U of T professor shares tips to her team’s commercialization success
When it comes to bringing research from the lab to the market, the University of Toronto’s Dr. Shana Kelley knows firsthand what it takes. She’s co-founder of Xagenic, a MaRS Innovation and U of T start-up company that’s developed the first lab-free molecular diagnostic platform with a 20-minute time-to-result based on her research with fellow U of T colleague Professor Edward Sargent.
In her guest blog post for the Ministry of Research and Innovation, Kelley outlines what she’s learned through her experience in the commercialization process (emphasis ours):
1. When ready to commercialize, look in your own backyard for investment and support
When the Xagenic technology was mature enough to consider commercialization, we started to call venture investors all over the world to see if we could get them to back the company. We always got the meetings we wanted, and lots of enthusiasm and encouragement, but it was difficult to get people engaged. We were fortunate to get seed funding from a group of local organizations including MaRS Innovation, Ontario Institute for Cancer Research, the Innovation Acceleration Fund (IAF), and Ontario Centres of Excellence and then finally found the group that would eventually be our Series A lead investors, CTI Life Sciences Fund.
With CTI, we immediately got the traction we had been looking for from a venture investor that indicated genuine interest in the company. When we later made the rounds for the Series B investment outside of Canada, we repeatedly heard the comment: “we’re glad to see you could do the Series A in your own backyard.”
When I probed about why this was important, I found that the investment community thinks it is important to have your early investors as close geographically as possible. The level of interaction when a company gets off the group needs to be fairly intense — being geographically closer helps entrepreneurs and investors keep in better contact. This is definitely not a hard-and-fast rule, but I found it interesting that many investors had this perception. And it creates a particular challenge for Canadian companies given how little venture capital is available locally!
2. Time is of the essence
When working to bring a new technology to market, there’s lots that can go wrong. We’ve found that one of the keys to success is having a Plan A, Plan B, Plan C, Plan D, etc., that is well thought out in advance. The commercialization process is compressed and moves about 10 times the normal speed. So, this can be really challenging to keep up with. There is a lot of risk and a lot of time-related risk that can come back to bite you. So it’s critical to decide when Plan A is not working, and to have a solid back-up to move to without losing too much time.
For us, it was also very beneficial to stay in the university setting as along as possible to really get the bugs out, to solidify our core team, refine our business plan and get our tech transfer in place. Remaining close to the University of Toronto has been helpful throughout the company’s history. The facilities available there have helped us mitigate some of those time-related risks.
To read the rest of Kelley’s guest blog post on the Ministry of Research and Innovation website, click here.
Posted by Kailee Travis, writer and communications assistant.