Dragons’ Den Roars at Royal Society of Chemistry

This is the second year that the Pistoia Alliance has held a social event for members and non-members in conjunction with the face-to-face meeting of the Board and Operational Team. In planning these events, we’ve tried to come up with formats that stimulate thinking and offer more entertainment than your typical talking head. This year, that meant turning a “learn-ed body”—the Royal Society of Chemistry—into a dragons’ den!

The Dragons’ Den was first launched in Japan, but was turned into an institution by the UK—numerous offshoots around the world were inspired by the UK reality show. In the program, entrepreneurs pitch business ideas to five rich “dragons,” who will invest their own money in promising ideas. At our event, the pitches were delivered by members of the Pistoia Alliance Board, and we gave the audience play money so that they could be the dragons and award their “funds” to the pitch or pitches they liked best.

No one expected reality; pitches were intended more for entertainment, which is probably a good thing given that in at least one case the intended “pitcher” had to designate a stand-in due to uncooperative EuroStar service. But it was interesting to see how each of the pitches ultimately had some grounding in reality. The pitches applied a mix of the hottest technological trends to real issues associated with navigating the cloud, finding new sources of knowledge, and spurring innovation.

  • Monetized Annotation, a public-private data store designed to encourage pharmas to share data in order to benefit from “crowd-sourced” discovery. Dragon seed funding would be used to provide monetary awards to anyone who provided substantive annotation  on a successfully delivered new drug, and the system would be sustained through subscriptions that would give pharmas full access to the system. (Pitched by Ramesh Durvasula and Ingrid Akerblom)
  • ODDT, Open Drug Discovery Dream Teams intended to pull not just published data, but social sources of data together into a central hub that would serve as “the world’s biggest, open electronic lab notebook.” Dragon seed funding would be used to build the infrastructure, which would be sustained through advertising and subscription services from established publishers. (Pitched by Sean Ekins)
  • The Cloud Buster Toolkit, a set of tools intended to educate life science organizations about cloud standards for life science and provide a mechanism for organizations to test and validate their cloud-based infrastructures. Seed funding would be used to build the initial system and provide initial fee access; broader access and full hosting services would sustain the system. (Pitched by Alex Drijver and Richard Bolton)
  • Ontologies For All, which aims to let academics “kick the tires” of an innovative set of ontologies for free in an attempt to engage pharma in standardizing on a single ontology rather than developing their own. Seed funding would be used to provide the ontologies to ALL academic institutions for free; return would be based on a percentage of revenue generated by pharmas adopting the ontologies. (Pitched by Rob Greenwood standing in for Andreas Matern playing the role of Joe Donahue)

The winning entry was Monetized Annotation, but the winner in this case is less important than some of the lessons learned, namely:

  • Show them the money. The three venture capitalist attendees pointed out that none of the pitches was particularly strong, because none put enough emphasis on the return (a lesson we’ll keep in mind as we develop future business cases for Pistoia projects!).
  • Death by iPad ≠ Death by PPT. Sean Ekins sketched his entire presentation on an iPad, and while a lack of WiFi meant he wasn’t able to access his “prototype’s” data, the whimsical, off-the-cuff quality of the presentation puts a few more nails in PPT’s coffin. Sean posted his slides, below, and blogged about his experiences in the Dragons’ Den here and here.
  • Presentation matters too. Many attendees admitted that the delivery of the presentation had as much to do with their decision to fund a project as the content. The winning presentation did a great job not just at introducing the idea, but defending it under pressure with confidence and enthusiasm.

What do you look for in a business pitch, particularly for something disruptive and innovative?

Posted in Pistoia Alliance Blog.

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