I wanted to learn more about our entrepreneurial ecosystem here in Massachusetts, so I sat down with Edward Melia, a Boston-based serial entrepreneur and investor to get his insight. Melia works closely with investment groups, family offices, strategic buyers, and sovereign wealth funds to identify and vet early stage high potential innovation and discovery in technology and life sciences.
EK: What does Massachusetts have to offer?
EM: Because of the world class universities, medical centers, and research institutes, Boston is able to attract many of the most brilliant minds from around the globe. It's these resources that form the core of Boston's uniquely strong and vibrant tradition of research and discovery and have helped foster and institutionalize a healthy entrepreneurial ecosystem. There are those who take this for granted, but there are so many other regions around the U.S. and the globe who would love to replicate what we have in Boston.
EK: How do startup companies find funding?
EM: Finding the capital to advance discovery and innovation in the right amounts and at the right time is a major hurdle for many entrepreneurs. Some are fortunate to be developing their product, device, or technology in an environment that exposes their work to investors (such as an incubator). Nonetheless, even many of these fortunate folks will tell you there is no guarantee you will attract the capital needed to advance. Very rarely will an investor pop out of the blue and write a check.
For these fortunate folks and all the rest, it's understanding the options and stages of funding a startup, learning who the funding sources are, translating your excitement and enthusiasm into a clear and concise story, and being prepared to answer lots of questions about markets, competition, revenues, ROI, etc.
EK: How do investors learn about startups with a winning idea?
EM: Investors learn about opportunities in a few ways. Savvy investors have direct connections within the entrepreneurial ecosystem. These connections include close working relationships with professionals like lawyers or people like me who have "boots on the ground" and are very familiar with innovation at the research level.
Savvy investors also have direct connections to universities, incubators, research labs, and other target rich environments like shared work spaces and innovation events where entrepreneurs tend to gravitate. In this new world of accelerating discovery, investors who sit around waiting for business plan submittals ultimately lose - innovation moves far too quickly.
It's important to note that really sophisticated investors know that not all good ideas come from universities and incubators. That's why the best, most progressive and successful investors help to create new channels for innovation, discovery, and entrepreneurship. For example, there are many talented, creative entrepreneurs who may not have access to the resources of a university and may not be connected to the core ecosystem. For these opportunities, investors who help build outlets for creativity, mentor in diverse communities, and lead efforts to expand the ecosystem are the winners in the new economy. Many of the creative, entrepreneurial ideas that drive culture, fashion, music, consumer products will not come from traditional channels.
Investing in life science has always been challenging. First off, life science is so broad and encompasses so many segments and disciplines that it's difficult for most investors to follow the full spectrum. And many discoveries now include cross pollination of technologies and disciplines that have traditionally been siloed.
Thanks in large part to the efforts of universities, medical centers, incubators and research institutes, new discoveries can include elements of nano science, robotics, bioscience, materials science, synthetic biology, and others all coming together to address and solve problems in unique ways. Add to this the fact that innovation and discovery is happening faster than ever before, and it can be very challenging to "bet on the right horse."
But we live in exciting times. Having seen some of the research and breakthroughs at the early stage, there is no question that the "next big thing"- the breakthrough that will change how we live and die will surely come from research that is currently under way.
EK: What is the best way to keep up with all that is out there?
EM: Keeping up with all the advances is daunting. The pace and acceleration of discovery and innovation increases daily. It's the one sure thing you can bet on. None of us can be experts in everything. Working collaboratively and sharing knowledge and expertise has been a big advantage to me. I get to meet with and learn from some of the most brilliant people around. Many of them have so much brain power. Also new tools and technologies allow us to gather and track information more quickly than ever before. Twitter is a great example of a tool that allows me to follow new advances in science and technology and learn amazing new things every day.
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