B3: An induction into bio-entrepreneurship

Published by Biotech Connection Singapore on

BCS hosted its first ever bootcamp on bio-entrepreneurship after months of planning and preparation- spearheaded by the BCS events team in collaboration with Mr. Chris L. Hardesty, Director, Healthcare and Life Science Practice, KPMG.

BCS has actively organized a number of biotech webinars, workshops and events in the past; but this was the first time BCS hosted a bootcamp where participants had the opportunity to learn from industry experts and leaders. The organising team met virtually to decide on the format, the topics, the speakers, and to work out the logistics of hosting the event on zoom.  Finally, after numerous back and forth emails, discussions, calls and brainstorming sessions, the team decided to take on approximately 50 participants for a total of 6 weeks. The participants would team up in groups of 4-5pax from the get-go based on common interest areas, develop a business idea with different entrepreneurship elements taught in the bootcamp, and present their business plan at the end of the series.

Starting from simple concepts such as an understanding of the healthcare space in Singapore (and globally), to doing market research, conceptualizing business plans, raising funds and learning about different regulatory frameworks; the idea was to provide hands-on learning fundamentals to aspiring biotech entrepreneurs/consultants in a way that is curriculum-sound yet flexible for working professionals.

Module 1 of B3 focused on ‘Industry Landscape Overview’ where participants learned about the three pillars of the ecosystem- Improving health, lowering cost and providing better care; designed to serve as a ‘blueprint at achieving a better and more sustainable future for all’. Participants also had the chance to meet their team members and to start brainstorming on their business plan. The module concluded with a fireside chat with Ms. Aparna Mittal, Founder & CEO of PatientsEngage, a patient/caregiver focused healthcare platform for supporting the management of chronic diseases. Aparna discussed the Hippocratic Oath of Doctors, which is to prioritize patient health irrespective of the field or industry and that patients themselves are the consumers and buyers of the products.

Module 2 of B3 titled ‘Defining your value proposition’ covered important concepts such as Job To Be Done (JTBD) and Value Proposition Canvas (VPC). Participants learned how to populate their VPC based on customer needs and how to identify a beachhead market. For the fireside chat, BCS team hosted Prof. Damian O’Connell, CEO of Experimental Drug Development Centre (EDDC), A*STAR for a discussion that focused on developing a resilient entrepreneurship mindset and staying put despite the challenges that come with it.

Module 3 of B3 focused on ‘Conducting Market Research’ and touched upon market sizing fundamentals such as the top-down and bottom-up approach, the Total Addressable Market (TAM), Service Addressable Market (SAM) and Service Obtainable Market (SOM) concepts and lastly, the types of due diligence and the processes encompassing it. The team hosted Mr. Shriharsha Sarkar, Senior Principal, IQVIA for the fireside chat this time. He shared his invaluable insights on the importance of background research when defining competitive landscape and explained the realms of the due diligence process from a consultant’s perspective.

Module 4 of B3 titled ‘Defining Your Business Model’ covered fundamentals such as defining a business model, the Business Model Canvas (BMC) and the basics principles governing its use for one’s advantage. Our guest speaker for fireside chat was Dr. Hitesh S. Chandwani, the Market Access Director of Janssen Asia-Pacific. He advised participants on the need to engage different stakeholders such as payers, patients and physicians and to focus on the value of the product rather than the price. Hitesh stressed that it was important to consider opinions from all quarters to understand the product’s value proposition and to measure its success by the quality of life for patients and economical consideration on healthcare system.

Module 5 of B3 focused on ‘Scalability and Sustainability’. Participants had the opportunity to learn about sustainability when scaling and maintaining a business from experts in the field – Assistant Professor James Leong, Head of Education at Centre of Regulatory Excellence, Duke-NUS Medical School and Ms. Faith Sing, Director of fsLAW. James shared his expertise on regulatory processes and discussed common pitfalls of the product development process. Faith talked about the importance of various fundraising agreements and various key points to consider when structuring and managing a business. The team also hosted Dr. Piers Ingram, co-founder and CEO of Hummingbird Bioscience for a fireside chat, who candidly shared his experience on the journey of fundraising and achieving business sustainability through challenging times such as COVID-19.

Everything culminated to the Final Pitch Day where grouped participants pitched their business idea incorporating various concepts learned throughout the bootcamp in a power-point presentation format for a total of 3-minutes. Presentations were judged on how well the pain/problem was defined, the impact of the product/plan, the credibility of the product/plan, the potential for profit, how investable the product is and the overall presentation style. The judges included Ms. Clare Cutler, VP and GM Asia Region at Allergan Aesthetics, an AbbVie company; Dr. Fong Ming Koh, Associate Director, Head of Life Sciences at Heritas Capital and Ms. Irene Cheong, Group Director, Venture Creation and Growth at A*STAR. After listening to all the pitches, the judges had an open dialogue session with the participants. The panel members shared that they were truly impressed with all the presented business ideas and the tenacity of the participants who drove home the important point of innovation and entrepreneurship.

