A challenge that anyone working to bring new technology, therapies, or approaches from proof of concept to clinic implementation is funding. I have been tracking the concept of crowd funding for a number of years, but have not seen many platforms that offer the opportunity to raise funding to a degree that will really make a difference.
So, I was enthusiastic when I met Pilar Puig Sàrries and learned about the work she is doing a Capital Cell, a crowdfunding platform specializing in the life sciences. She is the head the BioExpert Network and life sciences analytics at Capital Cell and passionate about her work to help startups in the life sciences bridge the translational gap.
How did you start doing what you are doing now?
During my PhD in molecular biology I felt uncertain about becoming a Spanish researcher because in Spain every 1-3 years you need to apply for further support for your research which means no stability.
So, during my PhD I began my first startup. It was an online/offline game for couples. I was able to sell 1.000 games after closing a successful crowdfunding campaign, which in my mind was pretty successful. But I also had to write my thesis and I also had a big interest in travel.
After my PhD I took a 9 month trip to South America and those 9 months were the happiest time of my life. When I came back, I knew that I didn't want to keep doing research, so it seemed ideal to do something related to science, but also related to entrepreneurship. I was fortunate to find an opportunity at Capital Cell as a life science analyst.
What do you do at Capital Cell?
Capital cell is a start-up which means anyone working there has many roles. My job title is life science analyst, but I also do business development for clients such as helping them with their business models and building their pitch. We also help them look for investors as well. I also produce content for the website. Last year with the CEO of Capital Cell we created the BioExpert Network which is a network of experts who help us evaluate and select companies to be included in our crowdfunding platform.
Can you explain a bit about the philosophy behind Capital Cell and how it works?
Capital Cell is the first equity crowdfunding specialized in life sciences in Europe. And since last September, we are also operating in the UK.
We help companies in the life science sector get funded. Most of them are in the ‘valley of death’, which is also called the translational gap. They may have proof of concept, but need capital to continue to get scientific validation. We are now working with some companies that are further along, but still need to have some more funding before approaching VCs.
Here in Spain it's super complicated for companies to overcome the translational gap. Capital Cell exists to help them bridge this gap. It's probably something like 90% of life science startups do not survive. Their biggest challenge is funding. It is an even bigger challenge to change the society’s perceptions about investment. Instead of leaving the money in the bank, you can use your money to help develop projects that have also a social impact.
We always look for companies that can be scalable and have innovative products. Most of them are medical device, diagnostics and drug discovery companies. I feel very lucky do the work I do because when I see the innovative products that companies we are supporting at Capital Cell are developing my jaw drops. It's almost science fiction.
So far, we have closed 23 funding rounds and all of those companies are still active. And last August we had the first equity crowdfunding exit in Spain. It was a company we began supporting 2 years ago.
What would you say is the most important characteristic of companies you support that makes them successful?
Most of the time it is the team. When you talk with companies you can see if they have the ambition, and the right mindset. It is important that they have their goals well-defined and clear.
How do you select which companies to support?
We have several steps we use to identify which companies are likely to be successful. One of the most important is the evaluation and advice of our BioExpert Network. This is a network of over 900 experts from 24 countries that we established in January 2017. The network consists of experts from multiple disciplines who review company pitch decks and give feedback. With that advice, we decide if we support a company or not.
How do you support companies?
First, for each project brought to the BioExpert Network there is a project specific forum where experts provide feedback and companies can interact with them. For those that are selected for a crowdfunding campaign, we provide advice on how to improve the messaging around their unique selling points, we help them promote their investment round through a marketing strategy, we give visibility to their investment opportunity among a large network of investors…
Do companies pay for that advice?
No. Companies only pay a fee if they close their round successfully.
Regarding the feedback that companies receive from the experts, it is interesting to point that these experts provide their advice out of general interest and to keep up to date on what is happening. They do get investment credits for each evaluation they complete, which they can apply to crowd funding rounds. The consulting we provide to the companies is free.
Crowdfunding as the ‘long tail’ of collaboration for reducing the translational gap
One of the more exciting aspects of the internet and the hyper connected society we now live in is that collaborations can be very broad with a ‘long tail’ of many people with diverse backgrounds.
Funding is one of the key enablers for achieving scientific validation life science innovations and scientific validation is one of the core elements you need to bridge the translational gap.
Traditionally funding for life science startups has been the realm of investors and grant funding agencies. Crowdfunding platforms like Capital Cell provide the opportunity for everyone to help reduce the translational gap and change the future of medicine.
Action steps for reducing the Translational Gap
1. If you have expertise in the life sciences, join the BioExpert Network.
2. No matter what your background, take a look at the projects on Capital Cell and consider investing in the future of medicine
If you would like to think together about other ways to reduce the translational gap, get in touch. Together we can change the future of medicine.