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Hear from 3 Leaders on our Lab2Launch venture building stream

From evolution: a podcast by entrepreneurship@UBC

evolution is a podcast shining light on our ecosystem’s stories of innovation, impact and hustle throughout their venture building journey. Join us as we build community and knowledge related to entrepreneurship during the course of COVID-19.


This week on our podcast evolution, host and entrepreneurship@UBC’s Creative Specialist, MJ Araujo, chats with 3 leaders in this special episode highlighting varying perspectives on building a research based venture through our Lab2Launch stream. All integral to our ecosystem and the program at large, hear from Associate Director, Lab2Launch, Sean Lumb, Co-founder of venture ABOzymes, Spence Macdonald and Mentor, Dr. Geoff Houlton, as they share their unique experiences and insights as part of our Lab2Launch community.


Lab2Launch is designed for UBC researchers and scientists looking to commercialize innovation into a company that can thrive, propelling discoveries from the university into the world to drive global impact.


Applications for Lab2Launch are open until August 10th. Apply now!


The fall 2020 Lab2Launch venture building stream will be held online.



Listen to the 8th episode of evolution



About our Guests


Sean Lumb is passionate about translating research innovation into transformative startup opportunities and working with entrepreneurial researchers. Trained as a research chemist (PhD'99, UBC Dept of Chemistry), Sean's career spans technology licensing and commercialization, startup founding and fundraising, seed-stage investment analysis, and mentoring entrepreneurial researchers to investigate and develop new ventures based on their research innovation. Sean has worked as a Senior Technology Transfer Manager with the University-Industry Liaison Office at UBC, as a Senior Business Development Manager at Melbourne Ventures at the University of Melbourne, and has served on Uniseed's investment committee. Most recently, Sean works as an Associate Director at entrepreneurship@UBC, leading the Lab2Launch Venture Building Program.


Spence Macdonald studies high-throughput enzyme discovery as a Ph.D. candidate in Stephen Withers’ lab at the University of British Columbia. During his Ph.D. Spence has focused on developing translational research to solve real world problems, which lead him to co-found ABOzymes Biomedical.


ABOzymes is making blood types obsolete. Built upon the discoveries of Dr. Peter Rahfeld and Professor Stephen G. Withers of the Michael Smith Laboratories at the University of British Columbia, their innovative technologies utilize enzymes from our own microbiomes to convert the ABO blood surface antigens to the Universal Donor Blood Group.


Dr. Geoff Houlton qualified in medicine from Ninewells Medical School at the University of Dundee. Following residency training in anesthesiology, he joined CIBA-Geigy (now Novartis) in the UK as a medical advisor in product development. In 1986 he was recruited to Canada to lead the development of the Medical Affairs Department of Glaxo Canada Inc. now Glaxo SmithKline (GSK). The success of his product development activities enabled his transfer in 1989 to venture capital with MDS Health Sciences, later MDS Capital Corporation. He was a Founding Partner, Director, Vice President and Chief Scientific Officer of BioCatalyst Yorkton Inc., a venture management company. Dr. Houlton also worked as a Health Sciences Analyst for a number of Canadian investment banks and was appointed CEO and a Director of Heart Force Medical Inc. in 2009 to enable the continuing financing and development of a nascent medical technology based on algorithmic analysis of sub-audible (seismocardiograph) frequencies emanating through the chest from the heart. Now, Dr. Houlton provides mentoring, consulting and advisory services.



To read a full transcript, see below:



MJ: Sean, tell us more about the Lab2Launch stream?


Sean: Lab2Launch is entrepreneurship@UBC’s venture building program for researchers, scientists and entrepreneurs who are focused on the development of a scientific or technological innovation that they've developed in the course of their research at UBC, and it's ideally unique and proprietary and difficult to reproduce. We combine hands-on programming with one-on-one mentoring, extensive networks and a really supportive ecosystem to help the team investigate, validate and to build their venture team where the team needs to be built out to support the venture, and we support them for investment and through growth.


MJ: Among many other existing programs, what makes the Lab2Launch stream unique?


Sean: I think what really sets it apart is our customer centric and market centric approach. So we ask the researchers to look at the opportunity through a different lens than what they're accustomed to. So typically, researchers are very technology focused, all that's very important for the nature of the startup opportunity, they also need to really understand what's going on in the landscape around them both from a competitive position to understand what differentiates their business opportunity from other groups who may be pursuing a solution to a very similar problem that they're seeking to solve, and also to understand the path for commercialization.


It's not enough to just have a novel unique technology. Successful startups also need to understand what the path to successful commercialization looks like and how they're going to get there. So the combination of programming that we deliver, and the activities that we take the venture teams through, as well as the one on one mentoring and the exposure to the industry ecosystem that we have through our extensive networks, gives them that view into the market.



