As Patrick O’Brien, Programme Manager for our angel-investing programme, Angels in MedCity, heads overseas for new opportunities, we spoke with him about his experience leading the programme that connects life sciences entrepreneurs and angel investors.
What did your role involve?
My role as Programme Manager involves meeting with companies looking for investment to scope out their business idea, and following a stringent selection process, providing support with their strategy, direction, and pitching skills, to get them investment-ready. I also met with investors to find out what they are passionate about, and help to answer any questions they may have about the life sciences sector and its opportunities.
Along with our partners, LBA, I plan the events and workshops designed to bring high-potential companies together with enthusiastic investors, by finding venues and sponsors, and most importantly, getting the right people in the room.
How many companies have Angels in MedCity worked with over the past two years?
We have supported over 50 companies to pitch for investment from our community of investors. We have held eight pitching events and nine investor workshops – all in all over 400 companies have approached us. We work with a huge range of companies from across sectors; from biotech, digital health, pharma, and drug discovery.
Which companies were you most excited by during your time at MedCity?
Jellagen has always interested me; they developed a cool technique to extract collagen from jellyfish, which there is plenty of, for use in the regenerative medicine research markets. It’s a lot cheaper to produce and it’s not immunogenic. They approached us for funding via our partner, London Business Angels, and we helped them to raise £1.5m to expand their processing capacity. They have since opened a new manufacturing site in Cardiff and Sarah was invited to cut the ribbon.
Another one is mOm Incubators, who have developed inflatable incubators for premature babies, to provide a sterile, electronically-controlled environment, and ultimately reduce infant deaths. It was born out of the Syrian refugee crisis, and the great thing is that they cost a fraction of standard incubators, less than £1000. They are portable and cheap, which is great for rural or poorer areas.
Medtech and digital health companies particularly interest me as it is shorter term to commercialisation, so you get to see the product reach the patient quicker.
How much have you helped companies to raise? And what are the key successes to come out of this?
We have helped 18 companies to raise over £14m so far. StepJockey raised their seed round with us in early 2015 and their Smart Signs and app which get people active and use the stairs instead of the lift can now be seen in many buildings around the UK, including at City Hall.
Jupiter Diagnostics works in the diagnostics market, developing a point-of-care blood testing device which will allow rapid tests for many different biomarkers. They pitched in early 2016 for their Series A and our angels were excited. They closed a follow-on round in 2017 to further drive the business and Jupiter has made leaps in their development since allowing market entry in the coming years.
Electrospinning completed a second round of funding with us and are really progressing; they are currently building a pipeline of regenerative-device customers and providing electrospun materials for clinical development programmes and products.
What are your top tips for those looking to invest and companies looking for investment?
For investors, it would be to do your due diligence and build a portfolio – don’t put all your cards in to one or two companies. And if you can’t be involved with your companies on a daily basis, align yourself with a strong lead angel to keep in touch with to keep them on right track.
For budding entrepreneurs, too often I see a great idea that doesn’t have a clear thought-out business plan. A human element to the story is hugely beneficial; you have to remember that some of the investors are not life sciences experts, so if you can get across what you are developing in human terms it really helps. You must be able to get across your business idea to everyone from a person on the street, to a CEO in a boardroom.
Angels in MedCity partnered with Capital Cell earlier this year – is crowdfunding the way life sciences investing is going?
Having Capital Cell on board has been great for us as it helps to introduce our network of business angels to new and exciting investment opportunities, whilst presenting entrepreneurs to a specialist investor network.
Crowdfunding is bringing more money in to the sector, and it is a quicker way to find investors, but for some, the human element is needed. Especially with medical businesses it can be harder to understand what exactly the company does. There are pros and cons for live pitching events and angel groups vs doing it online. The great thing is that both go hand in hand very well, so the collaboration with Capital Cell made sense.
Do you think Brexit has/is affecting angel investment into life sciences?
We haven’t seen this so far. The science coming out of the universities and companies is still of such high quality here, the supporting ecosystem has been built here over decades and and this will likely stay that way. Investors have stayed in the region and, particularly those in the tech sectors, are increasingly looking to life sciences for their next project. We also have great tax systems here that de-risk investments. You can’t take that away.
What are the next steps for Angels in MedCity?
The next pitching event is on 15 November, offering business angels the chance to meet and invest in six healthcare and life sciences start-ups. We will also be hosting an event in Cambridge next year and we are looking to build a platform for investors to review and get in touch with companies post-pitching events.
Stay up to date on Angels in MedCity here: http://www.angelsinmedcity.org.uk/