Business incubators and accelerators are compared and contrasted all the time in business blogs and articles. People don’t realise that in the biotech, these terms don’t necessarily apply. Things are different in the world of biotech and here are a few FAQs concerning them.
What’s a Bio-Accelerator?
According to the traditional view, if you’re part of any accelerator program, the time period involved is relatively short: perhaps a three- to four-month period where you go to bootcamp, sharpen your business plan and ultimately you come to a ‘demo day’ which is often classed as a display of the progress that has been made. However the term has been complicated in central Europe (Belgium and Holland, specifically), where the biotech industry has accepted the notion that acceleration happens after incubation. As a result, in these countries, a bio-incubator constitutes laboratory facilities for start-up companies, while a bio-accelerator simply constitutes an even bigger building. This confuses people and so for the purposes of this article, we will ignore that use of the term.
How do they compare?
In reality, they don’t. We think of incubators as just real estate, a building. Obviously, if you need lab space and it’s going at the right price, then it’s a valuable facility. However, the central problem with many bio-incubators is that the name is a misnomer.
What’s wrong with a Incubator?
Nothing, except the name. Bio-incubators collect the rent and make sure the gas (nitrogen, CO2) is turned on. If they are good, they will provide some core lab facilities. Obviously, if you need lab space and it’s going at the right price, then it’s a valuable facility. They don’t incubate. In fact, some are more like refrigerators: they’ll preserve your company for a while but, if you spend too long there, you’ll remain in stasis or even decline.
But what if there are classes offered at an Incubator?
In recent years, some incubators have started pushing their credentials as actual biotech start-up developers, often offering courses and even mentorship options. They’d have one believe that the only difference between them and an accelerator program is time—and that the fact they offer years is a good thing. In doing that, many of them have turned into potentially ‘false friends’.
Put starkly, bio-incubators have a sizeable population of companies that harbour no functioning entrepreneurial spirit and are sometimes controlled by academics with other concerns. The only significant achievement of these will be to pivot enough to maintain their zombified state. These companies will never make money for any investor. Remember the Michael Dell quote “Ideas are a commodity, the execution of them is not”?
Why starts ups need a genuine Accelerator such as RebelBio
Lack of clear goals (in bio-incubators, this is often a lack of any goals) and lack of the right personnel are the two most striking factors of poor programmes. Mentorship is all very well, but is it provided by people with battle-tested experience in building and growing a start-up? As Brad Feld correctly points out,“entrepreneurial communities must be led by entrepreneurs”.
SOSV plans for its teams to be more focused, have greater clarity in their mission and, in many cases, have avenues opened for them that once seemed closed. To make that happen, it requires work and dedication from a management team that has extensive experience of driving start-ups. Bio-incubators just don’t offer that and neither, unfortunately, do many accelerators programs. As a bonus, SOSV is also staffed by experienced scientists who can quickly understand what you do technically and smooth your transition to being a proper biotech entrepreneur while simultaneously helping you to develop your product.
Since SOSV pioneered the world’s first biotech accelerator in Cork in 2014, the program has gone from strength to strength, spreading to San Francisco and producing successive cohorts of successful companies such as Perfect Day Foods and Hyasynth Bio.
The RebelBio experience works because its start-up teams and alumni function and they benefit tangibly from the experience of being part of the program. This is not the backup plan for us here in RebelBio—as there is no rent to collect!