In Queensland, Life Sciences Catalyst mentors provide an essential service for start-ups and entrepreneurs who seek to develop and commercialise their discoveries.
In the case of PEMDx start-up co-founders Phil Melksham, Dylan Rowe and Mariam Rowe, they have benefitted from their synergy with their mentor, James Macnaughtan, as they translate their idea of a real time continuous respiratory monitor called ApnoLight, through development and prototype and on to the regulation stage of their clinical device.
“Phil and Dylan needed someone to help them who had medical technology experience or had been involved with commercialising medical technology,” explains Nagaraj Gopisetty, Deputy CEO, Life Sciences Queensland.
Formerly from Cook Medical, a manufacturer and exporter of medical devices, James has vast experience in marketing and regulatory pathways. As a beneficiary of mentoring earlier in his own career, he is there to help if needed and assist Phil and Dylan to fit the pieces of the commercialisation puzzle together. “I have a fairly well-defined expertise in medical devices,” James explains, “It was a natural fit when Nagaraj came to me.”
James was impressed with how Phil and Dylan had mapped out their data and their progression. They had already had some initial successes in navigating regulatory pathways and often looked for confirmation as opposed to correction. “As a mentor, you don’t have to give all the answers. You give guidance, ask the right questions and challenge their assumptions. I’m happy to go with them just to have another body on their side of the table, even if I say nothing. It keeps the other side on their toes.”
Through mentoring, Phil and Dylan are able to leverage James’ experience to move forward through the areas of development that are less familiar.
The mentoring relationship between PEMDx and James Macnaughtan was facilitated by Life Science Catalyst and is one of collaboration and learning. It is a working alliance based upon role modelling, mutual understanding and trust. Mentors help to build confidence and provide opportunities for mentees to learn from the experience of others. “Even if you fail, it is making mistakes and learning from them. It is the accumulated experience that is so valuable.” stated James.
Life Sciences Catalyst endeavours to provide an objective perspective and to create linkages that are honest and credible between experienced members of industry and start-ups across Queensland. Connecting the right mentors to the founders and entrepreneurs increases opportunities for start-ups to become more successful. Those connections within industry propel innovation and drive commercialisation.
Life Sciences Catalyst mentors kindly volunteer their time to assist new companies and their founders. They may have experience in multiple areas of industry or specific perspective in a specialised skillset. They may provide advice ranging from guidance for regulatory pathways, marketing and communication or act as a sounding wall for new ideas and commercialisation considerations.
Life Sciences Queensland has a unique perspective and vision of the whole area of biosciences in Queensland and the role of mentors in the Catalyst program has diversified beyond that of student and supervisors. This is particularly valuable when start-ups are preparing to pitch their ideas to potential investors and find themselves lost in that journey. They can be supported through guidance to build their confidence through their mentors.
Nagaraj is quick to point out the complexity that surrounds getting a new idea to market. “A start-up hopes to travel from idea and concept through to manufacture and product distribution into the community. A lot of things come into play, the technical side, the business side and the regulatory and marketing. You can already see multiple skills and areas coming into play for the development of a successful idea. It requires people with many skillsets coming into the picture at the right time to build that knowledge. All of this combines to create successful translation.”
In the case of start-up PEMDx and the ApnoLight, commercialisation has been fast tracked due in part to its founders ability to demonstrate the right combination of clinical interface and engineering expertise on their team. This combined with a strategic mentoring choice, they have travelled the regulatory pathway quickly, and this will allow them to enter into the market sooner.
Having the right mentors is critical to today’s start-ups. Life Sciences Catalyst, endeavours to create the ideal connection of relevant key opinion leader or business expert to the opportunity at hand in order to fast track Life Sciences opportunities. It is a unique value proposition and one that carries strength for start-ups who are able to benefit from an advisory network that would otherwise be less accessible to them.