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What innovators need to know about raising capital

Whether you’re the CEO of a start-up or the postdoc of an academic lab, you need capital to fund your research. That’s why Boston University’s Office of Technology Development, modeled after MIT’s Tech Transfer Center, hosted an event playfully titled: Tech, Drugs and Rock & Roll, Unplugged. Despite the appearance of a student a capella group called the Treblemakers, the event didn’t focus on music, tech or drugs.

Instead, the big theme of the afternoon was fundraising.


The four panelists shared their insights from all sides of the board room table. What did they have to say? MedTechBoston brings you the most noteworthy advice from each of the panelists.

First to speak was Edward Damiano, associate professor at Boston University and head of the university’s artificial pancreas lab. His BU-based lab  is working on an an automated blood-glucose control mechanism to relieve the pressure of diabetes management. He shared his motivations for creating an artificial pancreas, and some tricks of the trade that have helped fund his research.

Edward Damiano

Edward Damiano

“I have a son with Type I diabetes, which got me into this game long ago,” he said. “I used money from former startups to get started, then I used a grant from the Coulter Foundation to continue pre-clinical trails.”

Damiano also tips his hat to NIH funding and philanthropic donations. His take-home message for the crowd was to align your lab with a like-minded academic institution, like he has done at Boston University.

“Use the infrastructure resources of the instruction for as long as possible before spinning it out,” he said.

Next, Leah Davis shared her youthful spin on the fight for funding, adding her insights about crowdsourcing based on her experience as the Associate Director of New Media for BU’s alumni relations department.

Leah Davis

Leah Davis

Her message? Get excited about crowd-sourced funding, even if it seems like small peanuts. For those who crowd-fund through the Boston University platform, the university does not take any percentage from any gift donation, and absorbs the overhead of maintaining the crowdsourcing platform, according to Davis.

“After a lot of trial and error with other strategies, we started looking at crowd-sourcing. We were inspired by MidStART, and we’ve started working with a vendor who creates university specific crow funding projects,” she said.

Davis cautioned: “Crowd funding is appropriate for projects that need publicity, not necessarily to bring in tons of money.”

Then angel investor Kathleen Healy piped up, and the audience listened with rapt attention. She had some strong pieces of advice and strong words of warning to anyone trying to drum up their first rounds of funding.

Kathleen L. Healy

Kathleen L. Healy

“What do Angles want more than anything else?” she asked the crowd, waiting for the reply from the audience.

“An exit!” she agreed, with jubilant accord.

She pointed out that unlike Venture Capital firms, Angel Investors expect to get money back in an exteremley short time frame. She warned that audience that “it’s a mistake for angel recipients to start talking to VCs about funding.” According to Healy, firms like hers are looking for early-stage companies and a 10-20% return on investment within 7 years.

“We’re focused more on the jockey than the horse. We want a coachable management team,” Healy said. “We want to work with you.”

“I see about 40 entrepreneurs a month. You have to have a polished, polished pitch,” she continued. She also told some cautionary tales and offered words of advice when it comes to pitching.

“Mistakes I see? Trying to obscure the numbers in a slide deck,” she said. “Also, math errors. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve caught a math error. Don’t say, ‘These are conservative numbers.’ Do your research.”

Last but not least was Barbara Nelson, a former researcher who founded Nelson Biomedical. She spent much of career as a scientist, which she said gives her a “360 degree lens” through which to view funding resources. 

Barbara Nelson

Barbara Nelson

“I know we’re talking about money, but I want to shift the conversation to start talking about resources,” Nelson said.

According to Nelson, the most important thing you can do when you’re thinking about how to fund is think about what you’re trying to accomplish and what group has resources and a mission that aligns with those goals.

“Think carefully about what you really need because there may be ways to get what you need that doesn’t have to mean asking for money,” she added, wrapping up the 2014 Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll panel discussion.


Sony Salzman

Sony Salzman

    At MedTechBoston, we are sharing stories about cutting-edge medical innovation. As Managing Editor, I help coordinate our coverage of hackathons and company profiles. I also create content, update our social media and scout stories. I'm part of an ambitious group of people hoping to inspire a tech revolution in medical care.

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