When I first entered biotech I was shocked to realize that despite the feeling of rapid scientific progress, the rate of new companies has stalled. The rate of company creation is stuck at ~300 companies per year, in an industry where we graduate 10,000+ PhDs per year, have 80,000 research faculty, and spend tens of billions on government sponsored R&D.
If you believe that some of the most important problems in the world, like our health or the health of our planet, can be solved with biotechnology, this should be alarming.
Our mission is to fix this. We want to see more great biotechnology companies in the world, faster. We believe that the rate limiting factor is not the science, nor the access to capital. It’s the access to the networks and knowledge of how to get started. It’s the culture, stupid.
Last fall, we did just about the most effective thing we’ve ever done towards that mission: we wrote a simple essay about it. We were blown away by the response. Somehow we sprung open a valve, and out poured a global conversation about the future of entrepreneurship in biotech – moving away from a model of institutionalized company creation and instead towards a new grassroots movement of “Founder-led Biotech.”
We launched the Founder-led Biotech Summit to bring this community together to exchange ideas, support, and open up access to funding. Last year, 1600+ people attended from all over the world, more than we could have imagined. ⅔ of these attendees were founders or prospective founders, a number that could put a serious dent in the global output of new biotech startups.
Today we are announcing the 2022 Founder-led Biotech Summit, during the week of 10/31-11/4. Like last year, it will be virtual, free and open to anyone in the world.
2022 Founder-led Biotech Summit
This movement is about the rapid cultural change of biotech. The barriers that once constricted the flow of entrepreneurial talent are falling, opening up the world to a rising swell of the next generation.
The knowledge of how to build – once rarefied – is rapidly spreading via a grassroots internet community of founders, investors, and scientists. Blogs, substacks, and podcasts like Axial, The Century of Biology, Bay Bridge Bio, LifeSciVC (perhaps the original!), Biomarker, Behind Biotech, Lady Scientist Podcast, Fifty Years’ Translation, a16z’s Bio Eats World, Alix Ventures’ BIOS podcast, and our Founder Playlist platform make hard won wisdom available for free, leveling the playing field for newcomers.
The networks needed to raise money, recruit, and find business relationships are moving from JPM to twitter, slack channels, and new online communities, like our summit, Nucleate, and the BIOS community.
The venture community continues to evolve with new funding models, and grow in support of founder-led companies. In early 2022, a new crop of emerging biotech (and techbio) VCs surpassed established VCs in activity for the first time. Indeed, we expect to see a string of new fund announcements in the coming year.
Academic culture is also changing rapidly to support entrepreneurship. Nucleate and Nucleate Dojo, a student-run non-profit, is dissolving walls between institutions and helping create ~80 new teams per year from academia (we are a proud sponsor!). Many universities are also beginning to build biology makerspaces – a free space to experiment with entrepreneurial ideas.
New institutional research models are forming. In 2021 alone we saw the creation of Arc Institute, Arcadia, Convergent Research, and New Science. Fast Grants and Experiment Foundation changing how we fund science, increasing ambition and lowering the burden of grant-writing. The DeSci movement, groups like Molecule, bio.xyz, and Vibe Bio, promise to change how we fund, organize, and collaborate.
Governments around the world are recognizing the new frontier of biology, motivated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the increasing public demand for climate action. The Biden administration announced creation of ARPA-H and President Biden’s National Biotechnology and Biomanufacturing Initiative. Even the long sought attempt to bring down paywalls on federally funded research is finally happening, making the output of life science R&D accessible to anyone.
There are tough times ahead. 2022 has brought many challenges – financial, economic, political, social, and for many, personal. The world’s crises have and will continue to impact the capital markets (though this remains to come for early-stage), the lifeblood that research-driven biotech companies need to survive.
But the momentum of the emerging global biotech community will not be stopped. Much of the energy we feel was born during the Covid-19 pandemic, when scientists, startups, biopharma, VCs, and government, all worked like mad to share information and resources in aid of the global response. The strength of the ties we have forged will only grow.
We hope you’ll join us at this year’s summit to share your stories, experience, technology, network, and inspiration. Stay tuned for many ways in which we hope you will get involved.