Going Beyond the Back-of-the-Napkin Business Plan
Steve Hochberg has put NYAS in the position to help life-science entrepreneurs.
Behind every medical technology breakthrough—whether it's a new drug that improves everyday life or a novel device that revolutionizes a surgical procedure—lies years of painstaking research, testing, verification, and investment. Transforming ideas into potentially life-saving innovations involves a diverse set of players that can include student researchers, physicians, lawyers, government regulators, and entrepreneurs. This complex interplay relies on a cross-pollination of expertise that can find cardiologists polishing their dress shoes for a fundraising luncheon and businesspeople donning lab coats.
NYAS Board Governor Steve Hochberg, a co-founder of 12 companies, believes entrepreneurial tenacity is the key to forging real-world applications from pure scientific ingenuity. He is co-founder of Ascent Biomedical Ventures, a company that has helped bring an impressive array of medical technologies and pharmaceuticals to market. Among the many products his firm has had a hand in developing: medical scaffolding for soft tissue repair, including tendons, hernias, and aneurisms; a minimally invasive cage for performing spinal fusions; and dermal absorption drug delivery techniques.
Hochberg has an impressive record of matching scientific ingenuity with money and management. Beyond being a generous donor to the Academy, throughout his four years serving as a NYAS Governor, Hochberg has also been active in recruiting new board members and raising funds, and he wondered how NYAS could get involved in furthering innovation in the greater New York area. So when Milena Adamian, an interventional cardiologist with Wall Street and venture capital experience, contacted him with the idea of creating an angel network to fund biomedical companies in the pre-institutional-financing stage, Hochberg immediately suggested the Academy as a venue.
Thanks in part to seed funding that he provided, the NYAS Life Sciences Angel Network (LSAN) was launched in November 2010, with Adamian as Director and Hochberg chairing the Screening and Investment Committee. Together, they recruited physicians, academics, lawyers, entrepreneurs, and technical developers to serve on the Committee, which closely reviews each project before presenting it to LSAN's group of angel investors.
Taking a cue from Hochberg's work at Ascent, which produces safe and effective clinical data from new therapeutic ideas—with the ultimate goal of designing and implementing actual FDA trials—the Committee scrutinizes candidates' viability for clinical, regulatory, and commercial success before presenting them to potential investors in this notoriously risky field. Hochberg describes LSAN's role as "bridging the gap between the napkin stage and the clinical testing stage," with the scribbled-on napkin representing the earliest germ of an idea. A $500,000 to $2 million investment from LSAN's angels can lead to further research, helping to attract the next-stage institutional investment of between $2 million and over $10 million necessary to facilitate clinical trials. In short, LSAN can get companies over the hump before they receive the kind of investment necessary to bring innovations to market. Hochberg is happy to report that the first three companies to submit proposals to LSAN all received financing offers. "We are looking for unmet clinical needs," he says. "That doesn't always mean that there isn't some existing therapy out there; just that it could be greatly improved on." For example, he points to hypertension, where new approaches are needed for people who aren't responding to existing drugs.
What excites Hochberg most is the possibility that a scientific meeting could be convened at the Academy to discuss a novel life-science question, and within months a company might get financing for an innovation that addresses this very question, with the entire process shepherded by NYAS. "There are a lot of stakeholders that make up the NYAS network," says Hochberg. "At the end of the day, we want to create great therapies using the science and technology that exists in New York."
Hochberg would never call himself a "renaissance entrepreneur," but in many ways the label fits. In addition to his on-the-job science training and his involvement in developing medical technology and care delivery, Hochberg is vice chair of Continuum Health Partners, a six-hospital health system in New York City, and sits on the board of the Sackler Institute for Nutrition Science at the New York Academy of Sciences. He is co-founder of the award-winning Evening Land Vineyards and has helped publish books on the medical implications of obesity and the benefits of the Mediterranean diet. He's also a professional positive thinker. When asked about the long-term prospects for the NYAS LSAN to foster life-changing innovation, he replies, "I'm a venture capitalist; I'm an optimist by virtue of what I do every day."
Adam Ludwig is a writer in New York City.