Startups: Words from the Trenches – Part 7

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Each year OTT helps launch high-quality start-up companies based on discoveries made by Emory faculty or staff. Over the past few months, OTT set out to interview a selection of the entrepreneurs and VCs we have worked with and pick their brains about what it takes to make a successful startup venture.

  • To visit Part 1: here

  • To visit Part 2: here

  • To visit Part 3: here

  • To visit Part 4: here

  • To visit Part 5: here

  • To visit Part 6: here

What key items do you feel contribute to a successful startup?

Stephen Snowdy (CEO; Venture Advisory Board Member at Emory University): In medical science startups, it is critical to have the best people possible analyzing and vetting the technology, the best people possible building the opportunity into a fundable story, and the best people possible selling the opportunity to funding sources; in other words, human capital is just as important as all of the science and medical business issues and is one of the most difficult resources to build. Extreme capital efficiency is also critical in the early stages owing to the dearth of early-stage funding that is available. Objectivity around decision-making is absolutely key.

When and how did you plan for an exit?Agreement Graphic

Daniel White (President & CEO of the joint Emory/Georgia Tech start-up Clearside Biomedical): Exits are very hard to come by, but by definition, an entrepreneur should be thinking about timing for an exit from day one. There’s no telling when but be prepared to walk through the exit door when the opportunity arises and do not be too picky when the time arises.

Why do you suppose so many startups fail?

Stephen Snowdy: In the medical sciences, the scientific risks in startups is enormous; Mother Nature has reserved her greatest mysteries, surprises, and humor for those who wish to manipulate the human body’s natural course. Some of the more controllable reasons for failure are emotional attachment to the technology, not having the right people in place to make critical decisions and to sell the story, capital inefficiency that occurs too early in the life cycle (e.g., paying for an office and an assistant before one even validates whether the technology is possible), and failure to talk to all of the stakeholders before making decisions, such as the end user, the end payer, and others affected by the entry into the market of a new technology.

Tom Callaway (Life Science Partner Founder, President): What it really comes down to is unrealistic expectations of the founder regarding valuation and his or her own leadership skills as well as a lack of knowing when to step back and accept help from others.