Dr Sam Whitehouse, CEO of LightOx is an experienced board member and team builder with expertise in both innovation and service-based companies.
He has been instrumental in the development and commercialisation of world leading healthcare products and has worked with some of the world’s leading institutes.
With a background in chemistry and molecular biology Sam was appointed CEO of LightOx, in May of 2018, has grown rapidly, taking on more employees, securing investment and exploring new developments and routes to market.
However, starting up in this industry can be difficult, and growth, which can be subjective, even more so. Life sciences has its quirks but a lot of this information may be applied to a number of industries.
Over to Sam.
On entering the life sciences industry…
When entering the life sciences industry, you have to understand the implications and economic factors that coincide with selling preventative technologies/drugs and products/services that are immediate and provide a cure. Understanding the supply chain and the potential barriers that you may encounter early on will be of benefit to any start up in the life sciences industry.
There may be a number of existing and competing technologies that can offer a similar solution, there’s more than one way to treat a patient and there’s more than one disease in a disease area.
Speak to the people on the ground – your customer is different to your user who is different to your beneficiary. By this I mean, your customer may be the NHS, your user may be a GP and your beneficiary may be the patient, but these are not always the folks who are making the buying decisions and therefore the reimbursement may be more complex for you business.
In short, it can be a very mixed up system, and this can have a knock-on effect of deciding upon what your product should be, how it should work with the user and how this translates to the buyer and the beneficiary in the end. It may also be very different in other parts of the world.
So here’s my top 5 tips when starting out…
1. PICK THE RIGHT TEAM
The most important thing is the team. With starting up, you will spend more time with these people than anyone else. You have to like each other as well as having common goals. You cannot underestimate the power of having a good team and one that supports you throughout. You do not have to “love” everyone, but you have to have a mutual respect for individual skillsets. It is important not to have all of the same types of people but you do need to have a variety of skill sets. Therefore, personality is a key part in picking the right team when starting up. Individual skill sets and diversity is hugely important. Bringing something new to the team helps the balance in the team and benefits the business in the long run, not just starting up!
2. KNOW YOUR PRODUCT/SERVICE
This may sound like an oxymoron, but you have to be focussed but also open to opportunities. In our case, our product was a light-activated cell-killing technology. Initially, we did not know exactly where to target this technology. However given that we needed an area accessible to light, Oral cancer is where we ended up – the willingness to develop new opportunities is key. We were not fully aware of our market at the time, but developments may lead you to markets you are not familiar with and it is key is to quickly understand them”. If you understand you technology you will be able to see the opportunities of where it might fit.
3. KNOW YOUR MARKET
It’s not always about where the company starts but where it ends up. Strong market research and a good understanding of opportunities when starting up may result in the ability to enter additional markets and grow the business even further. However, the key is to be pragmatic. You cannot take everything on at once as you are small, so you have to evaluate and be selective about which opportunities you take.
4. USE YOUR NETWORK
So, you have your company, you’ve got the technology, you know roughly where you want to place the technology and have an idea of the market. Now is the time to consider the importance of your networks. For those who may not have a large, relevant network, then finding people who do is important, which goes back to picking the right team when starting up. Use this network to either push products, test ideas or help evaluate potential pitfalls and knock-backs which are not uncommon in small business start-ups. You can only hope for a supportive network of people which can help in gaining new contacts, customers, staff, profile building and potential exposure. Not everything will work, and you may encounter a number of hard truths but this is all part of the growth process and your network will be more honest with you than most. Even if it is brutally honest, being realistic is key in small business start-ups – especially in the life sciences industry.”
5. BE REALISTIC
You have to be realistic on your timeframes and your achievements. For example, it may take five to seven or even ten years to get a drug or product to market and depending on your approach, the value proposition may be very different along the way. Regulations are critical in the life sciences industry and this is why timeframes and realistic expectations have to be set out from the beginning. Unforeseen circumstances may affect these timeframes – such as disease outbreak – which is highly relevant at the moment, but this may be as much a benefit as a drawback depending on your business. If the potential for pitfalls is not considered from the outset, your expectations may not be as realistic as they should be.
There are so many factors that might change, particularly in start-ups, that it is important to think to yourself ‘what can I achieve in the next month/6 months’ and set short-term realistic goals. Looking beyond a year is difficult at the outset and therefore, short term achievable goals benefit the business in the long run.
BONUS TIP. YOU HAVE TO ENJOY IT!
“You have to have an ambition but also enjoy the process. There are factors that you may not be able to control. Some people just get lucky and things go well and smoothly, but some paths are more tortuous and people can beat themselves up and see it as their fault, but is all about how you see certain opportunities.
If you enjoy the journey along the way it doesn’t feel like hard work, even when it really is, and that’s the most important thing.”