of strategic partners, mentors and other individuals who have supported Accelerate@Babraham, giving generously of their time and expertise to help develop the life science ventures of the future.”
The Babraham Research Campus has announced that it will be running a second Accelerate@Babraham Competition in 2019. Watch this life science space...
Access to the communal laboratories at the Babraham Research Campus is not just limited to competition winners. Short-term access to laboratory and office facilities is also available to the wider life science community. To find out more visit babraham.com.
The science behind the start-ups
Kalium Diagnostics: It uses blood potassium monitoring to help patients and reduce total healthcare costs. The venture, spun out of Cambridge University, brings together a team with world-class clinical, technological and product development expertise and won the One to Watch Award at the 2018 Cambridge Independent Science and Technology Awards.
Antiverse: It is building a world-first computational antibody drug discovery platform to predict antibody-antigen binding and provide antibody drug candidates in one day.
VisusNano: A privately held pre-clinical company, it is developing a drug-eluting intraocular lens implant for use in patients undergoing cataract surgery. By improving patient outcomes, obviating the need for eye drops after surgery, and avoiding the need for laser treatment after surgery, the project has the potential to revolutionise cataract surgery in both the human and veterinary markets.
Oppilotech: It is utilising systems biology and machine learning to build a computational model of cells. The company is initially focussing on bacteria. The model is utilised to find viable first-in-class drug targets. Oppilotech has four antibacterial drug discovery programmes derived from the model, which it intends to develop into the clinic.
QKINE: It is a manufacturer of high-quality growth factors for use in stem cell science and regenerative medicine applications. Spun-out from the University of Cambridge in 2016, it builds on expertise in protein purification and structural biology developed at the University and existing collaborations with the stem cell community to address the need for high quality growth factors.
SNPr: A spin-out of The Babraham Institute, SNPr’s platform links genomic variants in non-coding genomic regions to their target genes, holding the promise to unlock the full potential of existing genome-wide association study data.