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How to Focus Your OneStart Application for Maximum Success

Transcript and Editing - by Dr. Laura Ferguson a Christ Church Research Fellow with a background in molecular evolutionary genetics. Questions and Recording - AJ

Want to know more about what makes a good OneStart application?

Read on, or download our podcast, to find out what OneStart mentor, Dr Ilan Zipkin, Senior Investment Director at Takeda Ventures Inc., thinks about how to focus your application for maximum success.

Ilan also chats to AJ from OneStart about how to transition from the lab to a career in venture investing, shares his excitement at working with young entrepreneurs, discusses what sets OneStart apart from other biotech startup competitions, and outlines why Takeda is a natural partner for OneStart.

His most important advice? Just give it a go! Your OneStart application doesn’t have to be polished, but should capture the interest of the panel, and clearly show that the product will address an unmet need in the market.

Read the digest of the interview here (follow the links hear what Ilan has to say) or hear the whole podcast by clicking here.


AJ: To start out with, how did you get from a PhD in cell Biology at UCSF to Senior Investment Director at Takeda Ventures?


{Listen to the full answer here}

IZ: My PhD was in basic molecular genetics, it was not translational at all, but it gave me the opportunity to go to a newspaper called BioCentury. I reported on everything going on in biotech, and talked to just about every executive I could get my hands on: investors, CEOs, CFOs. It was a fantastic introduction into biotech.

AJ: So was this your plan, to become an expert in biotech through writing?

IZ: No, not at all! When I finished my PhD all I really knew was academia. At that time, my only real skillset was writing. Connecting with BioCentury was fortuitous. I spent four years there, and to this day the networks and contacts I made are a foundation for conversations I have as I’m looking to invest.

“When I finished my PhD all I really knew was academia”


AJ: This is really great advice on how early career researchers can move beyond the lab and continue their passion for science in other avenues.

IZ: Sure, but there are a lot of other avenues. The important thing is to become exposed to as much as possible and really learn about it. At BioCentury I got a sense that venture capital might be a great way to maintain a broad scientific overview, stay on the cutting edge of what was going on in R&D, but make things happen, rather than just write about them. Following roles at MPM Capital and Prospect Venture Partners, I joined Takeda Ventures Inc.,, where I’ve been for three years.

AJ: Can you tell us a bit more about Takeda, and what areas you focus your investments?


{Listen to the full answer here}

IZ: Sure, Takeda Pharmaceutical Company Limited is a global organisation, traditionally headquartered in Japan, where it has a 230 year history. Our major therapeutic areas are oncology, gastrointestinal, CNS and cardiovascular. We focus on investing in companies to help develop products which will become licencing or acquisition targets for Takeda and will feed the pipeline of the company.

That’s what makes OneStart a great programme for us to be involved in- seeing companies at the ideas stage, needing that initial capital to get off the ground.

“Takeda Pharmaceuticals has a 230 year history.”

AJ: That leads us nicely into my next question: personally, what was your motivation for taking part in OneStart as a mentor and a judge?


{Listen to the full answer here}

IZ: This is my second year. I got introduced to the program by Matt Foy at SR One, who was instrumental in starting it. I’m always in favour of opportunities for nurturing early stage companies, but one of the things I really got attracted to in OneStart was the process of teaching the entrepreneurs what it takes to start a company. As opposed to ‘here’s a prize and good luck’, there’s very much a mentoring focus at OneStart. Seeing the whole process through last year was a lot of fun!

This past year real opportunities for Takeda have come out of the programme ; but I also just really enjoyed the enthusiasm and drive of the young scientists and business people who wanted to take an idea and start a company. That moment of translation, of concept to product, is really what excites me about companies. That progress is what really gets me excited, and that’s what’s really driving these entrepreneurs.

“That moment of translation, of concept to product, is really what excites me about companies.”

AJ: What advice would you give to those submitting an application this year, so that they stand out during the selection process?

{Listen to the full answer here}

IZ: Now that I’ve seen companies go from that initial application, all the way through to the finals, I have a sense of the dramatic way in which proposals improve over time. The application itself doesn’t have to be polished on all fronts: there’s a lot of work that happens throughout the process.

What I am looking for is a clear statement of the value proposition. It’s a product that you believe has a certain use that is addressing a need in the market. There’s someone out there who needs it, they don’t have it today, and now you have the idea that can create that product. That succinct message is as good as you can do in an application, then the judges decide which of those ideas sounds the most intriguing, and those are the ones that will move on to become semi-finalists.

“There’s someone out there who needs it, they don’t have it today, and now you have the idea that can create that product.”

AJ: So you don’t necessarily need to have all of the answers, just an idea compelling enough for the judges to see the potential?

IZ: That’s exactly right, and as I was saying before, that’s what’s unique about OneStart. There is certainly no expectation that a team will come into the process having everything resolved. Any background work will certainly help, but even if none of that has been done, if you have a great idea, then make an application. If the judges agree then you’ll have a chance to use the OneStart process to flesh it out.

AJ: And what about building a team? A lot of scientists are so used to working independently; the idea of generating a team might be a bit alien to them.

IZ: Building a company is such a multi-factorial endeavour that it’s impossible for one person to do it all. Having someone with a scientific product concept can be hugely complemented by people coming in with other skills, e.g. a medical background, lawyers, MBAs, business executives. It’s beneficial to have people to divide and conquer the different aspects that go into a business plan and make a company successful.

“Building a company is such a multi-factorial endeavour that it’s impossible for one person to do it all.”

AJ: Thank you so much for taking the time to chat, and encouraging people to put their names in the hat. We’re very much looking forward to working with you over the next year.

IZ: My pleasure. I look forward to seeing people sign up and use the networking platform to get together. Hopefully there will be just as many great applications as there were in past years.