Episode 8 - SBIRLand Interview with Becky Beattie from LaunchBIO (Transcript)

Dr. Nate Warren:  Hello from SBIRLand. I’m Nate Warren with Eva Garland Consulting, and today I’m joined by Becky Beattie. She is a founding member and CEO at LaunchBio, which is a nonprofit organization that works to support life science and biotech companies. So, welcome, Becky. We’re glad to have you.

Becky Beattie:  Thank you, Nate. I’m happy to be here.

Dr. Warren:  First off –  exciting news for LaunchBio. The US Economic Development Administration recently announced that LaunchBio is set to receive funding from its Build to Scale Grant Program. Can you tell us a little bit more about what LaunchBio is planning to use these funds to accomplish?

Ms. Beattie:  Yes, and thank you. We’re pleased as an organization. We’ve had grants in the past, but this is a big step forward for us. And we were awarded on my birthday, October 1st. So it was a fun call to get for our team and all of our partners in North Texas. Our vision for this three-year, venture build grant is to leverage and expand and coordinate existing resources to transform North Texas into a globally recognized entrepreneurial ecosystem. And, as the backbone organization with experience in building entrepreneurial ecosystems, LaunchBio will lead established local partners and bring in national partners and transform what is the newly developed Biotech+ Hub at Pegasus Park into what we’re calling our one-stop shop for enabling early-stage life science and biotech companies to develop and advance their technologies. So, in a nutshell, that is what we’re going to be busy doing in North Texas over the next three years.

Dr. Warren:  That’s very exciting. Can you speak to the broader mission of LaunchBio and describe your role in the organization?

Ms. Beattie:  Yes. LaunchBio is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. We were created five years ago to identify, counsel, and support high-growth, high-impact life science companies. We started in San Diego as the nonprofit partner to BioLabs, which is a coworking space for early stage life science companies. Now, we have grown to have a national presence alongside BioLabs, in many cases into major biotech hubs. We primarily carry out our mission through educational programming and networking opportunities focused on connecting biotech innovators with investors, talent, and resources to aid in their success.

Ms. Beattie:  As far as my role goes, and as in many nonprofits, we all wear multiple hats and do many jobs at once, but my primary focus is to oversee operations, manage the finances, and set the strategic vision for the organization.

Dr. Warren:  That’s great. Yeah, many hats. I’m sure we all feel like that. So, you mentioned North Texas is an area that you’re starting to work in a little bit more with the recent grant funding. You’re quite unique as a biotech support organization in that you have national reach. What differences do you see among the different startup ecosystems across the US – for instance, Boston, Dallas, San Diego, which you mentioned?

Ms. Beattie:  Well, if you take a step back and look at what the major hubs are and what components comprise those hubs – Boston being number one (or Cambridge, more specifically), along with San Francisco, and San Diego – I guess they would be considered the top of a list for largest and most prominent biotech hubs. Thinking about the key elements necessary to achieve a critical mass of companies within specific regions, the main factors are capital (so, that’s both government grant funding and investor funding), talent, infrastructure to house all of the work, and community resources. The talent and company formation often comes out of universities, and that then draws capital, and the capital then fuels innovation, and then that growth requires more real estate space.

Ms. Beattie:  And really, the proximity of how this is all happening is a key differentiating factor between hubs. And this is best visualized in Cambridge where all of this is happening within walking distance. In San Francisco, it’s a 7×7 mile city, so all of this is happening closely. San Diego as well has a centralized life science activity center, if you will. So, when you look at secondary markets or emerging markets that are really taking a lead right now, like Dallas, the perfect example is Biotech+ Hub at Pegasus Park in Dallas or North Texas. It is intentionally creating a centralized location for scientific founders to access the tools they need and really creating these. I visualize it like collisions; these intentional collisions, meetings, and conversations that can happen amongst various partners – whether they are investors, mentors, the entrepreneurs themselves, industry profits, trade associations, students – are a big part of this and academic institutions. So, when we look at other hubs that are emerging, I think it’s important to look at how many key ingredients they have and what they need to coalesce the elements that are there.

Dr. Warren:  I love that word: key ingredients. That’s a really interesting way to think about it. That’s great. What sorts of specific sources or programs does LaunchBio bring to a startup business in order to help them move forward, move a technology forward, and help them succeed?

Ms. Beattie:  Well, pre-pandemic, we were hosting large monthly events in San Diego, in Durham, in Boston, in San Francisco, and were starting to expand into LA and New York. And then March 2020 hit. I think we all know that will be a date in all of our minds when things changed, perhaps forever, and all of these events that we planned months and months in advance had to move online into the world of Zoom and Webinars. Fast forward to today, we found that this virtual environment was a little bit of a silver lining and allowed us to expand our audience outside of the core markets that we are operating in. We’re still seeing high registrations at these events and repeat views on the recordings, which we weren’t doing before when we were live.

Ms. Beattie:  So, our plan this year is really to continue with these national webinar series while also returning to in-person events across the country. Our main program could be categorized as the national webinar series “Larger Than Life Science.” It’s really designed to highlight the best minds and ideas in our industry and create opportunities for connections amongst life science startups and executives.

Ms. Beattie:  We launched, as of last year, another series called “Let’s Talk About”, which explores the experiences of people of color and life sciences with the goal of uncovering issues of race and awareness and providing actionable takeaways, which is a big part of our organization. We want you to leave with next steps and tools to aid you in your success. So, the goal with “Let’s Talk About” is to create or help to create a more inclusive industry that we’re operating in.

