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The "Secret Sauce" for Biotech Start-ups

Published: July 22, 2016

The 'Secret Sauce' for Biotech Start-ups

Touring biotech incubator QB3@953 with Scientific and Operations Director Richard Yu.

Faculty in Silicon Valley

Daily posts and photos from the ACM SAIL faculty seminar on Silicon Valley as an Innovation Ecosystem.

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Day 8 – Monday, July 18, 2016

Posted by Henrik Schatzinger, Associate Professor of Politics and Government, Ripon College

After seeing a number of places that require only smaller spaces, computers, and intellectual firepower, we were interested in exploring a sector that requires a higher degree of infrastructure, so we jumped into the exciting world of biotech.

Specifically, we met with Richard Yu and Crystal Nyitray from QB3, who shared a lot about how biotech start-ups make scientific discoveries through QB3’s offering of laboratory space, meeting rooms, office space, and on-demand access to a stockroom, fridges, freezers, and glass wash. QB3 also provides networking services, offers seminars, legal services, and other company-specific assistance to help the start-ups reach the next level.

Roster of companies renting space at QB3@953.

QB3 does not take equity in the businesses that are on site but primarily relies on the rental income they receive from providing 100 bench spaces. Forty-three companies are on site, half of which are in drug development, and on average companies rent the space for 18-24 months. QB3 is currently experimenting with “hot benches” that can be rented by the hour.

The “secret sauce” here seems to be that QB3 allows big pharma to get to know little, upcoming companies by living with them in the same workspace. Some sponsors, such as L’Oreal, do their research on site, which makes for excellent networking possibilities.

Some of the ACM alumni from the biotech and tech sector did not feel comfortable speaking with us on the premises of their companies, but were happy to have a conversation with us during dinner that day.

Two of the themes that emerged that evening were the value of a liberal arts education and the degree to which Silicon Valley provides new opportunities after something does not pan out.

The alumni emphasized how important it is for them in their jobs to communicate clearly both verbally and in writing, and that they better understand people from diverse backgrounds as well as human behavior more generally, a direct result of learning at liberal arts schools. The software engineers pointed out that engineering requires a lot of idea generation, something they feel comfortable with because of their liberal arts backgrounds.

Visting Prezi

Hearing about Prezi from Content Marketing Manager Susannah Shattuck.

We also visited presentation software company Prezi, which was founded in 2009 in Budapest, Hungary, and still has their office there but now also has an office in San Francisco. Prezi has 75 million users, 260 million Prezis have been created, and the vision is to reach two billion users, as Susannah Shattuck shared with us.

What stood out to me was how the physical arrangement of office space changes frequently based on the needs at hand. At the same time, Susan Setton, Prezi’s office manager, told us that changes to the office space also change people’s work patterns and that this is important, as it makes clear to employees that they constantly have to be flexible.

Another statement stuck with me, namely that San Francisco may become, or already is, more of a center of industry, while Detroit may become the new, true center of innovation because of the costs associated with running a business out of these cities. Is San Francisco in the process of pricing itself out as an attractive innovation hub?

Visiting Sprig

Silicon Valley seminar participants visiting Sprig.

Calculating Demand for Meals at Sprig

Several of us also visited Sprig, which delivers healthy, organic food in San Francisco to individuals within 15 to 20 minutes. There are three daily options for lunch and dinner for less than $15 on average. What's unique about Sprig is that the whole operation is run with in-house employees. They do this so they have the best control of the quality of their products along the way.

What stood out to me was how much statistical analysis goes into the delivery of the food as their scientists have to project the demand for the food options as the cars are already on the road waiting for orders to come in. Sprig's accuracy for these projections is around 80-90%.

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