INSIGHTS | 19/07/2021

Recycling success by paying it forward

“Babraham as a campus is quite unique. We have over 60 biotech companies on site who understand what it takes to build companies and how difficult and challenging it can be. The Campus community plays in huge part in facilitating others’ successes, which is demonstrated in the £1.2 billion the Campus companies have raised to date,” says Karolina Zapadka, Head of Accelerate@Babraham, who is passionate about facilitating and accelerating opportunities and growth for early-stage life science ventures.

Above: Karolina Zapadka, Head of Accelerate@Babraham

In co-founding Accelerate@Babraham in 2018, she launched the first life science acceleration programme for early-stage ventures to combine access to lab space, mentoring from business and scientific experts and access to investors in the Cambridge Cluster.

“A successful incubator initiative needs access to a local and global network; from expert scientists and academic institutions to entrepreneurs and investors,” she says. “Local investors play a critical role in early-stage company formation, but then a company progresses and sometimes you have to reach out to your wider network and investment from further afield. We have built those connections here at the Babraham Research Campus.”

She started her career as a scientist in protein and peptide therapeutics at a leading biopharmaceutical company developing a portfolio of products to enable improved treatments for diabetes care.

“As a scientist, we get used to sharing our expertise because it is part of our culture and values. This is much easier to do in a campus setting where you see your fellow campus occupiers every day, whether that’s in the restaurant, in a shared lab or in the gym. The Babraham Research Campus is not a science park, it’s a scholastic environment with a team spirit where entrepreneurs can build businesses. Companies can focus on developing their science in a supportive and highly networked community, helping to create new medicines, jobs and growth, and maximising the impact of UK science.

A collegiate atmosphere

Karolina says it’s really important to build and encourage a community of like-minded people: “That’s what we have achieved at the Babraham Research Campus – a real collegiate way of working. The people here are genuinely trying to help one other, especially if you’re a scientist coming here from academia and moving into a business world that you don’t really know much about."

"In general, somebody gave time to these now established community members years ago, and so they are happy to ‘pay it forward’ and share that time with the younger generation; it’s actually very simple but wonderfully reciprocal. But it’s also about the type of people that we are lucky to have at the Campus. We have these successful yet approachable, world-class experts heavily associated with the Campus that you’ll see regularly."

“I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve asked for advice informally around Campus; specific thanks to Chris Torrence, CEO at PhoreMost, who has generously given his time to me several times while grabbing a coffee in the canteen! Jonathan Milner is another example from the Cambridge Cluster who is supporting a number of companies at the Babraham Research Campus; Andy Richards, entrepreneur and business angel investor is actually recycling money that he made into businesses in Cambridge; Jane Osbourn, who sits on our Board, was one of the first employees at Cambridge Antibody Technology which started at Babraham, went to MedImmune, and then came back to Babraham as a founder and CSO of Alchemab; David Grainger, co-founder of RxCelerate based at the Campus as well as a partner at Medicxi; Jill Reckless, co-founder of RxCelerate who is unwavering in her support of Accelerate@Babraham; Steve Jackson who is a professor at Cambridge University and Co-Founder of Mission Therapeutics, again another very successful company at the Campus, and he just moved back to the Campus as the CEO for Adrestia – these inspiring and knowledgeable people (to name drop but a few!) have been around for years, they know how to build successful companies, and they are happy to share their expertise with us and the next generation of innovators.”

Right: You never know who you'll meet in the canteen...

Flexible future-proofing and talent recycling

Karolina completed a PhD in Molecular Biophysics at the University of Cambridge and carried out her Postdoctoral work at a top pharmaceutical company so understands what’s needed: “Our occupiers have this unique access to science on site at the Babraham Institute, the brilliant minds at Cambridge University, and access to top-level flexible lab space. Flexibility is key because most start-ups, understandably, don’t really know what they are going to do and what they’ll need, and won’t have enough capital to begin with, so you have to be really flexible in that sense. Accelerate@Babraham ventures can spend up to five months at the communal lab space and then we are flexible in that they can stay for longer with us or we will be happy to help them to find a new home, because we are well-connected to other incubators and workspace providers”.

Her enthusiasm and dedication to each Accelerate@Babraham cohort company ensures the very best connections are made and every opportunity maximised: “In terms of the accelerator, we support the companies to take their the science and ideas into the business world. It is important that we find the right mentors for the start-ups so we match each company individually to those who can actually help them to progress. We run seminars where we cover the basics of business models, finance, forecasting, IP, and negotiation, run by experienced entrepreneurs and CEOs which in turn builds relationships.

“I was recently asked by one of our former portfolio companies, now growing and raising capital, for advice on how to manage work/life balance with a scaling business. I connected her with two Campus companies who were more than willing to share their experience and provide guidance. So, there is this personal touch, and it’s not necessarily part of the programme, but it will be really beneficial to the growth of his business and talent in the Cambridge Cluster. I feel that it’s part of our responsibility to help them with their journey later on. And maybe, in turn and in time, this portfolio company will themselves become a mentor to a future start-up, the talent will be recycled, and the learnings will endure within the Cambridge community.”

"It’s part of our responsibility to help them."

Becoming part of the Babraham Research Campus family

The Campus does continue to support companies in other ways too, and not just start-ups but life science ventures of all sizes throughout the Cambridge Cluster. It hosts the Babraham Investor Conference every year where a number of early-stage start-ups and scale-ups can present to investors which is crucial in helping those businesses to access capital and showcase their stories. 

Karolina herself, has over 7 years’ experience in building healthcare companies within the Cambridge Cluster, playing a pivotal role in securing over £8.5 million for a number of British early-stage ventures (pre-seed and seed stage) from a stellar syndicate of investors (business angels and VCs). In terms of Accelerate@Babraham applicants, she says: “I look for ventures that can bring a lot of collaborative energy and personality to the Campus and a mix of early-stage companies from slightly different backgrounds with various levels of experience. This could include clinicians and academic projects taking the first steps, alongside companies that have existed for a year and raised a little bit of primary money but need access to labs. They can all contribute to the overall cohort success, challenge each other in different ways with peer-to-peer mentoring, and become part of the Campus family”.