Foundations are the New VCs

Biotechnology companies often seek funding to further their life sciences/financial goals, and while venture capitalists and other sources are key in this pursuit, so too are foundations, which may be well capitalized and have specific areas of interest.

A recent event held at the New Jersey Economic Development Authority’s Center for Innovative Technologies (CCIT) explored the topic “Foundations are the New VCs” via a two-hour seminar and panel discussion. BioNJ, an industry trade association, was an event partner.

Representatives from The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research (MJFF), the Israel-U.S. Binational Industrial Research and Development (BIRD) Foundation and the company GENEWIZ examined a wide range of topics, perhaps most importantly addressing how biotechs can best pursue funding from foundations.

As participants such as Dr. Tod Sherer, MJFF’s CEO explained, the application process may be competitive.  He said, “They are relatively short applications, but I would say some best practices are to be clear and to the point about the budget, which reflects the activities. The foundations generally are not just making an investment in the company; they are funding a project.”

Sherer added that it is important to: be specific about what the project is, what are the costs associated with that project, the stage the project is in, and be willing to share information with the foundation. On the latter point, he explained, “Sometimes an application comes in and it says, ‘Compound A is very effective at addressing target B.’ That is unlikely to get funded.

“If you are seeking funding from a public entity, we are also required to share what we are funding. That is sort of the trade-off; where the funding is coming from.”

GENEWIZ, a CCIT graduate, benefited from the BIRD Foundation’s support. Overall, the BIRD Foundation fosters cooperation between US and Israeli firms across a range of technology sectors, and also funds specific projects.  Of note, “since January 2015, the BIRD Foundation has approved $23 million in funding for 28 projects, 11 of them in the life sciences sector.”

Dr. Lisa Hague, associate manager of technical support at GENEWIZ, detailed some of the ways her firm was successful in achieving BIRD Foundation support.

She said, “Market research [was important] – making sure that there would be a market for the product, and that it also clearly defined the roles of each of the players, making sure that there would be an equal distribution throughout.

“One of the more challenging things about proposal writing – when you are collaborating with someone internationally – is making sure that there is a lot of communication back and forth, and that communication is frequent, and open.”

Beyond offering education and networking opportunities for event participants, the day also presented a way for them to see the CCIT, a 46,000-square-foot incubator which houses more than two dozen firms.  Ideal for growing companies, the CCIT is comprised of 27 wet labs as well as access to offices, conference rooms, a support staff and other, additional resources.

Related Articles: