Q&A with Bio-Start mentor James Hallinan

  • Posted on 28 June, 2017

Q&A with Bio-Start mentor James Hallinan

Business Development Manager, Synthetic Biology at Cambridge Consultants.

Bio-Start: What in your background makes you a good mentor to the Bio-Start participants?

JH: I’ve been involved in molecular and syn bio for long time, having worked in biotech since the 90s and involved in early tech transfer for over a decade both in the UK and Australia. Throughout these roles, I have done a lot of mentoring and helping set entrepreneurs on the right path. While all the companies are different, there are consistent learnings and ways to provide strategic guidance, much of which is oriented around asking early-stage entrepreneurs the right questions and getting them to think about things that might be beyond their original view.

Bio-Start: Where do you think you’ve had the biggest impact in supporting your Bio-Start entrepreneurs?

JH: It is key for these nascent companies to clearly identify not only who is going to use your product, but who is going to pay for it. Are the users the same group as the buyers? What are the motivations of these people or groups? It is a simple but essential question I like to reinforce as spin-out entrepreneurs often are focused on potential users and not payers of their product.

Specifically, in my recent Bio-Start mentoring, I believe the most tangible contribution I have made is in analysing pricing models and how to look at the competitive market to price a new product. While initial instincts might be to come under the current market price point and start with a loss-leading price to attract customers, I help shape thinking that buyers will be attracted to new technology and an initial cohort will find product price inelastic. And, it is always easier to raise rather than lower price. Getting the price model right from the onset helps with the overall attractiveness of the business and its future investment potential.

Since most young companies are founded by a technologist, they spend 98% of the time thinking about the technology and product, and only 2% thinking about the business. There is no shortage of great ideas, but great ideas that become market successes are fewer in number as it has a huge dependence upon the business model, management and execution, and the financial structure to attract investment.

Bio-Start: What do you think has been the most valuable part of the Bio-Start Bootcamp for the participants?

JH: In addition to having mentors there to pose the right questions and get them thinking about buyers, pricing and business structures, I think Bio-Start gives early-stage companies an incredible opportunity to build their strategic networks. Many spin-outs have strong academic and local support from the universities, but Bio-Start is able to introduce support from all over the country and the world, helping them expand their networks in valuable ways. These contacts expand their perspective and force them to think more broadly about their business and markets.