Tag Archives: life science innovation

What You Can Learn from an Orchard about Growing your Business


Approach building your company like planting an orchard. Be sure that you know what your customers want today but also a few years down the road as well.

By:  Andrew Johnson, Ph.D.

What does growing apples have to do with building a life science company?  It turns out that there are a lot of similarities if you look closely.  A successful orchard requires a huge investment in planning (what variety of trees, how much of each, etc.), effort (a lot of work before the first harvest), finances (cost of land, labor, farm equipment etc.) and time (trees need a number of years to mature before your first harvest) to become successful.  The successful orchard keeper needs to have a good assessment of what types of fruit his customers will want in a few years and also how he can differentiate his own business from other orchards in the area to compete successfully.  The leadership of a strong life science business needs to think in the same terms.  What need will your offering(s) fulfill in the future and why will customers come to you rather than to your competitors?  With an orchard, once you plant the trees, you are now committed to your view of the future market for your products and now everything is about nurturing your trees until you have your first harvest.  With a startup, once you have selected a product and/or service, all of your efforts will be to get it successfully to market.  The orchard keeper cannot rip up trees next year if he thinks that the market for his fruit has changed.  Likewise, most startups do not have the funds (or time) to scrap a product offering once they are working to get it to market.  The lesson here is, make sure to spend enough time to understand your market, your customers and how you will successfully sell and then commit to a laser-like focus for getting that offering to market as soon as possible.

Tips for Building a Strong Startup:

  • Plant Trees:  Build your company for strong and steady future business.  Whether you are offering a platform, service or a one-time sale of a large instrument, referrals are the key to efficiently growing profitably.  Winning new customers is costly so getting referrals from happy customers is like harvesting apples in the fall.  The time, effort and investment you put into winning strong early customers will pay off as they share their experience with your future customers.  Building a scalable infrastructure that consistently and efficiently delivers the goods that delight your customers will insure success in the long run.
  • Build a Barrier to Entry:  It takes a while to plant and nurture an orchard.  However, once your trees have matured, you will have happy customers coming on a regular basis.  Building strong relationships with key opinion leaders, establishing preferred vendor status with organizations and establishing your company as a market leader in the technology is a lot like planting new trees.  There is a lot of prep work up front and the rewards are not immediate but once you have done this, this makes it very difficult for competitors to come into the market later.
  • Plant some Pumpkins Too:  As a startup, you need to start generating revenues as soon as possible to prove out your business.  Your team will need to put a lot of focus on getting your first sales and creating happy customers.  Many startups make the mistake of neglecting to build in some time for creating a scalable and profitable business.  You will be planting and harvesting an annual crop like pumpkins to do this. Developing a product road map that contains both near term (pumpkins) and long term (apples) offerings will allow you to get to market faster and get the insights you need to insure a better outcome with your later prospects. However, the key here is using what you have learned about your customers, their wants and needs and enthusiasm for your offering to build an infrastructure that will allow you to maintain the high level of customer satisfaction that will lead to referrals from your customers (See first point – Plant Trees).

Take Home Points:

  • Start building relationships with key opinion leaders and strategic partners early (even before the launch of your first product or service).
  • Use the insights you gain of your customers’ wants and needs from early sales to guide your efforts as you scale the business.  (e.g. if you will start selling using distributors, make sure that you build in an infrastructure (tech support, technical inside sales, social media outreach, etc.) to maintain the level of support and service that your customers valued in the early days).
  • Everything you do and every interaction you have with the public will shape your brand.  A strong positive brand can be a powerful barrier to block your competitors.  Clearly identify the brand identity you would like to have and make sure that you and everyone in the company reinforce this in everything they do and with every interaction with the public.

Picture Credit:  © Sofiaworld | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

Accelerating Innovation through Convergence

By: Steven Munevar, Ph.D., MBA

red blood cells

Bringing together advances in computer science, engineering and biology is allowing scientists to create complex tissues using live cells with 3D printing.

As a researcher and an entrepreneur, the wonder of discovery and the frustration of practical application often go hand in hand.  Coming from a background in engineering and biomedical science, I have found that the answer to this conundrum can be found in one word…convergence. The advent of three dimensional printing or 3D printing captures how the process of convergence can truly accelerate innovation.

What it is
3D printing is the production of any solid object from a digital schematic or model. The process of 3D printing is rather straightforward (in theory anyways) as layers of material extruded from the 3D printer are iteratively laid down in varying shapes (and on varying substrates) until the final object has been “printed”. This process is a novel departure from the usual “subtractive process” of fabrication where material is removed from a starting substrate resulting in the final shape. As this technology has matured the cost of 3D printing has reached a point where it is now more accessible to a greater number of users. So the question now is what exactly do you want to 3D print, in a word – everything!

3D printing in the Life Sciences
Let me begin with an example where the convergence of regenerative medicine and 3D printing has led to a push in 3D printing of tissues and organs, yes that rights “printing” organs. Although still early in its application, examples are growing for the use of 3D printing in regenerative medicine in both academia and industry. One example is the San Diego based company Organovo, which is focused on utilizing 3D printing technology in the form of “bio-printers”. The company’s goal is to create new tissue that can be used for both research as well as therapeutic applications. In this example, the “bio-printers” utilize ink made up of living cells/solution mixtures which are then deposited onto a specialty scaffolding substrate to generate new tissues, layer by layer, yielding for example small blood vessels, among others.

Impact of 3D printing, rethinking manufacturing
Now let’s consider 3D printing technology in the broader context of industrial manufacturing. Manufacturing has been in decline in the US as other countries, with access to lower cost labor, have become favored locations for manufacturing. With the advent of 3D printing, President Obama announced, in his State of the Union Address, that he sought to reignite manufacturing in the US through the creation of 3D printing enabled manufacturing “hubs”. Spearheaded by the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute (NAMII), the goal of this public-private partnership is to bring 3D printing (or additive manufacturing) technology to bear against the challenge of revitalizing the manufacturing industry in the US and regaining our competitive advantage worldwide. The applications for 3D printing enabled manufacturing have been touted to span everything from defense to aerospace as well as automotive parts manufacturing among others.

3D printing and the future
From novel technology to enabling regenerating medicine to revitalizing manufacturing in the US, 3D printing seems to be converging toward a radically disruptive tool. Still not convinced as to the power of technology convergence? Then let me conclude by highlighting a recent event hosted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab, and organized by British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), titled What If…We Could All Talk to Joi Ito?  Joichi “Joi” Ito is the current Director of the MIT Media Lab and a well known activist, entrepreneur, and venture capitalist. During this event, when asked to lend his thoughts on the future of technology and the internet, Joi shared a vision where consumers would play an increasingly active role in designing AND producing the retail products they wanted utilizing platform technologies based on 3D printing and enabling design tools. Joi mused on a retail industry completely re-envisioned through the advent of 3D printing technology, the amazing exchange of information through the internet, and our continuous desire as consumers for customization, diversity, and real time access to products.

From medicine, to industrial manufacturing, to customized consumer products, 3D printing continues to converge with enabling technologies, market opportunities, and consumer demands in ever growing and amazing ways. Looking ahead as this technology matures and further grows in accessibility we will likely be seeing more of 3D printing. The real question now is what will you be 3D printing first? Now just imagine if we could have done this for the Segway…

Picture Credit:  © Chrisharvey | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images