Overall, the sessions were well received, and we got encouraging feedback from various participants. In one participant’s own words:

The B3 event was an excellent opportunity for current bio-entrepreneurs and academics interested in commercialising their research to go through the exercise of conceptualising a commercial biotech product and coming up with a business plan with the different entrepreneurship elements taught in the bootcamp. We were assigned to teams based on our technical interest area which made it easier for the team to quickly develop a business idea for the purpose of the bootcamp.

My team consisted of an interesting group of people from different backgrounds, ranging from academia, start-ups and industry.  I found our weekly online meetings productive and beneficial as we were able to quickly come up with a problem statement, technical solution and gradually grow our business plan. Additionally, I got to hear the perspectives of budding entrepreneurs as well as experienced professionals.

Chris was a fantastic teacher and delivered a solid series of lectures to help us build and grow our business idea. We had breakout sessions at the end of the lectures to consolidate the content knowledge and to consult Chris when we needed assistance. The fireside chats were the best part of the B3 event as we were able to have open discussions with industry leaders on various industry topics. The final pitch day was the highlight of B3. Besides having the opportunity to share our business plan, we got to listen to the business pitches of other groups and the constructive feedback given by the judges. The BCS members who acted as facilitators in the event were also very helpful and open to feedback.

I am very thankful that BCS organised this bootcamp for members in the Singapore biotech community and am hopeful for more such events like the B3 in the future – Brendan Sieow.

B3 would not have been possible without the kind support of Chris L. Hardesty who spent countless hours with the team over calls and emails to drive the BCS event forward. Chris also put together the content for different modules, moderated the sessions, suggested/liaised with the speakers and of course helped the BCS team as and when needed.

Read Chris’s own perspective about collaborating with BCS for B3 and his takeaways from the bootcamp. In the words of Chris L Hardesty:

BCS, like many organizations during the pandemic, needed to reinvent itself as the go-to networking platform for biotechnology innovators in Singapore. Concurrently, the concept of B3 served a real need in the local ecosystem. While there are many innovation bootcamps in Singapore, the majority focus on the medtech and healthtech space. Biotechnology is of course very challenging with its deep science, long R&D cycles, disparate fundraising pockets, unique commercialization pathways, and overall high risk of failure. That said, as a generation of people trying to make a positive impact on our planet, we must continue to push the envelope in novel biotechnology innovation. Kudos to BCS and the wider set of stakeholders for not only being the vision of B3, but moreover in its successful execution such that a group of leading thinkers is ready to go out and build back better.

Modules 1-4 were about putting biotechnology to the side, and recentring ourselves around the challenge at hand – how to balance unmet healthcare needs with capacity for adopting new interventional technologies. There is a graveyard of failures in the biotechnology space, because the best mousetrap does not always lead to scalability and sustainability. Hence, as part of the bootcamp, teams were able to hear directly from patient group representation, academia and multinational pharmaceutical companies, among other insightful ecosystem voices, about what it means to have an intentional R&D strategy. Each module was designed such that the teams could share their iterative business model concepts, learn from instructors and guest speakers, and break-out together to foster virtual connectivity. The teams were also encouraged to get out in the field and conduct primary market research with key customer and influence targets. Ultimately, after the first four modules, the teams narrowed down their beachhead customer category, created a tailored value proposition therein, and drafted a business model for further testing.

With drafted business models in-hand, the remainder of the bootcamp focused on scale-up mechanics. Using a similar andragogy in terms of module design, the teams learned more about fundamentals such as regulatory pathways, incorporation, IP, fundraising, and pricing & market access. By this stage, the teams were also beginning to conceive their pitch day approach. Although some teams were nervous about having a viable business concept by the end, through continued market sounding activities and offering office hour support, we are proud to report that every team was ready to pitch!  Pitch day featured live investors from the various categories (institutional-public, institutional-private, corporate), providing real-time feedback to the teams. In the end, much fun was had and the investors commented on how impressed they were with the sophistication of the biotechnology concepts. Truly the future is bright!

From my own perspective, my heart was full by Module 6. They say there are two steps to innovation – to start, and to keep going. The fact that these teams joined the bootcamp, stayed committed throughout, and demonstrated their innovative thinking on pitch day, was beyond expectation. This was equally a technical scientific journey as it was in soft skills development; indeed some teams did struggle with forming and storming which is a lesson in and of itself! I believe the teams, many of which pivoted during the bootcamp, became more exposed to how “value” is defined in this industry, and to the array of stakeholders that must be engaged in order to successfully bring a concept to bear in the market. Despite the onslaught of the pandemic, the world is in a better place in terms of average health status and literacy. Biotechnology will push our species into a new era, and I could not be prouder of these teams. I wish everyone continued success, staying connected to the BCS network. I remain convinced that there is no greater place for innovation than in Singapore!

The BCS team would like to thank all the participants for their enthusiastic participation throughout the 6 weeks of the bootcamp as well as the speakers for their relentless support and patience in making the event successful. We hope you enjoyed collaborating and learning with us and we look forward to organizing many such events in the near future.

By Shainan Hora on behalf of BCS.

Biotech Connection Singapore (BCS) is part of an international network of non-profit organizations, that aims to promote the transfer of ideas from theory to real world applications by providing a platform for fostering interaction between academia, industry and businesses.