Start-up Stories | 19/07/2021

The mutual benefit of big pharma mentoring healthcare start-ups

The Accelerate@Babraham initiative is designed to support ambitious early-stage life science ventures by giving access to laboratory and office space, £10k of non-dilutive funding, and facilitating connections with the Babraham Research Campus’ network, including mentoring and business support. 

Above: Dr Tamsin Holland-Brown, founder of Paediatric HealthTech, was part of the 2020 Accelerate@Babraham Cohort.

Each year, up to five early stage life science enterprises are selected - via a rigorous and competitive application and pitching process - to take part in a five month bio-entrepreneurial programme.  As the third cohort of start-ups come to the end of the 2020/21programme, one of the key elements of their success has been the bespoke mentoring partnerships set up to provide personalised guidance and support to the life science enterprises.

We explore what makes these partnerships a success with the founder of start-up Paediatric HealthTech, Dr Tamsin Holland-Brown, and her mentor Marco Cerato, Executive Vice President Global Portfolio, Business Development and Alliance management, at global pharmaceutical company Glenmark.

*At the time of recording Marco Cerato was Senior Vice President Business Development and Strategic Partnerships, at global healthcare company Mundipharma. Mundipharma remains a strategic partner of the Accelerate@Babraham initiative.

Larger companies can learn a lot from start-ups

“It has definitely been mutually beneficial,” says Marco, who took an instant interest in Paediatric HealthTech, a venture aiming to positively change the development, learning and life chances of children with hearing loss. “I have got a lot out of being a programme mentor and there is no doubt that larger companies can learn a lot from the energy, ideas and resilience from these young entrepreneurs. It’s a win-win situation.

“I heard Tamsin present at the AstraZeneca Exchange event and was amazed by her vision, passion and dedication to helping the millions of children affected by Glue Ear worldwide, which includes between 300-500k children under 10 years in the UK at any given time.

“I admired Tamsin’s drive, the product itself, and the idea that here is a real problem that needs to be managed and is pretty much overlooked, or treated with ineffective solutions,” added Marco.

Glue Ear is the most common type of temporary hearing loss affecting 1 in 10 children in their first year at primary school. This hearing loss means they fall behind in learning, speech, language and developmental skills.

Paediatric HealthTech has created affordable bone conduction headphones and an app which, paired either to a microphone to improve hearing or to a phone or tablet to work on speech and language, result in children hearing speech more easily.

From business blind-spots to meeting the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

Founder, Dr Tamsin Holland-Brown, said: “Having Marco as my programme mentor has been incredible. He has given me a huge amount of one-to-one time and a huge amount of confidence.

“Working alongside him has changed the opportunities I have had since we met. A great example of this was my goal to connect with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Marco knew one of the directors at the Foundation, Subhanu Saxena, and we were able to have a meeting with him! This led to huge improvements in the way I presented my ideas – my presentation was not up to the level that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation would have needed. In order to have a shot with them, Marco kindly gave up a significant amount of time, and his expertise, over Christmas and New Year."

“I had always looked at my pitch from the patient angle only; I’m determined to help these children. But what I actually needed in addition, was the business proposition behind it and that was a blind spot. I have completely changed the way I am now presenting, and the story within my slide deck, in a way that I couldn’t have done without the one-to-one help.”

Marco says: “All the ideas came from Tamsin quite frankly, I just helped out with structuring them. Tamsin already had the concept and enthusiasm; I supported her with a commercial mind-set and bigger, long-term financial and business planning. This venture is not intended to be for profit, but the reality is, even if you work in a no-profit environment, you have still got to be sustainable, so we looked a lot at that. We went on a journey together and came out with something really compelling”.

A way of supporting the Cluster, the wider industry, and patients

“Accelerate@Babraham and the work of the Babraham Research Campus, has been great in helping start-ups; trying to evolve them into the next stage fundamentally. This happens when you have access to the right mix of tools like a physical office or lab space, which then offers the possibility of talking with a bunch of industry mentors and VCs who have that all-important experience and want to help. Even more useful, some would say, is the peer-level support and review when you’re on an accelerator with others. You start to see your start-up is not a stand-alone start-up and that it sits within a wider field, and the seeds of a new network of connections are being sown.

“I think I can speak for all the partners involved in Accelerate@Babraham, when I say that we don’t do it because we are really searching for ideas or a product for ourselves, but rather because it’s the right, and good, thing to do. It’s a refreshing, mentally engaging process to be a part of; it’s helping our Cambridge community, the wider industry and, most importantly of all in this case, the children suffering from Glue Ear.”

Right: Paediatric HealthTech is dedicated to researching and helping children with glue ear.

Looking to the future

The Cambridge-based start-up also pitched for, and won, an additional £10K non-dilutive funding from Cambridge investors, CMS Ventures, as part of AstraZeneca’s Exchange event in association with Accelerate@Babraham in November last year. With this and the Accelerate@Babraham funding and mentoring, Tamsin says she’s in a strong position to take things to the next stage: “Because of all the support we’ve received, it looks like we will be able to trial our product in the third world. There is also a PhD student who wants to base his studies on it. Things are happening! I now have a completely different view of how I can move forward, and the business mentoring from Marco has helped me to get there”.

Marco adds: “I’m grateful to Mundipharma for allowing and encouraging me to do this, that’s how this partnership began. But in the end, what makes the difference is the people. Connections are created between motivated people and aspirational projects and I am personally committed to continuing to support Tamsin’s commendable vision even though our official mentoring time is complete. It’s fulfilling to be able to contribute, in a small way, to helping young people with temporary hearing loss due to Glue Ear, to hear again”.