BACK TO THE FEATURE INTRODUCTION

A group of young biochemists from Technical University Berlin wondered how they could exploit an excellent research idea. None of them has a business degree or really knew how to set up an enterprise. Several months ago, they decided to participate in a business plan competition. Gaining the required business know-how was one challenge, winning the competition another one. Rico Berger, now CEO of ActinoDrug GmbH, tells us their inspiring story.

In the fertile climate at the Institute of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Technical University of Berlin, the founders of ActinoDrug met in 1996 and started their successful teamwork. The five scientists from the research group led by Ullrich Keller focused on peptide lactone antibiotics and related compounds from actinomycetes, an important group of soil bacteria. This became the background for ActinoDrug's indoor screening programs for anti-infective drugs. The institute's international reputation in natural compound research and the institute's collaborations with leading pharma firms are surely also important parts for the successful start of ActinoDrug.

The investigation of the genetic organization of these biosynthetic pathways led to the development of new technologies in constructing chimerical biosynthetic genes for the generation of new compounds. The successful proof of concept made by F. Schauwecker and U. Keller gave us the idea to use these results commercially. Theoretically, our new products can be used in any kind of therapy in which small molecules are important. The great demand for such new substances in the field of drug development suggested that this might be our chance to found a biotech company.

Since none of us had sufficient experiences with the commercial world, we decided to participate in a business plan competition. Last year, a former colleague from our institute had chosen this way to build up his company (Minerva Biolabs GmbH). His success showed us the value of these competitions. And like many of our over 600 co-participants in this year's competition, we saw that the professional coaching and expert feedback could also help us to overcome the obstacles along the thorny way from a useful idea to a running business.

The Business Plan Competition Berlin-Brandenburg is held annually and organized in three rounds. The first round's goal was to clarify the benefit for the future customers. Several weeks later, in spring, we had to hand in our first business plan draft for the second round. Finally, we were one of the 70 teams out of 250 that survived all levels and developed a financially and organizationally sound business concept for the last round in May.

Now I can say that all three parts were really important to us, because each round provided personal coaching and seminars on economics, financing, marketing, and law, specific for each level. Personal coaching is probably the most valuable service for scientists in a start-up's seeding phase. They often work in nonprofit organizations like universities and thus have little commercial knowledge. Also, the feedback from jurors at the end of each round helped us to improve our concept to its final stage. One of the most important lessons we had to learn was how to present our team and idea not only from a scientific point of view, but--and this is crucial for the start-up process--from a banker's viewpoint.

As a result of participating in the competition, the ActinoDrug Pharmaceuticals GmbH was founded on 6 June 2000. On 29 June, the competition had its highlight by presenting the winning teams of the third round. ActinoDrug won first prize of the year 2000 competition and is now planning its business start within the next weeks.

Due to success in the competition and the convincing business plan, ActinoDrug has been approached by several venture capitalists. Capital funding is also expected to come from public banks. At the moment, ActinoDrug is negotiating a finance concept for the start-up phase with several venture capitalists and government institutions. ActinoDrug will be situated in the technology park (WISTA) in Berlin-Adlershof, in close contact with the science campus of Humboldt University and other start-ups. The ActinoDrug staff is going to grow soon, and motivated young molecular biologists are highly welcome to join us for the further development of drug discovery technologies.

ActinoDrug would like to thank all sponsors, coaches, and jurors of the Business Plan Competition Berlin-Brandenburg 2000 and to encourage all people with good business ideas to choose such events to create their own business.

ActinoDrug Pharmaceuticals GmbH

c/o TU-Berlin OE2

Franklinstraße 29

10587 Berlin

Fone: 049 -03- 314-23629 or 25653

Fax: 049- 03-314-24783

E-mail: actinodrug@t-online.de