The Acceleration for Biosciences in Connecticut (ABCT) – a competitive entry-level program that provides emerging life science businesses with entrepreneurial education and business networking opportunities – was recently the subject of an introductory webinar jointly hosted by the School of Engineering and Inventors Association of Connecticut at Fairfield University was organized.
ABCT is operated by Design Technologies LLC on behalf of CTNext, a subsidiary of Connecticut Innovations, the state’s venture capital agency. Mary Howard, ABCT’s program manager, defined the program as having five phases.
For the 2021-22 program, the initial phase took place from July to October, when applying companies and entrepreneurs submitted their inquiries for review. The second phase comprised external screening and reference interviews in October and November, followed by final interviews and the announcement of the program participants in December.
“Each application is assigned a scientific evaluator, an investor innovation reviewer, and ultimately a strategy advisor,” said Howard. “Then there are calls for three personal references that each applicant submits.”
The third phase begins in January 2022 with a six-day boot camp for the program participants, followed by coaching and workshops from February to May. The fourth phase includes mentoring and networking roundtables as well as a âpitch dayâ in May, and the program ends in June with a âdebriefing,â as Howard put it.
âDuring the debriefing, we ask each participant the main reasons why they would recommend the ABCT program to a friend or colleague,â she said. The most popular answer has traditionally been the networking opportunities offered by the program.
Howard stressed that the program is designed to help entrepreneurs build businesses, but it is shy of investing in participants’ initiatives.
“This is a program that does not provide funding to participants,” she said. “It teaches people how to prepare to grow their business, develop a strategy, and create a business plan that people may need to raise some money for.”
Howard added that it “takes a lot of work to get to the place where a seed investor or angel investor might want to put some money into a business,” which is what makes the ABCT program important to the entrepreneur to prepare for the search for funds. She emphasized that the program already had a track record of success.
“In the fourth year, which we just completed a few months ago, 38 companies raised nearly $ 50 million,” she said, noting that many attendees start with small goals before building seven- or eight-digit funding .
“Once they get through the program, they can win a $ 15,000 business plan competition grant or work really hard to get a special award from a federal government for $ 100,000,” said Howard. âBut the challenge is, you have to raise those first sums of money to get more. When you hear about people raising $ 1 million or $ 5 million or $ 20 million, a lot happens before they get there. “
Howard’s presentation included contributions from Larry Dubois, founder and CEO of Nanoionix LLC, a ceramic materials developer headquartered on the University of Connecticut’s Farmington campus. Dubois started his company in January 2020 with a focus on the battery industry but was in limbo when the Covid-19 pandemic took root two months later.
“We kind of scratched our heads and said, ‘Okay, what do we do now?'” He said. “And we have a major influence on the realization that our technology not only has some interesting applications in batteries, but that a variant of this technology even has antimicrobial properties.”
Dubois laughed at his limited science knowledge – “The last biology class I took was in high school, and that was probably 50 years ago” – but a UConn professor offered initial mentoring before leaving applied for the ABCT program because âwe thought, would we? “We will do everything that has to do with biological relationships, we have to learn a lot more.”
Shortly after joining the ABCT program, Dubois’ company won its first federal Small Business Innovation Research grant and, as he put it, “we were kind of up and running”. He credited the ABCT for updating it and connecting it to the life sciences sector.
âIt was a great opportunity for us not only to get to know the scope but also to have the right group of coaches, mentors and seminars and to force ourselves to think about what we are doing, why we are doing it, how we can achieve it what we do, how to talk to customers, etc., âhe said. “We learned a tremendous amount, not just from listening but doing, and Mary and her team have an amazing ability to connect participants with people who can really help.”
Prior to the end of ABCT, Dubois said his company signed a joint development agreement with a Fortune 200 company and received financial commitments from three different organizations.
âIt was a wild and very successful ride for us,â he said. “I highly recommend the ABCT program to everyone.”