Planning a Start-up


Launching a start-up can be exciting and rewarding yet at the same time very challenging. The vast majority of start-ups fail despite promising technology. Generally these failures occur because the business is not well planned and/or effectively managed.

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Some scientists believe good technology equates to a successful business. However, this perception is untrue. Technology is important, but alone, it is not enough. A successful start-up requires capital, commitment, dedication, persistence and, above all, a significant investment of time by the founders. Before making such a commitment, you should ask yourself, "Am I entrepreneurial?" or "Do I want to be an entrepreneur?" Faculty must realize that scientists and entrepreneurs have different mindsets. Scientists are trained to do research for the sake of knowledge and science, whereas the entrepreneurs' goal is to create a profitable and sustainable business. The starting point is to be mentally prepared for the task ahead.


Words From the Trenches

What are the things that may hold you back.
1) Is it experience?
2) Does the intellectual property stand alone or are you only solving an incremental problem?
3) Are you requiring too much money to reach success?
4) Do you have enough and the right human capital supporting the project?

– Daniel White
President & CEO, Clearside Biomedical

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OTT, along with the Georgia Clinical and Translational Science Alliance (Georgia CTSA), offers a six-day course once a year to faculty titled Kauffman FastTrac® TechVenture™. It is a proven entrepreneur training course designed to help technology/science-based entrepreneurs grow a great idea into a successful business. The course flyer is distributed, prior to each course, to Emory faculty via email and to other Georgia CTSA member institutions via the Georgia CTSA website. During the course faculty entrepreneurs spend six full days over seven weeks with two Kauffman certified facilitators and thirteen guest speakers, who are experienced company CEOs/VPs, serial entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, intellectual property experts, and university administrators, to address the topics listed below.

  1. Exploring entrepreneurship
  2. Defining the target market
  3. Conducting market research and analysis
  4. Testing your business concept
  5. Entering and capturing the market
  6. Planning for financial success
  7. Building and compensating your team
  8. Protecting your business and intellectual property
  9. Identifying funding and working with investors
  10. Managing cash and operating your business
  11. Managing conflict of interest (COI)

On the last day of the course, participants pitch their business opportunities to a panel consisting of a startup CEO, a venture capitalist and an angel investor. A Certificate of Achievement is issued to every participant who successfully completes the course.

Since 2012, OTT has successfully conducted the Kauffman FastTrac® TechVenture™ course nine times at Emory. As of December 31, 2019, over 160 Emory participants attended the course in addition to over 70 participants from other Georgia CTSA member institutions and private Georgia companies. View a list of graduates (PDF)

There is also a Kauffman LinkedIn presence which you can follow here.

If you are interested in starting a company, please contact Kevin Lei at OTT (klei@emory.edu) or call (404) 727-7241.

Words From the Trenches

"In the medical sciences, the scientific risks in startups is enormous; Mother Nature has reserved her greatest mysteries, surprises, and humor for those who wish to manipulate the human body’s natural course."

– Stephen Snowdy
CEO, Ansley Venture Consulting

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University technologies are generally at a very early stage and achieving proof-of-principle is one of the biggest challenges. Prior to proof-of-principle, recognizing a good start-up opportunity is not an easy task and the best commercialization strategy is often not clear. Because the goals for starting up a company are to identify and develop smart, fundable opportunities that can eventually create a profitable and sustainable business, a technology has to meet the following criteria to be a start-up opportunity:

  • The technology fills an existing market, as opposed to creating a new one.
  • The market size is significantly large with projected continuing or increasing demand.
  • Ideas are smart, workable, and patentable or protectable by using other legal mechanisms.
  • A competitive product or product pipeline can be developed based on a strong platform technology portfolio.
  • Faculty inventors are entrepreneurial and coachable.
  • The option of licensing to an existing company is not the best strategy.

OTT is here to assist in this valuation.

Words From the Trenches

"The small biotech world is very different from the university. Make sure you are really interested in working towards specific products and willing to give up the freedom (and resources) one has in the university to explore multiple different areas of research."

– Harriet Robinson, former professor
Chief Scientific Officer, GeoVax

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shaking hands

Prior to forming a company, faculty members need to follow the University’s policies and procedures to obtain approvals. While Emory fosters entrepreneurship and supports faculty start-ups that turn Emory discoveries into products, the University has set policies designed to ensure that potential individual and institutional conflicts of interest are managed properly.

The approval processes may be different from school to school. Please work with your department and school administrators to obtain procedure details. There is a university wide Conflict of Interest Office that provides oversight, systemic safeguards, and regulatory expertise in managing conflict of interest. Faculty founders are encouraged to get the conflict of interest review process started as soon as they decide to launch a start-up. To initiate the review and approval process as required by Emory’s conflict of interest policies faculty founders should initially disclose their participation in a start-up company using the eCOI online system.

Emory University policies pertaining to conflicts of interest are available on the Emory COI website.

Words From the Trenches

A good business plan comes down to three important factors:
1) Strong management team and advisors,
2) Clearly explained product and benefits, and
3) Deep understanding of market and competitors.

– Tom Callaway
President, Life Science Partner

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writing out a strategy

It takes three critical factors to start a company: 1) people, 2) products or product ideas, and 3) money. Business planning should focus on these factors. The people factor refers to management, scientific and business advisors as well as key employees. Some faculty founders may have already identified entrepreneurs who are committed to the proposed new ventures. More often than not it is difficult to identify and bring management with domain expertise on board before raising capital. In the absence of management, you should consider building scientific and business advisory boards to help planning in the early stages. Your inventions or Emory’s intellectual property forms the basis of some or all of the products. However, significant developmental work will need to be conducted beyond your initial discovery. Therefore, an operational product development plan needs to be in place. The final factor is money. Sufficient financing is the key for hiring seasoned management and financing R&D. Hence, seeking financing is usually a major focus of business planning.

After carefully considering all these factors, it will be necessary to develop a business plan summary or even a complete business plan. The business plan development process helps to better understand the company’s mission, business model, competitive advantages and the feasibility of developing technology into products. There are numerous business plan templates, useful articles, step-by-step business plan guides, and other resources available on the Internet. However, the real key is bringing in an entrepreneur who has a track record of start-up success.

For more information, please review the Developing Business Plan section under Forming a Start-up.

You can find additional information on the start-ups section of our blog site.