How to Pursue a Biotech Startup as an Undergraduate

You often hear about university students pursuing entrepreneurial or start-up ventures in fields such as computer science or commerce. However, increasingly there is a huge focus on start up companies in the life sciences or biotech industry! During your undergraduate degree you may even realize that you have an idea you’d like to pursue as a start-up! This article will explore what biotech start ups do, what challenges undergraduate entrepreneurs face, and some resources in British Columbia Canada that can help!

What do biotech start-ups typically do?

Many biotech start-ups are inspired by work done in academic research labs at Universities where founders realize what they’re working on could actually be turned into a profitable medical device or drug or service! For example, check out these spin-off companies from UBC – many of which are in biotech! If during your undergraduate course work or research opportunities, you come up with what you think would be a great idea for company (that no one has already done) then you should seek out the help and support to make your idea a reality!

What challenges do undergraduate entrepreneurs face?

Being an entrepreneur in any field is associated with many challenges, I do believe there are some challenges that are more pronounced for young entrepreneurs and in the biotech industry specifically. Running a biotech start-up requires a high level of technical expertise; this is why the majority of biotech start up founders are at least in graduate school. Additionally, biotech start-ups often require much more funding to start compared to commerce or computer science companies. For example in laboratory-based start-ups, you will need lab space and money to purchase the materials needed to develop your product. Another challenge is that biotech start-ups often face many regulatory challenges trying to bring a product to market. For example, if you are trying to create a product that works directly with patients, you will need to prove that your product won’t harm patients before you can sell it. This is not to say that being an undergraduate entrepreneur in the biotech space is impossible!

Below are a number of resources in BC that can help you develop your idea and connect you with mentors to guide you along the process.

What resources are there in British Columbia to help?

UBC Life Sciences Start-Up Competition: This is a yearly competition hosted by the UBC Life Sciences Institute (LSI) and is open to teams of UBC students interested in pursuing a life sciences or health related business idea! This is a 3-month program with free workshops on intellectual property, business plans, and fundraising. Industry leaders and experts are also available to mentor teams and there is $10,000 in cash prizes for the winners! See details from the 2016 competition.

[email protected]: [email protected] ([email protected]) is UBC’s venture accelerator – meaning they help provide the resources needed to build early stage start ups. They host a number of workshops and can help entrepreneurs with market validation, business model development and even space for you and your team to work. Select start ups get invited to [email protected]’s Venture Builder program, which includes mentorship from a seasoned executive in your field and the potential for funding by [email protected]’s Seed Fund! See more details here.

Hackathons: Don’t have a particular start up idea in mind but looking to get inspired? Hackathons are a great way to get exposed to a wide array of potential start up ideas as teams are given a short amount of time (1-3 days) to develop a solution to a particular problem. At the end of the event you also get to see what all the other teams worked on and bounce ideas off each other. Some hackathons are specifically health focused such as Lumohacks, where teams develop solutions for cancer moj link. Most hackathons require some coding experience but there are also great code-free hackathons such as Protohack.  Their next event is on April 29, 2017!

SBN Venture Ready Program: The Student Biotechnology Network (SBN) is a non-profit organization that aims to connect new biotech grads with opportunities in industry, government, and entrepreneurship. As part of their yearly programming, they host a series of workshops in collaboration with the Discovery Parks Foundation in October/November to help students develop their entrepreneurial skills. These workshops focus on a range of topics and are hosted by experts in the field. Last year, their workshop on developing a pitch for your start up was hosted by the CEO of a HealthTech accelerator and their workshop on financing was hosted by the CFO of BC’s largest biotech company! See last year’s program here. Be sure to sign up for this year’s workshops!

New Ventures BC Competition: This is a competition hosted by the BC Innovation Council and covers all areas of tech. This is program is unique in that it provides extensive education, mentorship, and networking with some of BC’s most prominent entrepreneurs to help you further develop your idea. Additionally, there is $300,000 in cash and prizes up for grabs! Get more information here.

Hope this article has been useful in helping you identify the resources in BC to help build your entrepreneurial skills. Feel free to ask me more questions by connecting with me on the NSN’s mentorship program or by messaging me on LinkedIn.



Photo Credits: Liam Matthews via photopin (CC)

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