The "Olympia boot camp" for startups in the life sciences

Judith Hillen


5-HT partners with Life Science Accelerator Baden-Württemberg

People who want to set up their own company in the life sciences often don't have it easy. Regulatory requirements, patent issues and the search for financiers are just some of the challenges. "Scientific teams usually quickly realize that they have a great distance to the market," says Dr. André Domin, CEO of Heidelberg Technology Park. "While IT startups often identify a gap in the market at the beginning and then develop software for it, it works the other way around for startups in the life sciences. For example, the founders have discovered a new molecule in their research at university and then think about how they can make a product out of it - without knowing what the market actually needs and how they can enter it."

This is precisely why the Heidelberg Technology Park, together with other partners such as the Economic and Structural Development of the City of Mannheim and the MAFINEX Gründerverbund Rhein-Neckar, is organizing the Life Science Accelerator Baden-Württemberg (LSA). As part of the Startup Booster, a twelve-month program, people interested in founding a life science company learn everything they need in workshops and individual coaching and mentoring sessions to find out whether and how they can build a successful company from their original idea.

Life Science Accelerator Baden-WürttembergLife Science Accelerator Baden-Württemberg

"Since the start of the LSA in July 2017, we have already supported 56 startups from the medtech, biotech and digital health sectors," sums up Markus Bühler, who, along with Bodo Brückner, is the first point of contact for program participants. "Here, we are targeting teams with startup intentions that come from a research institution, from which they have often received a patent in their backpack," adds André Domin. The majority of the startups come from the Rhine-Neckar metropolitan region and other regions of Germany, but teams from France and India have also participated. 5-HT supports the LSA in this by providing the Digital Hub with suitable startups from its network to the Accelerator.

Advice from expert mentors

The startup teams that have successfully applied to participate in the LSA can expect an extensive program. "We organize about 25 lectures and workshops a year, where the startups receive information on topics relevant to founding in the life sciences," explains Bühler. In addition, the teams receive individual support. They first contact the two program managers Markus Bühler and Bodo Brückner with their questions or concerns. "If we can't help ourselves, we then connect the startups with mentors or experts from our network," says Bühler. While the mentors work on a voluntary basis, the experts are compensated for their more intensive collaboration with the startups. Since the LSA covers these costs, the services remain free of charge for the startup teams. As part of a cooperation partnership, 5-HT supports the LSA in this by providing mentors or experts from its network.

"Consultations with mentors or experts can be about very different issues," says Markus Bühler. "For example: What should a clinical trial for my product look like? How should quality management be designed? And how do I draw up a financial plan?"

One of the mentors who help the startups with their expertise is Heidelberg-based Patent and Trademark Attorney Dr. Daniel Schaft. In more than three years, he has mentored between 20 and 30 teams from the LSA - some of them one-on-one, some in workshops on IP topics, especially trademark and patent law. "We help startups develop an IP strategy and advise them, for example, on whether it makes sense for them to file for a patent or whether they should pursue other avenues to secure their intellectual property," Schaft explains. He and his partners at the law firm Ullrich & Naumann find it exciting to keep meeting new startups through the LSA. "It's a good opportunity for us to see what innovations are being driven in the region. It also brings us into contact with young companies that we may be able to accompany on their path to success."

"With heart and commitment"

One of the first startups to participate in the LSA is AUCTEQ Biosystems. The biotech company, based in Mannheim's CUBEX41, is developing elastic bioreactors that can expand from 100 ml to 20 l. Because this allows cell cultures to remain in the same vessel throughout their growth, it reduces both the risk of contamination and labor, as well as plastic consumption. The team already participated in the Startup Booster in 2017/18. "Participating in the LSA was a great experience for us," says CEO and founder Valentin Kramer. "The LSA is like an Olympic boot camp for startups: you get an all-around shot of everything you need to know, and when you walk out at the end, you've improved a lot." Valentin Kramer can't decide what helped him the most - the information on legal issues, certification or finding investors, the contact with other startups or the pitch trainings. "The program as a whole was great."

Life Science Accelerator Baden-WürttembergLife Science Accelerator Baden-Württemberg

Currently, in times of Corona, everything at the LSA is running a little differently than usual. "The program is now completely virtual, with online lectures and seminars, but also with individual coaching appointments," says Simon Kuttruf. He has been participating in the LSA since October 2020 - with his startup Praxisconcierge, which develops conversational AI for medical practices and hospitals so that patients' concerns can be recorded and processed automatically. "The speakers and mentors have been really excellent so far," Kuttruf says. "We've taken away a lot. Especially the topics of financing and financial planning are relevant to us right now." What the founder particularly appreciates about Startup Booster is its focus on the life sciences. "I'm not aware of any other program that is so specifically tailored to the requirements of startups in the healthcare sector." Even if personal exchange with the other founder teams is somewhat more difficult because of Corona, Simon Kuttruf is enthusiastic overall. "Bodo and Markus are really driving the LSA with heart and commitment."

A unique offer in Germany

What is special about the LSA from the organizers' point of view is the individual support. "There is a standardized program, but in addition, we offer very team-specific consulting opportunities, so that the founders are supported precisely in those areas where they are most in need of outside expertise," says André Domin. Markus Bühler adds, "This offering is unique in the life sciences sector in this country. We also notice this from the fact that teams from all over Germany apply to us."

André Domin explains the direction in which the LSA is to develop in the future: "As a life science accelerator, we need very good contacts in the research institutions on the one hand, and on the other hand we build the bridge to practice. That's why we want to further consolidate our network of experts from industry in the future - not only in the Rhine-Neckar metropolitan region, but also nationally and internationally." At the same time, Domin said, the LSA also wants to increasingly target startups from around the world in the future. "Because 5-HT has already established a large international network of startups from the life sciences, we want to work even more closely with the Digital Hub for this in the future."

Markus Bühler also has a tip for startups and those interested in founding a company in the life sciences: "I would look around intensively to see what funding opportunities are available. Especially in Baden-Württemberg, there are a lot of offers for highly innovative startups, for example the X-Linker Startup Bootcamp of 5-HT. That's why I recommend all founders in the life sciences to take advantage of as many of these offers as possible to increase their know-how and further expand their network."

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