Quick intro: I’m Natalia and this is my blog!
I will be coming here from time to time, to tell you about fascinating (at least to me) stories in the world of tech, innovation, entrepreneurship, healthcare and design. I am a full time MBA student in Boston (switching careers from being a scientist). If you want to know more about me or my professional experience, you can find my LinkedIn here or read my WordPress profile.
Now, let me tell you about Arvind Gupta. Most of the material for this entry was gathered from this amazing Medium article by Po Bronson.
Okay, time to send some thoughts out into the internet.
Arvind Gupta is the founder of IndieBio, a life sciences accelerator in San Francisco, CA. His shop and his career, essentially combine everything I want to talk to you about in this blog: healthcare/biotech, tech, design, business and innovation.
Gupta and Medina Baitemirova. Source here.
The road to biotech entrepreneurship is very long, very expensive and quite suddenly, it goes from four lanes of traffic to one. And this “road” doesn’t include the ideation process. Oh no my friends, the clock doesn’t start until after you have spent years of your life educating yourself, and staying up nights hoping for inspiration to strike.
Let’s cover money first
What was that nifty figure we all learned in graduate school? 10 years and $1 billion dollars to put out a drug? Sure, the payout could be gargantuan but with the odds stacked against you (1 in 10 by the some estimates), is it any wonder that VCs keep their purse strings closed so tightly? Naturally, VCs have to be very, very confident in a venture to drop something in the neighborhood of $5 million up front with very little evidence of any clinical efficacy, or favorable side-effect profile whatsoever.
What about time?
Close to 10 years of training (PhD and post-doc) plus another 4 thrown in while you; a) find funding for your project and, b) test it to the satisfaction of your investors. Now what if I told you Gupta has figured out a way to cut this timeline down by at least 50%?
IndieBio takes this very narrow existing biotech innovation funnel and expands it. This is done by combining design thinking and biotech in a way that, honestly, had me talking to my husband about it in a pace that can only be described as auctioneer-esque. Here is the program at a glance:
IndieBio plucks you from your slow-moving, monk-like PhD or postdoctoral life and drops you in a veritable biotech start-up boot-camp: an ultra-collaborative, goal-obsessed, inescapable full immersion into biotech’s version of a Silicon Valley code sprint.
This place (by biotech standards), moves at breakneck speeds. What is it that makes IndieBio twice as productive as its peers? What specific principles of design thinking and/or management are responsible for these results? And will these translate into another success now that he’s opening another office in NYC? I did a little internet sleuthing and found some theories.
“Rule One: Don’t Die.”
The culture at IndieBio is one of extreme collaboration, productivity, and laser-like focus. Milestones and achievements are of great importance and celebrated often, for instance, a small trophy is given to the “Killer of the Week”, the company that has made the most progress in the past seven days. However, this isn’t a mere participation trophy, the bar is set high for these young start ups.
As Gupta says, “Having a few meetings is not progress. Emailing people is not progress. You should be worried if you didn’t make a major decision this week.” Another Guptaism that is very indicative of the culture goes, “If you have a problem, you have a company. If you have two problems, you’re dead.” These founders are expected to set a goal or milestone that brings in funding and execute it, before promptly moving on to the next one.
Companies exist in such close quarters that competition occurs naturally (as does collaboration); when one company finally gets their hands on a term sheet, they all know it and in turn are motivated to find more leads and set up more meetings. Extremely different from the guarded, individualistic world of academia: one lab against the world.
However, IndieBio doesn’t just feel like a boot-camp. Days close with something called “Journey Talks”, 3 founders are chosen to stand in front of all their peers and speak about themselves, their personal lives, their childhood, what makes them tick. As I’ll cover next in design thinking, this process reflects an important part of the experience which is fostering intimacy, collaboration and emotional support.
“Design is not drawing. It’s just solving problems.”
Gupta’s background is as diverse as the start ups IndieBio spins out; he was previously involved in genetics research, finance, design of consumer electronics and organizational processes. In his 2011 paper published in the Journal of Commercial Biotechnology, Gupta and his coauthors explain just how design thinking can be applied to R&D. Here is a very quick distillation of the article’s findings:
In short, applying design thinking to corporate R&D efforts results in faster innovation stemming from intimate collaboration, a truly diverse team (not just a bunch of different types of biologists), trust, sharing of knowledge and quick testing of ideas without fear of making mistakes.
“Let us teach you how we do it in Silicon Valley.”
This fall, Arvind Gupta will try to recreate the success of his SF accelerator in New York. His reasoning was backed by cold, hard math regarding market saturation of the science venture investment field in both SF and Boston. New York appears to be a largely untapped resource for new ventures, which presents an opportunity for him to have some first-movers advantage. However, this is not why my money is on Gupta.
The tale of his success in New York will be something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Investors already look to IndieBio for clues before they put their money down, their brand is growing. For example Anand Parikh (co-founder of Chronus Health), was able to secure $230,000 in cash in under 10 days when they dropped IndieBio’s name.
My guess is that Gupta’s competition is not far behind, itching to plant their flags in this new world.