“It's not enough to just have a novel unique technology. Successful startups also need to understand what the path to successful commercialization looks like and how they're going to get there.”

- Sean Lumb, Associate Director, Lab2Launch



MJ: Thank you Sean! Now let's hear from a founder's perspective. Joining us is Spence Macdonald, Co-founder of ABOzymes and Ph.D candidate in Genome Science and Technology. Thank you for your time Spence. We'd like to hear more about your venture.


Spence: We are a company that is looking to make blood types obsolete. So we currently have some technology that can convert the A antigen on blood surfaces to O: this is important because O type is the universal donor blood, so anybody can receive O.


MJ: Wow, that's amazing and pretty revolutionary. Tell me more about how you decided to apply to the Lab2Launch stream and what were you looking for?


Spence: This is my second time through the Lab2Launch program: I went through previously with another venture that was based on a different technology out of Steve Wither’s lab. So I had a very positive experience going through it with that and from there, I encouraged [the team] to take that technology to e@UBC as well.


MJ: Awesome. Can you expand on what you’ve received from going through the stream?


Spence: Personally, what I get from it is that real world opportunity to tell the story of the venture, to be able to see if we can tell a compelling story that communicates there is an excellent opportunity. What we also get is access to people in the entrepreneurial space in Vancouver, who are there every week seeing us progress. Some of the access we have had to people has been very helpful and unexpected that somebody who is in a completely different field has some really good insight and resources for us.



What I get from it is that real world opportunity to tell the story of the venture, to be able to see if we can tell a compelling story that communicates there is an excellent opportunity. What we also get is access to people in the entrepreneurial space in Vancouver, who are there every week seeing us progress.

- Spence Macdonald, Co-Founder, ABOzymes



MJ: What would you say to other companies that are interested in going through this stream?


Spence: You should do it. If you're just starting out and you have an idea, it really allows you to crystallize and hone your message and validate your hypothesis and story and assumptions. So yes, I would definitely recommend people join or apply.


MJ: Where would you be if you hadn't gone through the Lab2Launch stream?


Spence: Without this, I think the project would still be mostly in the lab. That's where the majority of our focus would be. And it actually worked out pretty well given the pandemic because the labs were closed. So while the labs were closed, and we could not do any research, we were doing Lab2Launch.


Coming from a science background, it is really tough to shift your thinking to the business world. I'm sure many scientists will agree with me on this when they are trying to communicate, you're constantly resisting getting into the technical minutiae of it, which as scientists we find so interesting, and that can really tank a presentation in this kind of atmosphere. So that is where I find the most difficulty where I'm constantly trying to catch myself not getting too technical, and always just focus on getting the general narrative points of the story down.


MJ: Thank you for your insights Spence. Now we're going to hear from Dr. Geoff Houlton. Geoff, could you tell us about how you became an e@UBC mentor?


Geoff: What happened was a colleague who I had worked with, and he'd consulted my medical device company, he said, “Now you're retired Geoff, I think you could probably fit right in with entrepreneurship@UBC”. And I decided that all of the experiences from being a clinician, all the way through pharmaceuticals and venture capital, venture management, and then investment banking and looking at companies that were successful, that must have some value.


So I decided to volunteer as a mentor and he introduced me to Sean Lumb. I was invited to the end session, and I could see there it was a collective, [it was] entrepreneurial, it was fun. It was a friendly audience, there was good advice going backwards and forwards and there was challenge - but in an appropriate way, because challenges can sometimes in the venture capital world can be quite targeted and quite aggressive. But having said all that, the mentorship program, it's a warm audience who are there to give back their time and their experience and also guide these nascent opportunities.


MJ: Why is mentorship so important to have as part of the journey of an entrepreneur?


Geoff: Mentorship allows you to sort of shape the ideas - the emerging ideas - which are very strongly technical and science based. And the most important thing when you're looking at a success going forward, particularly in life sciences because there is a long life cycle, is the importance to bring in how the cooperation, the entity, the technology, and the company will be developed.


And then thirdly, what are the potential sources of capital - where they will come from, how will they be perceived and how do they see the investment and their expectations of the investment. And that's the opportunity where mentors can bring their experience to shape these are emerging technologies. That's a good thing about the mentorship program and entrepreneurship@UBC.



..the most important thing when you're looking at a success going forward, particularly in life sciences because there is a long life cycle, is the importance to bring in how the cooperation, the entity, the technology, and the company will be developed.”

- Dr. Geoff Houlton



MJ: Thank you so much for your time.



Remember that applications for the Lab2Launch stream are open until August 10th.


Thank you for joining us and we hope to see you next time. In the meantime, stay safe and stay healthy.




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