how to start  
a biotech company 

Biosciences and biotechnology are booming in the United Kingdom, with the country set to become the third-largest biotech hub in the world. Many entrepreneurs in the life sciences sector are taking advantage of these prime conditions by founding start-up biotech companies. 

According to the UK BioIndustry Association (BIA), the UK raised enough venture capital from 2016-2017 to close the gap between the two leading life sciences centres: San Francisco and Boston.

Biotech, short for biotechnology, is the use of living biological systems and organisms to develop products or technological applications that use those systems and organisms to make or modify products for a specific use. For example, biotechnology can be applied to medical processes to engineer genetic cures for certain diseases or design organisms to produce antibiotics. Biotechnology is also used in agricultural and industrial processes.

According to Steve Bates, BIA chief executive, “Things are in good shape in the UK bioscience sector. We have a fantastic science base, which is generating the opportunities to build great companies, and we have a substantial number of excellent management teams backed by some savvy and insightful investors. If you put together science, management and money, you have the trick to producing value in life sciences.”

Some of the most innovative UK-based biotech companies today are making groundbreaking moves in the field of medicine. Notable examples include Nightstar Therapeutics, a company developing gene therapies to treat genetic diseases that affect vision; Motif Bio, a company working on new antibiotics to address the issue of antibiotic resistance; and Silence Therapeutics, currently the only European biotech company developing medicines based on RNA interference.

These are exciting times for those looking to follow suit and establish a biotech start-up of their own. However, there are many additional considerations to take into account when working in the field of biotechnology. Biotech businesses require lab space, specialised equipment and tools and support that start-ups in other fields wouldn’t necessarily need.

In order to successfully start a biotech company and attract investment, there are several key questions you should be asking yourself.  

What is Your Biotech Product?

First, you need to clearly define what your start-up will be offering:

  • Is it a product, a service or a process?
  • Is it medical, agricultural, industrial or environmental?
  • What need or problem does it solve?
  • Who will be buying it, and how will it help them?

Is there a Market Need for Your Product?

A great idea doesn’t necessarily mean there is a market for it. You must ensure that your target market will purchase your future product or service. Do your research and speak to potential customers, venture capitalists and fellow science professionals to determine whether there is a genuine market need for what you’re offering. Companies like Nightstar, Motif Bio and Silence Therapeutics are all examples of biotech products that address critical medical needs in the world today.

Where will Your Funding Come From? 

There are a number of options for funding science start-ups: 

  • Bootstrapping
  • Investment
  • Grants 

Bootstrapping can be done either out of your own pocket or through selling. Investments could come either from venture capitalists or angel investors. 

Grants may not be ideal for those starting a biotech company and focusing on the end customer; they are typically more suitable for those looking to continue research and development.

Do You Have Legal Protection?

A lawyer is a key partner to any biotech start-up. They will help with legal business issues and provide guidance through every stage of establishing and growing your company. Your lawyer must be someone with start-up experience who you can trust and build a good working relationship with. 

On the subject of legal matters, be sure that your technology is protected by intellectual property when starting your company. Secure the assets, intellectual property rights and commitments from your inventors and key personnel. 

What is Your Biotech Start-Up Business Plan?

Your business plan that must clearly define the following: 

  • The market need (problem)
  • How your product or service will solve the problem 
  • How much money your product or service will generate
  • How you intend to spend the money
  • Who the key personnel within the company will be 
  • What the return for the investor will be 

Your lawyer can provide you with expert guidance for your business plan, which can be converted into a fundraising document for potential investor groups.

What Specialised Support Will You Need?

This is often the most daunting question for start-ups in the biotech and life sciences sector. More and more are finding the answer in ‘science incubators’ – specialised business incubators that offer the right kind of workspaces and lab facilities along with cutting-edge equipment, access to research and training as well as financial and IT services. Incubators like Cambridge Science Park and Harwell Campus have helped hundreds of biotech companies to grow and thrive over the years. 

Bidwells manages a number of labs and incubator properties specifically designed for start-up biotech companies – including units at Harwell Campus and Cambridge Science Park. Our team offers expert advice on science and technology-related real estate in the UK. If you’re looking for the perfect science start-up premises, speak to the Bidwells specialists for input.

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