INSIGHTS | 19/07/2021

Tailored life science mentoring that helps start-up founders to sleep at night

As part of the Accelerate@Babraham initiative, established companies on the Babraham Research Campus, and within the wider Cambridge Cluster, provide both business and scientific mentorships to the winning group of life science start-ups chosen to take part in Accelerate@Babraham’s five month bio-entrepreneurial programme.

Above: Companies present at Accelerate@Babraham.

These supportive alliances help the young ventures to navigate the nucleation and early growth phases of their enterprises, and, for the mentors, it offers a way to engage with emerging companies at an early stage and help to develop up-and-coming talent.

Speaking with a mentor and mentee from one of this year’s Accelerate@Babraham cohort, we explored the benefits of a tailored mentoring programme with the CTO of start-up ConcR, Matthew Griffiths, and Nicholas Stern from Cambridge Partners.

Cambridge Partners provides strategic finance and management consultancy services to the biotech and life science industry, looking after clients from inception all the way through to some kind of liquidity event – helping them to prepare for these transactions as well as growth. Each of its specialist advisors; Chris Poole, Lisa Thornton and Nicholas Stern bring a separate, expert skill set.

Getting your start-up ducks in a row early on

Cambridge Partners’ Nicholas Stern says the team feels fortunate to have had involvement in the Accelerate@Babraham initiative from the beginning: “We’ve been part of each of the three cohorts so far and we know that is time well invested. We want to make sure that we give the best quality advice and the right level of support. That’s why the Accelerate@Babraham mentoring programme works so well; it allows us to meet young companies and give them the advice they need when they need it most.

“It’s typically at this early stage where, when you get it right, it can make a massive difference to the success for a company. What we don’t want is for start-ups to have headaches down the line with articulation, shareholder, capital structure, or fundraising issues; if we don’t get those things correct at the beginning you risk a battle in trying to get people aligned with what you do.”

He adds: “There are a lot of start-ups in Cambridge needing advice and finance so it’s important to make sure we are basing our time on companies that we can genuinely add the most value to. As with prior years, the 2020 Accelerate@Babraham cohort were interesting and innovative in their own ways. One of the advantages of ConcR’s business is that there’s a huge amount of capacity in terms of the ability to grow the business. It’s a great concept which straddles tech, biotech and life sciences, so it’s an attractive and exciting business from that respect.”

"We know it is time well invested"

ConcR uses its custom developed software, combining multiple different approaches and data sources together into a single holistic approach, for modelling tumour progression. It offers services to both clinicians and pharmaceutical companies looking to increase the value of their novel oncology therapeutics.

Applying rigor to first draft financial models

Nicholas says: “Matthew at ConcR had already built his own financial model and was in a good place, so our role was around refining, supporting and applying rigor to what was already produced. Investors have a specific way they want to see financial modelling and they have expectations, if things are presented to them in a different way it can put them off a little, so we helped to hone ConcR’s model and its structure by challenging Matthew to ensure the assumptions stood up to scrutiny.

“Ultimately an investor is going to look at the numbers, they will look at the financial projections, but what they want to assess is whether or not those assumptions are reasonable and well thought out, that they have not missed any of the major components, for example, if staff costs have been accounted for properly.”

The second major element that Cambridge Partners helped ConcR with is the fundraising strategy and how you go to your investor market.

Nicholas says: “Investors have a slightly different lens depending on if they see you as a tech company or a biotech company. With tech you very much look at the people, whereas in biotech, it’s much more focussed around the IP and the intellectual know-how.”

Right: ConcR unifies the universe’s oncology data in one platform.

Solving the challenges which keep you up at night

ConcR’s CTO, Matthew Griffiths, comes from a scientific background, not a financial one, and says that the technical side of things is straightforward for him compared to the operational side of running a company: “Financial models, legals and appearing credible to investors with a cohesive story used to keep me up at night! Being able to just talk to Nicholas when I had worries was really useful in helping me to build confidence instead of assessing the scope of my ignorance across vast areas, because when you are starting up a company you can’t possibly know everything that you need to know and do.”

He feels that ConcR is in a new space of biotech versus tech and that the way that things work is different compared to a lot of companies: “Nicholas was able to effectively bridge the gap and provide that crucial bespoke advice which we really needed for our company. He has seen this a hundred times before and led all sorts of companies through varied processes. He helped to complete ConcR’s executive level strategy and how that ties into our financial model and the investments that come in.” 

Nicholas adds: “What I find exciting about ConcR is that Matthew clearly understands and can grasp all of the concepts quickly, which we shouldn’t underestimate. The challenge is making sure that he knows what he doesn’t know so that he is aware of the things that might trip him up; and that’s what Cambridge Partners is here for.”

Growing into a success story

ConcR is halfway through a funding round and, as a result of that financing, is now able to expand the team. Matthew says: “We are hiring three team members; a Chief Medical Officer, Business Development Consultant, and a Software Developer. And looking into the longer term we want to build out our technology with sample access for various partners to start generating our own dataset.

“We are also working with two clinical trials and, in parallel to that, we would like to build partnerships in the pre-clinical space. So, we are looking to find partners primarily in DNA damage response, which is a therapy area for oncology, to offer our predictive services to identify better biomarkers to help them accelerate their transition from preclinical development to clinical trials. On the basis of these strands of activity, we are working towards raising a seed round at the start of 2022.”

Nicholas says that, with the right support, each of this year’s cohort will grow into their own success story: “Everyone has a different view as to what they think a successful business is.  The great thing about Accelerate@Babraham is the myriad of different success stories we’ve seen.

“The way the initiative is run means that the start-ups are able to access quality advice across important disciplines like legal, insurance, IP, and health and safety. For us, this means we know that due diligence has been done and, for the early stage ventures, they can take comfort that the advice they are getting is of real value.

“Three quarters of the battle is having the right network to open the doors to the right companies. The Babraham Research Campus offers this and is great at giving those individuals the ability to dot their i’s and cross their t’s, so that when they do grow, they are growing in a much more focussed and professional way.”