Sleepless in Cambridge: Five days at BioCamp

Sixty 25- to 35-year-olds from all over the world traveled to Cambridge, MA, to learn, debate and network with leading biotechnology executives. In my wildest dreams, I never would have thought that I’d be attending camp again at this ripe old age… but that’s exactly what I did. On October 26-30, I participated in the Novartis International Biotechnology Leadership Camp—or , as we participants affectionately called it, “BioCamp”.

BioCamp participants were postgraduate students from 27 countries, only three of whom were selected from Canada. Just getting into BioCamp was a challenge in itself: over 3,000 students applied! Most of the participants at this event had competed at a BioCamp in their home country, then been hand-picked by event organizers to participate in the International BioCamp (for example, the European BioCamp).
BioCamp was an experience like no other. For five full days, participants spent every waking minute with each other. We ate, learned and worked with each other every day (and night☺). We met and schmoozed with some of the world’s finest leaders in biotech, including Dr. Eric Lander, founding director of the Broad Institute and appointed co-chair of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, Harvard stem cell expert Dr. George Daley, Novartis Venture Funds managing director Dr. Campbell Murray and founder and principal of Longitude Capital, Dr. David Hirsch, among others. We also heard from experts in intellectual property (IP), venture capital (VC), regulatory affairs, science and human resources. BioCamp was an exceptional event that allowed me to network with the biotech community on a global scale and learn “tricks of the trade” from seasoned professionals (agenda PDF).

MaRS is relevant, so take advantage!
These days, I spend a lot of my time at MaRS. Having enrolled in CIBC Presents Entrepreneurship 101, I felt ahead of the game when it came to BioCamp’s discussions focusing on VC, IP and the like. Having access to world-renowned expertise at MaRS can sometimes make all of us Ontarians (actually, I am a Winnipegger—bring back the Jets!) take for granted how fortunate we are, but it’s important to remember that MaRS really is a first-class and all-encompassing hub for Canada’s future in biotechnology.

The business plan competition: MyCells Therapeutics and the iGEN technology
One of our tasks at BioCamp was to apply what we learned throughout the event to a business plan competition. We were challenged to come up with an innovative idea and pitch it to venture capitalists, scientists and Novartis executives. We had 15 minutes to pitch the idea, then five minutes to answer grueling questions from the panel.

My team, MyCells Therapeutics, sought to obtain VC financing to complete phase III clinical trials of iGEN, our stem cell therapeutic platform, to treat sickle cell disease under the orphan drug status, with future applications to all blood-borne genetic diseases. The team was composed of science, business and medical students from China, South Africa, Mexico, Thailand, the US, and of course, Canada.

Teamwork, teamwork, teamwork…
MyCells Therapeutics’ biggest asset was, in my opinion, the diversity of our team. We each came to the competition from different backgrounds, but we worked hard to capitalize on each person’s strengths and skill sets. This was one of the most valuable lessons I learned at BioCamp: the team you surround yourself with is key to success. If you’re going to convince a panel of experts that your team is the right team, you’d better have great group dynamics. After all, VCs receive several hundred requests each month, so you have to show how your team differs from everyone else’s. If you can communicate this, you will distinguish your team from all others.

I acted as CEO of MyCells Therapeutics and as such, most of the presentation fell on my shoulders. I was amazed by the amount of pressure put upon me as CEO, when this really was a team effort. During my presentation, I tried to connect with the audience right from the beginning. After spending an entire week at BioCamp and getting to know each person who was watching my pitch, I tried to reflect upon what I’d learned from them and how I could use this in my presentation. I wanted to woo them from the get go – indeed, this approached worked and our team captured first prize!

What I learned about the biotechnology industry:

  • Innovation is key. VCs are looking to fund big ideas with practical applications.
  • Your team is very important. The VCs themselves said that they would rather have a great team and a mediocre product than a mediocre team and a great product.
  • Intellectual property is a prerequisite to obtain VC financing. VC firms won’t want to talk with you until you’ve at least filed for a patent.
  • Developing an effective business plan is a given. Without it, nobody will take you seriously.
  • Think big and network! In today’s hyper-competitive world, big ideas must be complemented with a network of colleagues throughout the world – local contacts alone won’t cut it.