On November 7, 2017, San Francisco Bay Area YWIB in partnership with Johnson and Johnson Innovation (JLABS) held a unique event focused on introducing high school women to biotech entrepreneurship. Twenty-five high school students from around the Bay Area attended the afternoon event in South San Francisco. Four female biotech startup founders and CEOs presented investment pitches to the audience. Casey Lynch, CEO presented Cortexyme, a preclinical stage therapeutics company developing a novel approach to treating Alzheimer’s disease.
Dr. Crystal Nyitray, Ph.D, Founder and CEO of Encellin, described her company’s cell encapsulation technology and its first application in the treatment of type 2 diabetes.
Dr. Alicia Scheffer-Wong, Ph.D, Founder and CEO, presented Floragraph, a microbiome diagnostic company initially focused on providing parents with insights into their infant’s developing microbiome. Lastly, Dr. Emma Taylor, MD, CEO of Naked Biome, described her company’s live biologic product to treat acne. Each woman presented her company pitch, including a description of the technological innovation, the unmet medical need addressed by the technology, a development plan, and an ‘ask’ for funding.
The students in the audience were tasked with evaluating each company as if they were investors. In small groups over dinner provided by JLABS, the students discussed and critically evaluated each of the four technologies with the help of YWIB and JLABS mentors. One representative of each group then presented their investment decisions to the larger group. Notably, the pitch decks were the “real” presentations each CEO had previously used for investor meetings, which the attendees appreciated: “I really loved that no one watered down any of the information. They talked to us as they would investors.” Students in attendance reported that the material was “challenging, but in a good way.” Following the small group discussions, the larger group reconvened for a panel discussion on startups and entrepreneurship. (YWIB volunteers had prepared a list of questions and planned to facilitate the panel, but the students had so many questions of their own that we didn’t get to our own list!) Topics included the founders’ educational backgrounds, motivations for starting their companies, and the highs and lows of entrepreneurship. Some of the lessons the students reported learning from the event included: - “How, if you want something done or realized you sometimes need to do it yourself.” - “I learned about all the steps you have to take in order to even begin thinking about a startup. It’s important to have something big that impacts you enough to want to start a company.” -“I can start a company to address a problem I see.” - “You have to face rejection in order to succeed.”
The JLABS venue was a fantastic place to hold this event. JLABS provides incubator space for nascent biotech startups and access to capital equipment needed for early R&D. Being present in the incubator space gave the girls a visible home and context to the efforts the entrepreneurs are pursuing. The event was a valuable experience for the volunteers, as well. As one of our founders commented, “It was really uplifting to meet these young women and hope to be part of inspiring them. It's always nice to imagine that your story might have value for someone else.” San Francisco YWIB thanks Johnson and Johnson Innovation and JLABS leadership and staff for their sponsorship and the great energy and enthusiasm they poured into this event. We also wish to thank the many workshop volunteers who dedicated their afternoon and evening to help, and our attendees for their engaging participation and feedback.
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