How these three research based ventures showed resilience in the face of a global pandemic
As the COVID-19 global pandemic continues to roar fierce and mighty, entrepreneurs are faced with innumerable challenges. Across the board, industries have been impacted and paths to market affected for companies reeling from the effects of shuttered businesses, academic campuses' remaining closed and health and safety measures limiting how workplaces can operate.
Venture creation through commercialization has never been more important than in a global pandemic where a spotlight on rapid acceleration has played out front and center in media and society, underpinning the importance and gravity of bringing research innovation to masses.
UBC is a bedrock of rich and inspiring research and innovation: at entrepreneurship@UBC, we work with early stage ventures spanning sectors, preparing the next generation of entrepreneurs for growth. Through our Lab2Launch program, we work with researchers and scientists to commercialize their discoveries into viable companies that can impact the world.
Translating knowledge into viable companies is key to solving massive worldwide problems, and propelling these early stage innovations from the university has never been more imperative than it is today. Typical to research based companies, Lab2Launch innovations hinge on critical lab space, technologies and assets not easily accessible in our remote work settings. How have pandemic measures affected research ventures’ potential to do the work necessary to build their companies and what is our community doing to solve for this?
We spoke with three teams currently in our Lab2Launch program to find out how the pandemic has influenced their ability to launch their solutions, how they’ve adapted and what’s next for their team as we come up to the one year anniversary of the pandemic shutdown in Canada.
Find out more about their teams at the end of this piece.
COVID-19 presented a myriad of challenges for early stage companies. Particularly for research based companies, the importance of space is key in facilitating and furthering your venture opportunity.
1. What challenges did COVID-19 present for your venture?
Amphoraxe: Research in our partner academic lab was suspended for several months, which slowed progress on developing the IP involved in our products. We were also unable to ramp up the proof-of-concept testing of our products, as the facility we are using is also involved in COVID-19 vaccine research and was unable to accept new contracts. We were also forced to cancel travel to the sector-specific conferences we’d planned to attend, one of which focused on matching startups with potential investors, and were not able to attend local investor and startup meet-ups.
DECAP: COVID-19 presented several big challenges for our start-up: work went remote which made collaborative meetings more challenging as well as on-boarding and recruiting partner organizations to test our products; we relied on in-person demonstrations to convince people that our product was worth their time. We had to pivot to a Zoom and video-based recruitment strategy for new partners and clients.
Global priorities also shifted, initially away from needle-safety and towards PPE. We explored the possibility of 3D printing face-shields but this ended up being unworkable. Now with the COVID-19 vaccination drive, needle safety and usage is in the spotlight again, and we are working on a suite of needle safety devices to assist in vaccination clinics!
Flow Caddy: The pandemic and its consequences that curtailed research activities were an inspiration for our venture. “The great reset” provided the pause we needed to fully explore the potential for our innovation through the Lab2Launch program. Developing our venture through Lab2Launch at entrepreneurship@UBC in the fall catalyzed and focused our efforts. Our team is separated geographically but since on-line collaboration quickly became the new normal, the perceived barrier of distance dissolved. Social distancing was a fitting start for Flow Caddy since one of our goals is to facilitate research collaborations remotely, rather than needing to be at the lab bench.
2. How have you worked with entrepreneurship@UBC, our community and the university to overcome these challenges?
Amphoraxe: entrepreneurship@UBC has enabled us to develop our local network virtually, and to prepare for virtual pitch events. The interview process during Phase 2 was particularly useful in prompting us to build a national network of stakeholders in our target industry.
DECAP: Entering entrepreneurship@UBC’s Lab2Launch program would not have been possible without the integration of Zoom into our everyday lives. One of our co-founders (Jamie) is based in Jerusalem, the other (Ina) is currently completing a PhD at UBC, so having online meetings saved time and energy, and made it possible for us to e-commute from around the world. entrepreneurship@UBC also helped us refine our product, understand our market and customer base, put us in contact with granting/funding opportunities, and provided key guidance to move us along the path to launching our product!
Flow Caddy: Working together, in the midst of the pandemic, was a challenge. We needed to find new ways to collaborate in real time. entrepreneurship@UBC’s mentors and community helped us set goals and provided a forum for collaboration and discussion. The external motivating force of the Phase 1 and Phase 2 Lab2Launch program helped us realize a lot of progress, despite the restrictive conditions. Being selected for Phase 3 of the program was a big milestone for the team, and cause for celebration!
3. Specifically, how did entrepreneurship@UBC, our community, and the university help provide space to further your research and venture opportunity?
DECAP: Without the possibility of in-person communication and networking due to COVID-19, much of this shifted online to Slack which connected us to the large entrepreneurship@UBC community. Slack functioned like a community bulletin board as a place to discuss topics or ask questions for entrepreneurship@UBC with different topics or groups assigned to different channels. There were various helpful postings by both entrepreneurship@UBC staff and ventures with threads where questions or the topic of the post could be discussed. The Slack community included mentors, EIRs, and many other ventures who could be easily contacted through direct messaging. On this online platform we were able to reach out to members of the entrepreneurship@UBC community to seek guidance on developing our business, find funding opportunities for research projects, and get in touch with companies for product production.
