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IDEA to IPO Class Incubates Science Entrepreneurs

Charles Craik, UCSF professor and entrepreneur, teaches the IDEA to IPO class.

By Rosa Chan
Staff Writer

Are you interested learning more about science and business? “Idea to IPO” is an experiential, team-based entrepreneurship class. This course teaches faculty researchers, clinicians, residents, PhD students, Masters and medical students how to move an idea from the lab/clinic/digital world to the business world.

Charles Craik, UCSF professor and en- trepreneur, teaches the intensive, 12-week course, which is offered every winter quarter. Craik is the director of the Quantitative Biosciences Consortium (QB3) and the Chemistry and Chemical Biology Graduate Program.

Anthony O’Donoghue took Craik's class in 2010 and has since started his own company, Alaunus Biosciences. He developed a technique to simultaneously assay all proteases in a biological sample at exquisitely low concentrations. This global identification of protease specificity allowed him to determine the proteolytic signatures of cancer cells and parasitic organisms and to subsequently identify the major proteolytic enzymes involved. For industrial applications he is using the method to characterize native or recombinant proteases and to screen microbial strains for proteases with desirable characteristics.

Synapse: Can you tell me how this course initially started?

Craik: The IDEA to IPO class initially started with the support of QB3. QB3 was created to make sure that ideas in the laboratory get into the real world. Now this course has expanded.

Synapse: Do I need to have an idea or team prior to enrolling in the course?

Craik: No, you don’t need to have an idea or team.

Synapse: How big is your class? How difficult it is for UCSF students to enroll?

Craik: We had 110 applicants this year. There was room for about 60-70 people. There is a preference for people at UCSF.

Synapse: What makes this course different than a business class at UC Berkeley and Stanford?

Craik: Classes in business school very seldom talk about science. These students are already aware they just need to know how to start a business. This course is designed to people who want to do health related research and have great ideas.

Synapse: Is this a good time in startups?

Craik: Steve Burrill, CEO of Burrill & Company, a leading life sciences investment talked about how 52 companies went IPO last year and that is a huge number compared to previous years.

Synapse: How does this class work?

Craik: Topics cover the full range of life science/healthcare entrepreneurship subjects for therapeutics, devices, diagnostics, tools, and digital health ventures. Participants will apply classroom learning as they form a team to focus on an idea, assess its market potential, create a business model and learn about market assessment, the FDA, reimbursement, IP, basic finance, legal structures, capital sources and pitching investors.

In the end 10 teams present to a jury of individuals that represent top tier Silicon Valley investors.  

Synapse: Why did you decide to take this class?

O’Donoghue: t's been four years since I took the class. As a scientist you spend all this time doing science and along the way you think, “Oh, wow! I think I could commercialize this. Someone in industry might find this useful. But to go from the lab to having a product to sell—nobody teaches that. It's not high on any mentors' agenda. When I heard about this course, I remem- bered there were a few things from my PhD work that I felt if I could commercialize.

There are two kinds of people who take the course. One group has a pretty advanced idea and is looking to build a team, sort of on the cheap, because you can’t hire someone with no money. They might need someone to help develop a business plan. They want to see if as a team they can go from an idea to something that they can pitch to investors.

And then there are people like me who are just enthusiastic about understanding the pro- cess of going from an idea to a product. So when I started on day one, the people with the ideas pitched their ideas to the group to see if anyone wanted to join their team.

There were 15 pitches that day and the rest of the class wrote their order of prefer- ence which team they would be most interested in joining. And essentially for the rest of two months, you joined that team and you had different assignments: one person looks at all the IP, another person at financial strategy, the other looks at the science. My job for my team was to understand the IP landscape.With patents, you may have an idea, but you need to protect a bubble of ideas around that central idea because it is not worth patenting if someone comes and makes a tiny tweak and has a new product.

Synapse: Did you see science differently after you took the course?

O’Donoghue: Absolutely. In fact the group I joined had pretty advanced ideas. Two guys came in with an idea from their PhD work,
a biofuel-related project. No matter what, those two guys were going to start a company and essentially they were just looking for extra hands to move it forward. At the end of class there was a pitch in front of investors. The investors weren’t actually going to invest, but we got the highest score. The investors gave $50,000 as really early seed money to get it to the next stage.

Synapse: Are you still involved in this? How did you apply this knowledge?

O’Donoghue: No, I was always in the periphery of this project. A year later, I started my own company based on my own technology that I developed. A protease Lab. Charlie and I developed a technology that can globally characterize all protease activity from any biological sample—human tissue, secreted material from bacterial, fungal culture. We are a protease lab and a particular disease. The company exists. We have a client lined up, source of revenue. Fee for service, and we will process them and give them the data.

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The company exists. We have a client lined up, source of revenue. Fee for service, and we will process them and give them the data.

Rosa Chan is a third-year PSPG graduate student.