What is the key ability of the team behind a successful start-up? And what is the most common mistake start-ups make?
Robert Blazej knows. For many years he has been involved with the life science start-up environment from all sides of the table in the start-up mecca of San Francisco.
He co-founded and led Allopartis Biotechnologies from 2007-2013 which was then acquired by Novozymes. Today he is a partner in the bioscience venture firm Mission Bay Capital and director at MBC Biolabs, the premier life-science incubator in San Francisco.
In other words, he is a very experienced figure, and he recently became the first member of the BII Advisory Board.
We asked him a few questions about venture capital, about building a start-up, and why teams make it.
You have mentioned that some start-ups have too much focus on venture capital. Can you elaborate?
Some entrepreneurs become so focused on raising venture capital that they forget that there are many ways to build a successful company. This is especially true in the Bay Area where we have a very active venture community. VC’s can only invest in a narrow set of business models that have a path to an exit that returns 10x or more of invested capital. However, there is a far greater set of businesses that can be successful and provide valuable products and services to society that are built on enduring revenue streams. Sometimes, new entrepreneurs will interpret lack of VC interest as a sign that they do not have an attractive business. It may very well be a viable business, just not one that fits into the narrow set that VC’s can invest in.
When working with start-ups how do you know if a team will make it or not?
I would say the ability to adapt is key. A team that is actively looking to learn from peers and partners and that has the flexibility to adjust strategy as needed is more likely to succeed. The successful teams just have that entrepreneurial spirit—they are willing to run through walls to make things happen!
You have built a start-up yourself. How would you describe the experience?
It is like jumping off a plane. You can do all the pre-work you want but eventually you just have to commit 100% and jump. Starting a company is a risky endeavor, but you will learn so much—even if it fails. As long as you give it your full effort and work with integrity, it will be a worthy endeavor and a worthwhile bet for your investors.
Which mistakes do you see start-ups make?
Not getting after it quickly enough. Innovation requires pace and it must be maintained throughout the business development process. Time is the biggest risk multiplier. The longer it takes to develop a business, the greater the risk that markets change or competing technologies emerge. It’s also hard to be creative slowly and, ultimately, growing a life-science business is a creative process of technical problem solving, navigating intellectual property landscapes, securing partnership agreements, and revising business strategies. It’s also a lot more fun to be fast!