You might ask if Spain played a home court advantage by loading the Startup Slam in Barcelona with half of the 14 presenting companies. The answer is yes, definitely.
While subjected to the same criteria as other selected companies from Finland, Ireland, Italy and the United Kingdom, Spain succeeded in advancing seven biotech startups into the mix of competitors.
According to Bauke Anninga from the Innovation Forum, which teams up with Johnson & Johnson in organizing the competition, there is a deliberate effort to include life sciences networks in each region where a BIO-Europe® or a BIO-Europe Spring® event will be held. In the first-ever event held last year at BIO-Europe Spring in Sweden, he said the Startup Slam had the support of the Karolinska Institute. At the next event held during BIO-Europe in Cologne, the partners tapped into the German networks, and will do so again with the Slam planned for November at BIO-Europe in Berlin.
“Where we come in is balancing the mix with companies from the rest of Europe,” said Anninga.
In Catalonia, it was the Biocat network that tapped its growing cluster of companies and extended the opportunity to include other regions of Spain.
Startup Slam is a tightly run competition where each of the finalists is given exactly three minutes to make a pitch for their company, and then three minutes more to answer questions from the jury. Companies are allowed to use just one slide to support the presentation.
Two awards are given, one for the best pitch, and then the winner.
Michael Karim from Oxford Endovascular stepped up to receive the judges’ award for the best presentation. A 25-year veteran in the field of medical technologies, Karim is leading a spin out from Oxford University developing an implantable flow diverter to direct blood away from aneurysms in the brain.
The winner was Laura Soucek from Peptomyc based in Barcelona, which is developing a first-in-class cancer therapy with an innovative approach using anti-Myc peptides. An oncogene deregulated in a majority of human cancers, Peptomyc’s recombinant, cell-penetrating peptides based on Omomyc are potentially applicable to all cancer patients.
“This creates a great opportunity for the company to receive coaching from Johnson & Johnson,” she told partneringNEWS. “The biggest challenge was summarizing our work over 20 years on only one slide. To compress all our messages and then make that presentation powerful, and then to be told we succeeded feels like a very big accomplishment.”
Asked about the challenge of presently crisply and clearly in a second language, Dr. Soucek laughed. “I have been doing this during all of my career, speaking about our project in different languages. At the moment I speak four different languages!”
The VP for Transactions with Johnson & Johnson Innovation, and one of the judges for the Startup Slam, Nerida Scott said that the grand prize of mentoring for Peptomyc with the group is a customized opportunity that will be tailored to the company in order to help advance both the science and the business.
“It is very much about learning what their opportunity is and what the company needs. And Laura may come with a set of questions to say where she really would like help. There are all kinds of contributions we can make, and there is always an interest in what scientific contributions we can make. We might share what kind of killer experiment or compelling data would interest us as a potential partner or make VCs want to syndicate,” she said.
Antonio Gomez, J&J’s New Venture Lead in Spain, who served as a judge for the competition, will serve initially as the interface with the J&J Innovation team, she said.
Karen Wagner is a General Partner with Ysios Capital, who also was a judge on the Startup Slam jury, said the assignment is more demanding than simply watching a beauty contest.
“To judge an entire company based on a three-minute pitch would be impossible,” she said. “There is a dossier for each company, and after that it is up to each of the companies to send to the judges whatever they want, such as fact sheets or slide decks, for example.
“To be fair as a judge, you want to read through it all, of course. And we are asked to rank each company according to seven set criteria. During all of this process, you tend to form an opinion about each company. But then you see them present, and this is where it becomes interesting. To see what they choose to present and how they present during those three minutes shows a lot about personal preferences. And it shapes a different opinion.”
As a venture capitalist, she said there is a great value for companies to participate in the Startup Slam as it forces them to sharpen their communication skills, “something that too often entrepreneurs lack,” she said.
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