Choosing Niche Might Be Key to Success for Health Care Accelerators

Note: June Lee, MD, director of CTSI's Catalyst program, comments on University Accelerators like UCSF-CTSI's Catalyst Awards program.

By Mari Edlin, California Healthline Regional Correspondent via CaliforniaHealthline

Health care accelerators in Northern California are developing niches to avoid stepping on each other's toes, according to the author of new research.

Accelerators -- technology-based approaches to traditional health system challenges -- are accelerating. In 2012, there were about two dozen efforts that fit the definition. Now there are 115 in the world, 87 of them in the United States, according to the recent report, "Survival of the Fittest: Health Care Accelerators Evolve Toward Specialization."

The report -- commissioned by the California HealthCare Foundation, which publishes California Healthline -- identifies several Northern California accelerators taking different approaches to the entrepreneurial gauntlet.

"Accelerators serve on a continuum with venture capital firms during the pre-seed stage when developers need funding, guidance, resources -- when a concept has not yet evolved into a product," said Lisa Suennen, author of the CHCF report and managing partner of Venture Valkyrie Consulting.


University Accelerators Play Prominent Role in Bay Area

Kaspar Mossman, director of communications and marketing for QB3, an accelerator founded in 2000 by the University of California-San Francisco, calls competition among accelerators "friendly."

"Everyone wants to be able to claim they provided services that led to a startup's success," he said.

"We are a broad brush accelerator and are considered a UC institute that helps entrepreneurs create successful life sciences projects," Mossman said. During its first six years, QB3 focused on funding academic research without a charter for commercialization.

In 2009, QB3 received $11.3 million dollars from Mission Bay Capital to provide early-stage funding for startups in its program. It currently has an alliance with Pfizer, which provides $3.5 million in funding annually.

QB3 launched Startup in a Box a few years ago to provide mentoring and expertise to entrepreneurs. The program has developed relationships with legal experts to provide incorporation advice, including selecting a business model, setting up an initial capital structure and intellectual property licensing.

QB3 has added a grant-writing workshop offered three times a year and plans to expand services to include advice on hiring, taxes, funding opportunities and pitching new concepts.

Over the past seven years, QB3's Bridging the Gap Awards program -- which provides three annual awards of $125,000 each -- has funded 17 projects, 14 of which have reached the commercialization stage.

UCSF also is involved in another accelerator project, the Catalyst program, which helps UCSF faculty and graduate students bring their technologies beyond the lab.

"Often people in academia make discoveries but have little opportunity to turn them into products to benefit others," said June Lee, director of early translational research at the Clinical and Translational Science Institute and a professor in the School of Medicine at UCSF.

"We serve as a focused accelerator, as a bridge to commercialization by uniting ideas, know-how and resources. We help these newly developed technologies reach maturation to justify funding," she said.

Although both QB3 and the Catalyst program are both connected with UCSF, there is not much overlap between the two.

"We often cross paths with the same technologies but usually at a different stage in the lifecycle of the technology," she said. "We at Catalyst are more involved when the technology is still in the university, while QB3 engages once the technology is out-licensed from the university."

The Catalyst Awards program supports researchers through funding, one-on-one consultation and partnerships with business consultants.

The UCSF translational science institute also developed Lean LaunchPad for Life Sciences & Healthcare, a 10-week course offering entrepreneurial training that teaches scientists and clinicians how to assess whether their ideas or technologies can hold up as a business.

Since its inception in 2010, Catalyst has supported more than 100 technologies with the help of corporate sponsors.

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