The Challenge

It’s great to have the chance to observe entrepreneurs trying to make a business out of an idea, but more interesting is actively participating in the process.

That’s why I decided to take Cathy’s advice and get involved as a suit in the Sanofi Pasteur Health care and Biotech Venture Challenge, a competition organized every year by York Biotech in collaboration with the Schulich School of Business and Sanofi Pasteur.

This competition works like this: two scientists have an idea for a business or a product. They’re paired with two Schulich MBA students. The team has to come up with a commercialization plan, which is reviewed a panel of experts. The top three teams get a monetary prize and the chance to present their idea at the Convergent Medical Technologies Conference.

This is an interesting exercise, even though some would try to argue that it’s a pointless one, considering the current investment environment (or lack thereof) in Canada. Not that the situation is much better anywhere else, now when there is no bank or investment fund you can trust with your money.

After participating in the “speed-dating” in which teams of scientists and business students got to check each other out, my teammate Christine and I decided to take on the most challenging project we could get our hands on: proposing a commercialization plan for a new drug compound.

Most of the people I asked about this advised me against it. And I totally agree with their rationale and supporting arguments.

Over the past year, only one biotech company in all of Canada managed to exit through IPO, and five early stage drug discovery startups received investment. That is not very encouraging. Even if your intention is to license your technology, you still need money for proof-of-concept and pre-clinical trials, and most of the people can’t get that kind of money from friends (unless your friend is Bill Gates). So, what to do? Give your idea away? Give up? Or move to California?

Apparently, we didn’t like those options. And so we entered the contest. I’ll let you know how it goes…