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The biotechnology space is now rife with opportunities for innovation and profit. However, new biotech startups continue to have trouble launching and surviving due to the very high capitalisation costs and the long time it usually takes for these ventures to produce marketable products or patentable innovations. Until a biotech manages to do either, they are usually at the mercy of outside investors, some of whom will be ready to pull the plug if they don’t like or don’t understand how their money is being spent.
If you’re planning to launch a biotech startup, it’s important to know the key areas where you could maximise your initial capitalisation. Below are 10 often-unexpected expenses to consider before you start spending your limited VC funding:
Building a biotech laboratory from scratch can be prohibitively expensive. Laboratories require more specialised preparation and inputs than similarly sized offices for non-technical businesses, driving up construction costs. Labs that need to meet biological safety levels required for biotechnology research will also have to be built under special guidelines, making them even more expensive. For this reason, biotechs with limited goals or capitalisation should consider renting a biotechnology laboratory instead.
Lab space rentals are a relatively new concept and won’t be found just anywhere. Thankfully, locating in an established biotech hub like Singapore will give startups access to a range of lab rental options as well as other related services that could help maximise their real estate budget.
New biotech startup founders are often surprised at how much it costs to keep a lab properly stocked with basic test tubes and reagents. These costs can become even greater if biotech’s supply chain manager does not shop around for the best supplier. Additionally, many supplies used in biotech have short shelf lives or have specialised storage requirements, often leading to losses from spoilage or breakage. These often-unexpected operating costs have to be taken into account before the startup launches.
Startups can avoid many of the issues related to consumable lab supplies if they use a lab rental service that also sells consumables. Lab rental services can usually secure favourable rates through very large bulk orders that would be impractical for small startups to secure, and they, in turn, will often give reasonable rates to lab space renters. This makes renting labs appealing for startups that have not yet optimised their own supply chains.
Hardware for biotechnology research is very expensive, as a lot of biotech lab equipment tends to be made in relatively low quantities and requires highly specialised labour and intense quality assurance to produce. These expenses are compounded even more for unique or high-level applications.
Fortunately, biotech startups in large biotechnology hubs do have the option to buy secondhand or rent lab hardware. For biotechs with short-term needs, renting lab hardware is usually a far more cost-efficient option than buying new or used.
Investment in laboratory software is now essential for biotech startups, particularly for ones that choose to set up their own labs. At higher and more complex levels of research, software solutions become especially important for both processing data and optimising workflows. Software specifically designed for labs is especially valuable as it can be used to speed up or automate various workflows, allowing a small startup team to do much more than they could, otherwise.
Fortunately, there are plenty of free and low-cost lab software options for biotech startups that will allow them to stretch their initial capital. However, if a specific paid solution works better or allows teams to simply focus on doing research, it should be strongly considered as well, particularly if there are long-term savings to be had.
Biotechs need unrestricted access to scientific studies covering all aspects of biotechnology, health sciences, and other related fields. Typically, startups will need studies from specialised academic publishing companies such as Elsevier, Clarivate, CAS, Macmillan Publishers, Cambridge University Press & Assessment, Oxford University Press, and Springer Nature.
The cost of accessing journals through these sources is sometimes non-trivial, with some papers costing up to tens of thousands of dollars. These high costs mean that biotechs have to be very diligent in shopping around for the most cost-effective legal ways to obtain the studies they need.
Even the most experienced employees need to be properly onboarded, trained in relevant workflows, and developed. Failure to do these properly will result in job dissatisfaction, confusion, and a potentially expensive rehiring process that slows down research. Taking the time to develop a sufficient training and development program will not only help biotechs get the most out of their team in the initial startup phase but it should also lay the foundation for future successes.
One mistake a lot of biotech startups make is neglecting facility maintenance. While a meagre maintenance budget may allow capital to be reallocated to other critical areas, facilities that are not properly maintained can lead to workflow issues, safety hazards, and even potential contamination. By spending enough on maintenance, biotech startups can avoid potentially serious — and expensive — incidents later on. Of course, renting lab space allows biotechs to sidestep some maintenance costs entirely.
Laboratories need a large number of esoteric items sourced from all over the world. Regardless of where a lab is set up, it will be virtually impossible or impractical to locally source all that it needs. This means that biotech startups need to be extra-conscious about where they set up their venture as well as how they manage their logistics expenses.
Locations that are already major logistics hubs and also have a mature domestic precision manufacturing sector are good choices to set up a biolab, as these advantages will greatly improve access to supplies and reduce overhead costs. Established biotech hubs like Singapore, London, and Silicon Valley are just some of the popular biotech locations that feature these key advantages.
For research to come along smoothly, orders for various chemicals and reagents should be available when they are needed. Unfortunately, as many lab managers will attest, delayed orders are commonplace. If these delays happen at the wrong time, they may cause slowdowns or stoppages in research. For a small biotech startup, such setbacks can seriously impede their ability to maximise their startup funding or to access more capital.
While some delays are usually unavoidable, they do not always have to impact a startup’s research activities. Choosing vetted suppliers or allocating sufficient lead time based on current progress should minimise the damage caused by supplier delays and allow project managers to keep research going.
Lab supplies, equipment, and subscriptions can be expensive, to begin with. Failing to track these assets accurately or manage them properly can result in unnecessary orders, expired reagents, contaminated samples, equipment malfunctions, and other such losses for a biotech startup. However, tracking inventory manually can take up a lot of time and is impractical since biotechs may have thousands of different items in stock at any given time.
Thankfully, even the most budget-restricted labs now have access to specialised laboratory inventory management software. Apart from typical inventory management features, these purpose-designed solutions offer lab-oriented features such as expiry date and warranty tracking and automatic ordering once items such as reagents reach a threshold level.
Biotechs are often under intense scrutiny from investors who want to make sure their money is being spent wisely. By tackling recurring business expenses strategically, biotech startups can keep their investors happy for longer, giving them more time and latitude to do research and create profitable innovations.