OHSU Startup Symposium Brings Health Investors and Entrepreneurs Together

April 6, 2016

The 4th annual OHSU Startup Symposium kicked off last week with an ambitious goal: to connect the Pacific Northwest life science ecosystem, from Portland to Seattle and Vancouver BC. Event organizer Abhijit Banerjee said the dream of OHSU is to make the Northwest a destination for innovation and investment in health and life sciences. According to Banerjee, OHSU has launched six startups in 2016 and announced strategic partnerships with Intel, GE Healthcare and Welch-Allyn, among others.

Cambia Grove Executive Director Nicole Bell, who leads the Cambia Grove space in Seattle created with a similar purpose to convene and catalyze the health innovation sector, was part of a panel of judges for one of the startup pitches at the Symposium. Matt Karls from Cambia’s strategic investment team participated in another panel discussion about investing strategies.

Discussing Cambia’s investment approach, Karls said, “We’re stage agnostic and our model is flexible. The goal of our investment strategy is to invest in companies that impact people’s lives and make their health care experiences easier and more economically sustainable.” He added that because of Cambia’s Cause-driven strategy, there is a mandate to add value not just in capital but in “rolling up our sleeves and working with management. We’ll be around for the long term and are partner you can call on the weekend.”

Another panel which featured primarily pharma-related investors looked at the evolving role of strategic corporate investors in health care innovation.

Like Cambia, these strategic corporate investors look at health care investing differently than traditional VCs. Some like Takeda of Japan don’t manage a fund but instead invest in a portfolio of 15-18 companies that may eventually be absorbed into the company. Others like Boehringer Ingelheim Venture Fund of Germany, which has made 16 investments over the past five years, partner with other institutional investors and corporate ventures to invest in the “white space” areas where their parent company is not active.

Advice from health care investors at the Symposium to entrepreneurs:

  • Be focused in your ask. Define if you’re looking for research partnership, venture investment, partnership on a pilot program. Know what you want to maximize your success. Know your audience.

  • Use your academic background strategically. Today, there is a lot of emphasis on accessing innovation from external sources and an appetite to partner on technology transfer. It’s a good time to be an entrepreneur coming from academia.

  • Do your own due diligence on prospective investors. Bring challenging topics to investors, ask them tough questions, do research and see what their investment track record looks like. Talk with other companies they’ve invested in, understand how they behave and align expectations.

  • Pitch as much as you can. Be honest with yourself. Everyone thinks his or her idea is the most beautiful baby. Try a different approach. There can be multiple paths and different stories.

Valuation is more an art than a science. Valuation is derived from a variety of factors, including the market, the sector, how you fit, who’s on your board, what is your niche. As Karls summed up the discussion, “When I was a kid trading baseball cards, my dad reminded me that something’s worth exactly how much someone will pay you for it. There’s a lot you can do to narrow the boundary line, i.e. your size, risk adjustments, future potential. But the bottom line is you’re worth what someone will pay.”

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