In the startup incubator world, life sciences and IT are like two peas in a pod

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Some things just go together. In the case of early stage companies, life sciences and information technology are two of those.

Last week, MedCity News sat down with William Brah, the founder and executive director of the University of Massachusetts Boston’s Venture Development Center, one of many incubators for life science and information technology companies across the country. Opened in May 2009, the incubator hosts companies that have come from Boston University, MIT, University of Massachusetts, Harvard and Genzyme, and provides them with wet and dry lab space, mentorship and business and administrative resources.

Nearly half of the VDC’s portfolio companies are somehow related to healthcare — others are focused around information technology in education or business. But all of these companies can benefit from the incubator’s resources because they face the same big challenges in their early stages, according to Brah:


Making themselves attractive to large organizations that will license or buy their technology. With an IPO slowdown in both the tech and life science industries, acquisition is the name of the game for many of these startups today. Connections with an incubator and its partners, mentors and clients can help forge crucial relationships with key players in both industries.

Sourcing diversified talent to form a killer team. The VDC’s market sweet spot is postdoctoral fellows who have come up with ideas in their labs but need a place to optimize them, Brah said. That means they need to pair up with people who have technology and business expertise to help bring their idea to market. And on the other end, developers with great platform technology can use the insight of people in healthcare to see if their product has an application in the white hot digital health market.

Courting investors. Although this is a universal challenge for all startups, we’re seeing a string of VC firms, including Highland Capital Partners, KPCB and InterWest Partners, that focus their investments on both traditional life science and Internet/IT companies. In finding the right investor match, both of these sectors also face the challenge of deciding which customer pool to target in order to best monetize their products, and how to wiggle their way in to larger companies that could potentially invest.

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Deanna Pogorelc

By Deanna Pogorelc MedCity News

Deanna Pogorelc is a Cleveland-based reporter who writes obsessively about life science startups across the country, looking to technology transfer offices, startup incubators and investment funds to see what’s next in healthcare. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Ball State University and previously covered business and education for a northeast Indiana newspaper.
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