Last night, in conjunction with chief sponsor law firm Finn, Dixon and Herling LLP, the Yale Entrepreneurial Society packed the General Motors room of the School of Management building on 55 Hillhouse Ave. with over 60 people for a panel discussion led by local biotechnology entrepreneurs.
Discussion centered around strategies for acquiring venture capital and the rigors of starting a company. The audience — about one-third undergraduates, one-third graduate students and one-third professionals and University officials — participated in a moderated question-and-answer session and then mingled with the panel over cheese and wine. The event brought together the Yale and New Haven life-science communities, while publicizing the new biotechnology category of YES’s Y50K competition.
“Connecticut is a real hotbed for biotechnology development,” said Benjamin Boese GRD ’07, a vice president of the Yale Entrepreneurial Society.
YES holds the Y50K competition every year in an effort to promote entrepreneurship on campus by offering $50,000 prizes to the teams with the best business plans. This year, YES added biotechnology as a new category to reflect Yale and New Haven’s growing role in the field, YES President Nick Shalek ’05 said.
“We’ve been active for more than eight years in biotech,” said Bill Wiesler, an associate director of the Yale University Office of Cooperative Research. “It’s a long process to build up a concentration of firms. You add the new companies brick by brick.”
Wiesler said Yale is one of few universities that “get it,” because the University pursues an active role in commercializing the technology developed in its labs.
Bob Curtis, a self-described serial-entrepreneur and chief executive officer of biotech start-up HistoRx, Inc., said he was invited to the panel due to his close ties to the University — Yale approached him with raw technology, and he built a company around it in New Haven.
“Connecticut is an attractive state to work in,” he said. “There’s a low cost of living, access to three major pharmaceutical companies for personnel and [the] sex appeal of the Yale name.”
Throughout the discussion, panel members highlighted the importance of talented scientists driving research and innovation within firms. Aside from having an abundance of such talent, the Yale New-Haven area is also within commuting distance for 16,000 to 17,000 biotech and business professionals, Rob Bettigole of Elm Street Ventures said.
Shalek said he hoped the event would spark further entrepreneurship amongst undergraduates.
“People don’t think enough about commercializing their ideas,” he said. “We’re trying to generate some interest.”
YES will engage in grass-roots promotion during the competition, hosting informal meetings in science labs to help get more Yale research ideas applied in the real world, Shalek said.
Boese said helping turn ideas into real business opportunities is a high priority for YES.
“We’re trying to put Yale at the forefront of biotechnology,” he said.
Like the panel members, Boese said he believes New Haven is on the cusp of breaking out and becoming a leader in the biotechnology field. He said with events like the panel discussion, YES is creating a networking and mentoring system that is fostering an entrepreneurial spirit on campus.
“We’re trying to educate the average person about what needs to be done to get venture capital and reach the next level with their businesses,” Boese said.