Some of you may be familiar with the expression, “my own non-governmental organization” or MONGO, an appellation coined to describe a donation-supported charity started by a well-intentioned individual seeking to save the world from his/her chosen affliction (see NY Times 2010 article). While doing good is laudable, I have questioned the effectiveness of MONGOs in global health and whether their proliferation diminishes overall progress. A subclass of MONGOs of interest to me are the technology-based, “MOGHBs,” my coinage for “my own global health biotechs” (pronounced mog-hib?), ventures aimed to inventing new products to address some global health problem that are likely not to interest the professional investors due to their size or business plan. These tiny-techs are powered by the passion and good intentions of their founders but run the risk of not getting enough business smarts and momentum to realize their product commercialization plans. But, of course, each has the potential to change the world.
Here are four enterprises that I think are MOGHBs:
Diagnostics for the Real World (DRW) is a Cambridge, UK- and Sunnyvale, CA-based company started by Helen Lee, a hematologist at University of Cambridge (DRW contact info). If still in operation, the company’s current project is a rapid diagnostic for Chlamydia infection (DRW summary), funded by the Wellcome Trust.
Epsilon Therapeutics (ET) is based on the observation made by its founder, Boston University immunologist, Lisa Gantley-Leal and others that the immune systems of people infected with parasites are less sensitive to allergens and less likely to verve off into chronic inflammation (Technology Review 2010 article). The plan is to develop drugs to treat IgE-mediated diseases (allergy, anaphylaxis, asthma) and the adverse effects of parasitic infections (ET World Health).
NeED Pharma (NeED) is a Milan-based company that is developing anti-infectives for the neglected diseases (there are six in the pre-clinical stage) and is supported by revenues from its contract research service. Its founder is Daniela Jabes who has both academic and company experience.
Worldwide Innovative Healthcare (WiCare) is an MIT-mentored start-up (disclaimer: I am one of its several mentors) that has an inexpensive and simple wound dressing system which applies an air tight seal and negative pressure to open wounds and may improve healing. WiCare’s founder, Daniela Zurovcik and her collaborators have conducted field studies in Haiti and Rwanda (Technology Review 2011 article) and are now seeking capital to fund registration trials.
If one wanted to go the MOGHB route, what would one need? As in starting any venture, there are five key elements:
Technology: preferably gotten at low-cost like by inventing oneself (keep as a trade secret to protect rather than pay for patenting) or licensing from a benevolent licensor, like a universities and research center, and preferably a technology that can lead to multiple products since the first one is not going to work.
Capital: about $200K in start up funding will be needed so preferably you have won the lottery or inherited a pile or have a spouse with income, but, if not, one can liquidize those assets being saved for retirement or refinance ones residence (the betting-the-farm strategy) or get “loans” from family or friends secured by currently worthless shares in the venture; the more au courant founder may use a “crowd funding” website like Kickstarter (Kickstarter) or one of its 400-plus competitors that are sprouting up as a result of the recent passage of the JOBS Act (TechCrunch article).
Plan: every venture needs a good business plan to get from concept to proof of concept (or prototype) to real funding to product and the first step of which is write out how the company will get something that it can point to in an application for grant (aka “free money”) that is needed to build a prototype or conduct a POC test; the grant will likely be only tens of thousands of dollars but every bit helps; possible sources are the NIH SBIR program or STTR program (if very lucky), Gates Foundation Exploratory program or a Gates pass-through organization like PATH (if you are very, very lucky or know someone), or USAID Development Innovation Venture program (if in the 2013 federal budget) (USAID DIV).
Validation: validation is needed to establish a minimum level of credibility; strong: a reputable business writer to write about your venture, or a “partnership” with an academic researcher willing to work on the idea, or recognized experts in the field joining your board of advisors; weak: awards from a business plan competition (since there are too many contests and judging is uneven [I know, I’ve been a judge] or getting covered by the popular press (since to them any story is a good story).
Time: starting a venture is a 110% effort so you need to set aside 12-18 months without distractions like a job or family but not more since if you haven’t made progress by then, you need to go on to your next great idea.
Any one have other examples of MOGHBs? Or advice?