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February 4, 2019 FOCUS: Bioscience

Accelerator aims to advance CT’s bioscience ambitions

Mary Howard Executive Director, Design Technologies LLC

A fledgling, state-backed bioscience accelerator based in Branford — called the Accelerator for Biosciences in Connecticut, or ABCT — recently selected its second cohort of 12 startups that will receive consulting and other support in their efforts to commercialize drug and other medical treatment discoveries.

The Q&A talks to Mary Howard, executive director of Design Technologies LLC, overseer of the ABCT accelerator, which received a three-year commitment of up to $720,000 from CTNext, an offshoot of the state's quasi-public venture arm, Connecticut Innovations.

Q. Can you tell us exactly what the Accelerator for Biosciences in Connecticut is and does, and how its founding came about?

A. ABCT was founded in 2017 by CTNext following research into successful accelerator programs within the biosciences community. CTNext attended the ELabNYC Pitch Day of the sister program to ABCT that we run in New York City, which convened hundreds of mentors, investors and entrepreneurs.

ELabNYC has seen enormous success since its inception. It's graduated 116 ventures over the past six years and 72 percent of those companies have been funded, 25 percent have started second businesses, and 150 new patents have been filed and are enjoying healthy company growth.

Because of our successful track record, CTNext asked us to bring our program to Connecticut to ensure companies coming out of the state see the same success. Importantly, proper nurturing of these companies helps to drive economic growth within the state.

Since ELabNYC's inception in 2012, it is estimated that 210 new jobs have been created and approximately $16.8 million in wages are earned annually by the companies that move through the program. We hope to encourage that same economic growth within Connecticut.

Q. You recently announced your second accelerator class. Can you tell us about the selected companies?

A. We are really excited about this new diverse class of bioscience ventures. This year's cohort brings unique products and services that will advance the fields of biotech, pharmaceutical, medical device, diagnostics and digital health.

The selected startups were chosen via an extensive screening and interview process by an elite advisory team, consisting of leading scientists, active investors and business strategists. They are evaluated based on metrics such as strength of the team, fundability by investors, uniqueness of insights into the problems they are solving and their capacity to impact lives.

The ventures will follow a rigorous curriculum of entrepreneurship education and intensive customized networking to build their ventures during the six-month-long program.

Q. How many companies were in the first accelerator? What were the results of the first accelerator?

A. We accepted 12 ventures into both the first and second cohorts and 11 ventures completed the first cohort. In the first cohort, two ventures collectively raised more than $4.5 million of seed funding; three ventures received their first customer sales during the program; and 100 percent of the ventures that graduated incorporated by the end of 2018.

Q. What is Design Technologies' role in the accelerator program?

A. Design Technologies helps build emergent intellectual property-focused ventures. Design Technologies manages the top three biosciences accelerator programs in the Metro New York area: ELabNYC, Next Milestone and ABCT. We develop the program content, bring together a team of highly skilled mentors and entrepreneurs from our networks and connect to our program participants.

Q. One concern about Connecticut's bioscience industry is that it's spread out across the state. There are hubs in New Haven, Farmington and even along the coast line. Does the lack of a major bioscience center hurt the industry's ability to grow in the state?

A. While it may seem spread out, relatively speaking, Connecticut is a small state, with the maximum distance between bioscience hubs of less than 70 miles, which is a strength of the state.

The ABCT program leverages hubs, holding program activities at university and corporate locations in New Haven, Farmington, Groton and Stamford. In contrast, 500 miles separate La Jolla from Palo Alto. We have an intimate community of highly educated researchers who draw from each other and have contributed in major ways to the advancement of science.

In addition, Connecticut benefits from its proximity to other major metropolitan and biotech hubs, including Boston and New York, with the benefit of high-quality education and lower real estate prices.

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