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Funding Tips for Startup Ventures

Entre­pre­neurs and startup hope­fuls looking to make an impact in the health sci­ences industry received funding tips from ven­ture cap­i­tal­ists and angel investors in a panel dis­cus­sion last week at North­eastern University. 


March 17, 2014

Peter Barrett, PhD’79, partner at Atlas Ventures, speaks to attendees at the Health Sciences Entrepreneurs program. Photo by Mariah Tauger.

Entre­pre­neurs and startup hope­fuls looking to make an impact in the health sci­ences industry received funding tips from ven­ture cap­i­tal­ists and angel investors in a panel dis­cus­sion last week at North­eastern University. 

The event, held Wednesday in West Vil­lage F, was hosted by the university’s Health Sci­ences Entre­pre­neurs pro­gram, an alumni group ded­i­cated to fos­tering entre­pre­neur­ship in the rapidly evolving world of health care. The pro­gram was founded in 2005 by Joseph Fleming, PAH’70, MS’71, and a small group of entre­pre­neurs who wanted to teach stu­dents about entre­pre­neur­ship. It launched its mentor pro­gram in 2010; since then, about 30 com­pa­nies have offered their exper­tise and guid­ance to North­eastern stu­dents, fac­ulty, and alumni.  

“We’ve attempted tonight to run the gambit on dif­ferent kinds of financing,” Fleming noted in his intro­duc­tory remarks. He added that he’s proud of the role the Health Sci­ences Entre­pre­neurs pro­gram plays in Northeastern’s entre­pre­neurial ecosystem. “There is a lot going on here,” he said.  

In her opening remarks, Bouvé Col­lege of Health Sci­ences Dean Terry Fulmer noted that the event would fea­ture a range of cre­ative thinking and pow­erful advice on how star­tups can iden­tify and con­nect with viable investors. 

The pan­elists, for their part, deliv­ered on that promise. They com­prised Tracey Doden­hoff, founding director of Northeastern’s Center for Research Inno­va­tion; Jane Mason, vice pres­i­dent of the Cam­bridge Trust Company’s inno­va­tion banking group; Ben Lit­tauer, an active angel investor; and Peter Bar­rett, PhD’79, a partner at the early-​​stage ven­ture cap­ital firm Atlas Ven­tures. Bar­rett received his doc­torate in chem­istry from North­eastern, and he is vice chair of the Bar­nett Insti­tute of Chem­ical and Bio­log­ical Analysis Advi­sory Board. 

The pan­elists’ pre­sen­ta­tions high­lighted the kinds of invest­ment oppor­tu­ni­ties entre­pre­neurs in dif­ferent stages of the devel­op­ment process should seek; the dif­fer­ence between funding from angel investors and ven­ture cap­i­tal­ists; and the sup­port the Center for Research Inno­va­tion can offer North­eastern ventures.

A common theme echoed throughout the evening was that bud­ding entre­pre­neurs to do their home­work on the market they’re entering and make sure their product or ser­vice meets a need. “Thinking cre­atively about the market is really impor­tant,” Doden­hoff said. “When you look under the radar screen, you may find things that may keep you from going to the market in the direc­tion you are talking about. But you also may find some allies.”

In her pre­sen­ta­tion, Doden­hoff offered a variety of tips for searching for financing and devel­op­ment. She said it’s impor­tant that ven­tures think hard about their busi­ness model and that CRI has a range of ser­vices to help them con­nect with investors, large cor­po­ra­tions, and poten­tial busi­ness partners. 

North­eastern offers a range of pro­grams and resources that together serve as ecosystem that fos­ters the entre­pre­neurial spirit of its stu­dents, fac­ulty, and alumni and offers assis­tance through a number of dif­ferent orga­ni­za­tions, including the Center for Research Inno­va­tion, the Center for Entre­pre­neur­ship Edu­ca­tion, and IDEA, the student-​​led ven­ture accelerator. 

During the Q-​​and-​​A fol­lowing the pre­sen­ta­tions, Lit­tauer and Bar­rett were asked what their opin­ions are on “the lean startup” method pro­posed by entre­pre­neur and New York Times best­selling author Eric Ries in 2011. Ries believes if star­tups focus on iter­a­tive product releases to meet the needs of early cus­tomers, then they can reduce market risk and the need for out­side capital. 

Even though they rep­re­sent dif­ferent investing oppor­tu­ni­ties, Lit­tauer and Bar­rett agreed it can only ben­efit entre­pre­neurs down the road if they get their busi­ness devel­op­ment moving with lim­ited out­side help. “Lean startup method­ology is crit­ical to your suc­cess in today’s world,” Lit­tauer said.

“It keeps your cap­ital needs way down.” “If it’s just about money, go for the cheapest source of cap­ital you need to prove your hypoth­esis,” Bar­rett added. “Because then you may be able to raise money at a higher price later and not give away a cer­tain per­centage of your company.”

To find out about the Health Sci­ences Entre­pre­neurs pro­gram, or to apply as a ven­ture or mentor, please visit www​.neu​.edu/​hse or email j.​norton@​neu.​edu.