SBB trip to Boston, USA
Let’s admit it, in an era of fast paced global dynamics and growing society needs, biotech becomes crowned as the king among the “coolest” industries. Boston is considered to be at the heart of these biotech events. What it really is though, is the heart of innovation itself. There is a very strong hype surrounding this city, that makes it a top destination for those interested in transnational research and most profoundly, science based business. It also makes it the epicenter of discussions around US’ ability to create world class innovation and market rockets of international magnitude.
For all these reasons, in January 2016 two Science Based Business master students and I decided to witness this hype ourselves and get an idea of what Boston really is. Of course, a seven-day trip may not be enough to understand a complicated setting as this, but if planned properly it can be adequate to grasp the city’s basic elements. Bearing this in mind, we decided to visit as many and as unique companies and institutions as possible, that would eventually allow us to leave with a good taste of Boston’s essence. Below I summarize my impressions based on my personal expectations and goals.
To begin with, Boston is a European-like, yet totally American, city with an inspiring aura that anything can become possible if you find an edge into its “system”. The city offers many historical sites to visit, beautiful neighborhoods, great restaurants, numerous universities and all of this comes in a compact urban size where everything is within walking distance. In addition to this, you can hear all sorts of languages being spoken around the city so instantly you sense the city’s multiculturalism. The connective tissue in this plethora of elements is the notion of excellence. Moving from downtown Boston towards Cambridge makes you understand what diversifies this place from any other place you’ve been to in the past. A dense network of companies, graduate & undergraduate institutions and business accelerators are all in one place. Well, something is done differently in this place, and most certainly differently than in Europe.
In order to grasp this uniqueness, we planned visits that would help us understand how the business ecosystem functions around Boston and how it accelerates science into a viable business. Initially, we planned visits to top institutions within the top-2 universities (Harvard Catalyst & MIT’s tech transfer office), to understand how cutting-edge science is exploited and marketed. A core part of young entrepreneurship is initiating and building a network, so we planned a visit at Cambridge Innovation Center, a pioneering entrepreneurship accelerator, and during evenings we also joined some of the best young entrepreneur’s networking events. Another essential part of starting-up is capital raising, therefore we scheduled a visit to Merck Serono’s venture capital branch. There we had the chance to understand some of the criteria that innovative new companies are selected upon, to receive funding for their initial phases of development. Thereafter, we decided to visit a top-4 consulting company providing services within the Healthcare industry (Ernst & Young) to understand how big pharma as well as smaller biotech companies set key elements of their business. However, all of this would not be worthy without hearing a real start-up company describe their own experience while setting up their company. For this reason, we visited one of the top-10 2015 healthcare mobile app startups in Boston, Medisafe. Additionally, we wanted to compare how doing business in Boston differs from the way it is done in the Netherlands. For this reason, we organized a presentation by the founder and CEO of “Launch in the US Alliance”, Jos Scheffelaar. His long experience in helping Dutch businesses conduct business in Boston gave us some very interesting insights. Lastly, we ended this journey at the Dutch consulate office, in an open event for Dutch professionals in Boston which marked the end of our 7-day trip.
Various take-home messages can be distilled from this trip. The most outstanding one is the fact that things can go faster and easier when the business ecosystem is dense and everything is in close proximity. It is easier to make the right contacts; it is easier to become heard and of course it becomes easier to get access to capital. At the same time, hardship arises since the competition is fiercer, the number of startups is exponentially rising along with the hype and the chances of being unique may go down. What spices things up, is the fact that a young entrepreneur is surrounded by hotspots of excellence which can be great learning cases and big inspirations. This is something very unique. Last, what we learn from our visits is the fact that the people we met and talked to were not unlike us. We met with young, as well as older professionals with whom we shared common ideas and perspectives. It is a matter of determination and exploitation of the right opportunities that will enable you to become part of this ecosystem.
In conclusion, Boston gave us what we were looking for: seven days of inspiration, fun and business perspectives. Definitely worth the preparation time, the anxiety and the money spent.