Ms. Beattie:  “Founder Circle”, which we also launched during pandemic times, is a peer advisory forum for life science founders and C-level executives. You apply to participate. It’s a small group forum and the discussions are facilitated by industry experts that we bring in, and different investment professionals, who talk about specific challenges that early-stage founders face. We will be carrying those out, both virtually and in person, this year.

Ms. Beattie:  And finally, “Invest in Cures,” which is a full-day forum. We feature investment professionals from national disease foundations and disease-focused venture funds who are focusing their investment philosophies, we figure out how our community can interact with them and how they could work together, and we curate one-on-one meetings with the venture arms of these foundations. So, our intention and our mission is to create connections and opportunities and help our startup companies and community fund their innovations. Those are the main ways that we do it.

Dr. Warren:  That’s great. That sounds like something for everyone, certainly. Outside of the obvious associated with the pandemic, what are some of the biggest challenges that you see facing small businesses in biotech? And do you have any advice for these business owners and innovators for overcoming these challenges?

Ms. Beattie:  Well, starting any company is challenging. I think it’s around 10% of startups that actually make it, and it’s even harder for life science companies because you think about their products, which are launched in years not months, right? So, from my perspective, and I certainly don’t think I’m the expert, my job is to put the experts in the room to help the founders and the companies, but it seems like probably one of the biggest challenges is a flawed financial strategy or your plan for use of funds to get to the next funding stage. Really, this is where government grants can play an essential role in creating that option for non-dilutive funding, and we can talk about that later, but lack of space – lab space – is certainly another big challenge; especially right now, there’s a run on lab space. This is the beauty, and really the benefit, of BioLabs where you can lease one bench at a time with flexible terms and grow as you need to. There are other options that are popping up, too, for flexible lab space, which is great.

Ms. Beattie:  At this particular moment in time, I think talent shortage is a big challenge. Finding the right talent at the right price is critical to your startup operations. And, in fact, we’re hosting a national webinar to discuss strategies for startup hiring on February 17th. That’s certainly a challenge right now. I also think that, when you’re a scientist and you’re working on your science, there sometimes could be an over emphasis on the science. And, from the beginning, asking and figuring out if your commercialization plan is feasible is really critical. Is there a market for your product that you want to create? What are the risks involved, both in the research and development? If it’s something that will be eventually manufactured, who and what partners are playing into that? Also, competition – are there other companies developing similar technologies? Do you have good partners that help you look at the IP landscape?

Ms. Beattie:  So, it’s very complicated. I don’t envy our startup founders. I’m really empathetic and supportive and want to help them get to the next stage, because the challenges are many, but the rewards are great; and really, at the end of the day, the goal is to create better patient outcomes is really what it’s all about.

Dr. Warren:  Yeah. I agree with all that. I think that one thing that I see in my work with clients, scientists specifically, it’s trying to get them to tell their story in a product-focused way. I think that’s a big change for many coming from an academic or scientific background.

Ms. Beattie:  Absolutely.

Dr. Warren:  So, you mentioned non-dilutive funding. I’m thinking of the SBIR/STTR program, of course, here on SBIRLand. How do you see that program fitting within an overall funding strategy for early-stage companies? And do you have any success stories that LaunchBio was perhaps a part of?

Ms. Beattie:  Yeah. Like what we were just talking about, and as we all know in this industry, securing funding is really one of the biggest challenges for a startup. And part of our job is to make entrepreneurs aware of all the potential funding sources available to them. The SBIR and STTR grant programs were obviously created to stimulate high-tech innovation and really foster entrepreneurship. When you think about the amount of funding that’s available, it’s a large amount.  I think for this year it’s around, you could probably tell me better, $3 billion on an annual basis that is being put into these programs.

Dr. Warren:  It’s a big number.

Ms. Beattie:  It’s a big number. There’s a lot of money available and this could all be used to develop your business without giving up equity or assuming debt, right? So, this non-dilutive funding option is absolutely critical in providing first funding for that proof of concept and then also creating credibility for what you’re doing – national recognition. And then, even more importantly, this type of funding can help attract follow-on financing and licensing deals, which are again critical for startups in these early stages.

Dr. Warren:  Absolutely. So, moving forward – we’re off to a good start in 2022 – what are some of the other priorities that LaunchBio has on the table for the rest of the year?

Ms. Beattie:  Well, we’re optimistic. It’s been a challenging couple years for all of us in lots of different ways, but we are optimistic. We have great partners. We are serving a great cause, and one of our priorities this year is planning to return to in-person work. Our big goal is to continue to monitor local health guidelines so we can provide high-value networking opportunities in the safest environment. And so, we’re excited. We’re going to plan for the best and adjust as needed, but that’s a top priority for us. Of course, this is the first year of our EDA Build to Scale Grant, so execution and management of our efforts in North Texas are a high priority.

Ms. Beattie:  And always, as a nonprofit, coming back to your original mission that you started with and staying mission focused – a priority that was set in place at the inception of the organization and really remains our number one priority –  is to help connect and educate early-stage life science entrepreneurs, to the best of our ability so the important science that they’re working on can reach patients and, ultimately, have a positive impact on society. We will remain mission focused and put our heads down and do our work.

Dr. Warren:  That’s great. If you are someone that is getting a biotech startup business off the ground and want to learn more about how LaunchBio can help your company, you can check out launchbio.org. Becky, we appreciate you joining us so much today on SBIRLand and look forward to seeing what LaunchBio is up to in the coming year.

Ms. Beattie:  Thank you, Nate. I appreciate your time. And it was great to have this conversation.