As funding dwindles across the life sciences industry, researchers at major universities are increasingly adopting the entrepreneurial models forged by the tech world. With help from groups like NYC TechConnect, scientists are taking their inventions and discoveries out of the lab and into the free market.
Nowhere was this trend more evident than today at the NYC Emerging Technologies Summit, where 20 researchers from the top institutes in New York presented their most exciting, most marketable research. Unlike a traditional scientific conference, this event, which took place at Memorial Sloan Kettering Institute, was less about the underlying science and more about networking opportunities with industry investors, private capital and foundations. Each presenter had a brisk four minutes to convey not only the science, but also the final-product marketability of their early-stage technologies.
Shari Coulter Ford, executive director of NYC TechConnect — a venture grant program funded by the New York City Partnership Fund and New York City Council — even hired coaches to work with each presenter to keep slides brief and relatable to potential investors and partners.
“TechConnect exists to help build up the entrepreneurial spirit in the hard sciences, an industry that is being underserved in terms of connecting to angel investors and partners,” she said. “Of the 20 opportunities presented, a few specifically stood out in terms of having practical commercial applications.”
One such technology was a toothpaste infused with allergy medication designed as an alliterative to painful shots or inconvenient tongue-dropper medication. This medication delivery system, presented by William Reisacher of the Weill Cornel Medical College, represents exactly the kind of highly practical and broadly applicable medical technologies TechConnect hopes to support.
Other notable presentations included a molecular treatment for male-pattern baldness developed by Incentis Pharmaceuticals; a highly sensitive brain trauma detection method presented by SUNY Downstate Medical Center, and a “breathalyzer” test for lung cancer developed by the Albert Einstein School of Medicine.
Conference attendees included representatives from private industry such as Sanofi and Merck, and from foundations and investors such as the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation and the HBS Angels of New York City.
In general, Coulter Ford sees a trend in the life sciences research community of increasing collaboration between disciplines and an enhanced focus on the consumer end-product.
“With the success of the digital revolution and social media, there’s been a greater understanding of the entrepreneurial process within the life science community, especially in such a hub like New York City,” she said.
According to Orin Herskowitz, executive director of Columbia Technology Ventures, “technology transfer” is becoming a high priority in the scientific community. Not only are scientists and researchers taking queues from the world of digital technology to find investors and push productization, they are also collaborating across disciplines at a scale never before seen.
Typically, investor money flows more easily to health tech, such as apps and non-invasive devices, because there is a shorter path to product development and far fewer regulatory hurdles to jump through.
But events like the Emerging Technologies Summit prove that even scientists working on medical therapies and drugs – which are notoriously expensive and difficult to get approved – are also adopting a start-up entrepreneurial business model.
“That awareness is bleeding over. It’s merging into life sciences through health IT,” said Coulter Ford. “We’ve seen this business model follow a clear migratory path from digital tech to health IT to therapeutics.”