Reinventing Life Science Startups

Steve Blank (@sgblank) is the guy who told business schools to do away with business plans and start teaching aspiring entrepreneurs by having them try their hands at launching a startup and conducting research with potential customers. His teaching method, known as the Lean LaunchPad, it’s being taught in engineering and business schools at Stanford, Berkeley and Columbia Universities among others.

The latest group to show interest in Blank’s approach to entrepreneurship is scientists. Last October, Blank and a team of world class veteran investors taught the Lean LaunchPad to researchers and clinicians at University of California San Francisco to help them move efficiently their technology from an academic lab or clinic into the commercial world. The class was segmented into four cohorts: therapeutics, diagnostics, devices and digital health.

You can get a feel of the course by looking at the first two weeks of lectures, covering value proposition and customer segment, here.

You can also watch a summary of the differences found between the different cohorts in the following video:

Finally, these are the lessons learned by Steve Blank after his first immersion in Life Sciences.

  • Each of these Life Science domains has a unique business model
  • Commercialization of therapeutics, diagnostics, devices and digital health all require the Principal Investigators / founders outside their building talking to customers, partners, regulators
  • Only the Principal Investigators / founders have the authority and insight to pivot when their hypotheses are incorrect
  • The Lean Startup process and the Lean LaunchPad class can save years in commercialization in these domains
  • This can be taught

The Big Data within you

Microsensors in your shoes compile data on where you go and what you do. Your workout clothes track your daily progress at the gym and tell you when to slow down or speed up. The pill you swallow reports back on the state of your digestion, vital signs, and overall wellbeing. And as you sleep, a headband monitors your REM patterns.

Sci-fi fantasy? Not at all. It is merely a glimpse into what might be possible through a movement called “The Quantified Self” that has become mainstream.

The Quantified Self employs technology, mobile devices, sensors embedded in clothing and wearable bands, to drive greater self-awareness by tracking data related to exercise, diet, weight and other health maintenance, financial management, learning and so forth. Almost 70% of the American adults already quantify their lives in areas related to health and wellness and this is just the beginning. Analysts are predicting that we will see even more growth in the months and years ahead. ABI predicts that more than 100M personal tracking devices will be sold each year by 2016. There are reasonable expectations that personal tracking will be a $12B industry by 2020. Investments have been huge, as well: Fitbit raised more than $40M this year, BodyMedia was bought by Jawbone for more than $100M, and personal informatics projects on Kickstarter have booked more than $6M in revenue alone in 2013.

While it’s clear these apps and devices have attracted a loyal following, most experts are still trying to figure out what to do with all of this data collected. For example, there are several challenges to overcome before using this data in healthcare practice. Quality is a big issue: the data need to be good enough to be used in a clinical setting. Not to drown physicians in a tsunami of personal data is another aspect to consider. Data streams need to reach practitioners in a format that’s easily consumable, searchable, and analyzable. Finally, these continuous data streams need to be contextualized as well. Doctors need to know what external factors could have caused, for example, a rapid spike in blood pressure or true diagnosis can’t happen.

In the video below you can get a glimpse on how the Quantified Self is already changing our lives. If you want numbers that show the blooming business of data have a look to this article published in Harvard Business Review. If you prefer a written introduction to the field you will probably enjoy this report at The Economist.

Being a changemaker knows no age

Jack Andraka (@jackandraka) at 15 developed a far better diagnostic test for pancreatic cancer using antibodies, carbon nanotubes and research from Google. It is over 400 times more sensitive, 168 times faster and it costs around three cents, 26.000 times less expensive than the current diagnostic tests and only takes five minutes to run. He won The Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, the world’s largest international pre-college science competition. If you want to know how he did it, watch this video.

Jack Andraka

Laura Deming (@LauraDeming), 18, is already a venture capitalist, working closely with biotech legend Corey Goodman. Obsessed with curing aging, she began working in labs at 12, entered MIT at 14. Frustrated that such work was not being commercialized, she obtained the backing to start an anti-aging focused VC fund. Watch this video to learn how to make prevention a $1 trillion business.


Jack, Laura, we all have the potential to innovate and change the world. Entrepreneurship starts with dreams and the burning desire to achieve them.

The American entrepreneur, marketing guru and best-selling author Seth Godin (@ThisIsSethsBlog) explains in this video, that for 150 years we have been living in an industrial economy. Now it is over. Now there is a revolution going on in world’s economy and only individuals who do work that matters and people who choose to make a difference will win. The really good news is that people most qualified to do this job are entrepreneurs so… what is your dream?

Seth Godin

Lessons Learned:

  • We all have the stuff to be entrepreneurs.
  • The tools to turn a bright idea into a successful business are available for anyone.
  • If you have what you think is a good idea, or see a good opportunity…go for it!
  • Even if you don’t succeed at first you will have learned a lot, so it will be worth the effort.