Flow Caddy: entrepreneurship@UBC’s Lab2Launch Slack channel and the weekly Zoom workshops were important resources and surprisingly effective substitutes for face-to-face seminars and break-out sessions. Flow Caddy is fortunate that, at our current stage of development, we do not require physical lab space. Online Zoom sessions helped us to refine our solution, share insights, and troubleshoot problems with other venture teams and our mentors. In this virtual environment ventures became co-mentors. The necessity of sharing “air-time” on Zoom with other ventures provided unexpected and valuable learning experiences.
We are almost at the one year mark when Canada went into a nation-wide retreat indoors, increasing social distancing measures and dramatically changing life as we knew it.
4. Where are you now since one year ago?
Amphoraxe: We have made a lot of progress on our business plan, value proposition, and investor-readiness. Although our partner lab’s work has been delayed due to COVID-19, the first proof-of-concept trials will begin this month, which we are very excited about.
DECAP: One year ago when pandemic measures first started we were still in the midst of developing our prototype and seeking funding to conduct prototype testing. It was the pandemic that halted our testing efforts which made us quickly turn to seeking alternate ways to further develop our venture in the face of an unknown future. One opportunity we were glad to still have as an option was developing the business side of our venture by joining a business accelerator such as entrepreneurship@UBC that had migrated to online delivery. Now, one year later, we have greatly benefited from the guidance and teachings of this program as well as adapting to online correspondence. We were able to take a deep dive into better understanding our customer base, expand our potential market areas, and learn how to best present our venture and product to potential investors and partners. Most importantly, we now have a finalized product ready for testing in various workplaces we have partnered with and are close to launching our device into the market for those who have a need for this device and are keen to start using it.
Flow Caddy: Our venture has gone from concept to practice since entering into Phase 1 of the Lab2Launch Program in September 2020. We were very excited to receive an invitation to Phase 3 and are currently building our prototype and speaking with prospective customers to optimize our solution.
5. What are your goals for the next few months whilst still under pandemic measures?
Amphoraxe: We are finalizing an IP licensing agreement and continuing to improve our investor-readiness, so that we can take maximum advantage of current virtual pitch events and be ready to hit the ground running once restrictions ease and in-person meetings are allowed.
DECAP: Our main goals in the next few months is to commence trials of our device in various workplaces as well as make the device available for purchase for those who are in need of it and are keen to start making use of the device’s single-handed and needle-stick injury preventing capabilities as soon as possible. Since our product eliminates all needle uncapping and recapping related injuries, this especially includes making it available for healthcare workers to use in COVID-19 vaccination drives where over 14 billion needles are expected to be used for as many injections around the world.
Flow Caddy: Flow Caddy is planning to add a team member (software expertise) and incorporate in the next few months. In the meantime, we are working with potential customers to fully understand their needs so we can build the best solution and minimize missteps. In addition, through networking with entrepreneurship@UBC’s mentors and other venture teams, we have identified some promising funding opportunities that will help us build our prototype and maintain momentum.
Feeling inspired? Applications for our CORE and Lab2Launch Venture Building programs are open until February 25th!
About the Ventures
The World Health Organization lists antimicrobial resistance as one of the top ten threats to global health. To help slow the spread of resistant bacteria, regulators now prohibit most preventive use of antibiotics in agriculture. However, these restrictions are causing significant financial losses for producers as infection rates rise. At Amphoraxe we are developing safe replacements for antibiotics. Our initial target is poultry farming; this sector has an urgent need for new solutions for Salmonella, E. coli, and other bacterial pathogens. In laboratory trials our lead candidates are highly effective against relevant bacteria, and they are not toxic to animal cells.
Learn more about Amphoraxe
Fatih Birol, MSc. Chief Executive Officer
Inanç Birol, PhD. Faculty of Medicine, Chief Scientific Officer
Cath Ennis, PhD. Director, Project Management
Mert Demiray, MBA. Business Financing Adviser
DECAP Research and Development:
Every year, 16 billion injections are given around the world - now add another 14 billion COVID-19 shots to vaccinate the world from coronavirus. DECAP Research & Development devices work to eliminate needle-stick injuries for millions of front-line workers by leveraging 3D-printing technology to create a suite of easy-to-use devices that eliminate needle-stick injuries from uncapping and recapping needles in healthcare, animal care and veterinary environments.
Learn more about DECAP Research and Development
Jamie Magrill, UBC BSc Alumni, CEO
Ina Na, Faculty of Science, CRO
Flow Cytometry is a powerful and indispensable technique in medical research that allows scientists to profile single cells in great detail. Unfortunately, performing these experiments has become increasingly complex, time-consuming, and error-prone. Scientists typically sacrifice half their day organizing and setting up these experiments instead of making discoveries. Flow Caddy is a software application that helps scientists design better experiments, work faster, and get more reliable results. By automating routine tasks, Flow Caddy saves up to 4 hours for every flow experiment, giving scientists more time to focus on finding answers.
Learn more about Flow Caddy
Diana Canals Hernaez is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Medical Genetics at UBC
Chris Cochrane, PhD (Experimental Medicine, UBC) is a UBC Alumnus and founder of Bearing Biomedical
Michael R. Hughes, PhD (Experimental Medicine, UBC) is a Research Associate in the School of Biomedical Engineering at UBC
Thank you to all the teams for participating!