Why aren’t more science startups successful?

Across all industries, only 10% of startups are successful. But even taking this into consideration, the question remains: why are there so few large scale science startups? The science industry is, after all, built on innovation.

We often hear from the scientific community about the latest breakthroughs, inventions and trends. From CRISPR to biotechnology, nanorobotics to 3D printing, it’s not illogical to assume we’re about to enter a new age of science built on technological advancements. Despite this, we are yet to see any major science startups really break through into the public consciousness. Why is this the case?

From research to the real-world

One of the biggest problems for scientists is turning breakthrough research in a lab or academic environment into a real world product or solution. When we experiment, as scientists, rarely do we have a marketable product or service in mind even if the results are awe inspiring.

Many scientific breakthroughs can take decades to go from proof to product — which doesn’t exactly align itself with the agile, disruptive ways of working associated with high-growth startups.

Getting ideas out of the lab and into the real world has long been an issue in our industry. However, there are some solutions already in place but their success varies wildly. Technology Transfer Offices (TTOs) have long been a part of most major research institutions. Aiming to take breakthroughs to market, TTOs seek to provide funds for further exploration, and ultimately improve a research institution’s bottom line. The main issue with TTOs is they rarely find a way to turn breakthrough research into marketable, profitable products and solutions.

What about new drugs?

There are some exceptions, most of which are drug discoveries. Drug research can be turned into products which offer real-world solutions. From cannabinoid treatments to Alzheimer's research, we know that these discoveries can have positive, tangible uses. Even in these cases, however, it can take decades for a new drug to go to market. These are more often the primary driver of a TTOs’ success. What about the hundreds of research breakthroughs that have yet to find a real-world uses?

Another reason why such discoveries aren’t translated into viable products may be due to a lack of collaboration. To get a discovery to market, it takes more than the discovery itself. As with any product, a team of specialists is required to assist take off. From marketing teams to sales departments, developers to business development managers, a product alone will never be enough for a business to be successful — whether it’s in the science sector or not.

What are the solutions?

If technologies such as robotics, CRISPR and nanotechnology are going to make a major impact on society, these innovations need to be embraced in a different way. In the UK, science startup factories have started to emerge, with the sole aim being to create products and solutions to real-world problems supported by groundbreaking scientific research.

Problems including antimicrobial resistance and Alzheimer's are common to all of us. Startup factories have taken it upon themselves to help accelerate products to market that can help to solve these huge issues.

The most notable science startup factory in the UK is Deep Science Ventures, based in London. Through their investment, they have helped to launch and fund startups working on everything from high-resolution living neural implants, to one day de novo antibody design. Their approach appears to be working. Deep Science Ventures state that 67% of their founders launch their companies within three months.

Ultimately, this is down to making scientists think like tech entrepreneurs. Deep Science Ventures support scientists on their journeys, allowing them to take full advantage of opportunities and gaps in the market which scientific knowledge and research can support.

Real-world successes

Deep Science Ventures are having an impact on creating science startups that will hopefully be hugely successful. Aside from the startups they support, however, there are still relatively few of note. In the health tech space we see digital doctor and medication delivery apps, but these are a step away from science research.

Other science-based startups that are relatively successful in the UK include Sparrho -- an AI-led science research tool. In the US, Notable Labs offers a personalised service for blood cancer patients. Whilst companies such as Memphis Meats are creating cruelty-free, lab-grown meat that look set to make its mark on western cultures that are becoming increasingly conscious of diet and global ecological issues.

For sure, there are shoots of positivity from startups built on scientific innovation. But there is a lot more potential to be taken advantage of. With the help of incubators like Deep Science Ventures, a more tech-focused mindset, and the help of experts from different fields such as marketing, engineering and sales, it’s surely inevitable that the world of science startups will see significant growth in the near future.

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