On 2nd October 2020, a discussion on life science acceleration in Lithuania was held by the British Embassy in Vilnius and Lithuanian Biotechnology Association. Speakers from the United Kingdom presented acceleration models applied in their country. Over the past few years, the need for a specialised model for life science acceleration in Lithuania has been discussed extensively. The founding of such a platform, however, has raised several questions – What would the ideal acceleration model be? What role would the state have in this establishment? How can competency and business investment be attracted?
The Semi-Virtual Workshop on Life Science Accelerators was aimed at enabling an open discussion between members of the industry, academia and the government based on insights from British experts. Dr Christopher Haley from NESTA presented the nature and challenges of business acceleration with conclusions made from business accelerators completed in the UK in 2019. NESTA is an innovation foundation originally founded in 1997 by the British government, now functioning as a charity promoting innovation for societal benefit. NESTA has been contributing to acceleration for many years now, carrying out research as required by the state. Trusted by the European Commission, NESTA established the pan-European Accelerator Assembly. During his report, Dr Haley presented the results of the analysis titled “The impact of business accelerators and incubators in the UK“. According to the NESTA survey, participation in acceleration programmes had a positive impact on start-up companies: their survival rate increased by up to 50%, more investors were attracted and the numbers of employees rose from 1-10 to 11-50. Still, not every accelerator or incubator can produce such results, meaning that identifying the specific support required from an acceleration programme is essential. In response to ongoing discussions about a life science accelerator in Lithuania, Dr Haley shared guidelines directed at creating such programmes.
Establishing a life science accelerator requires construction of a clear objective. Currently, the main focus in Lithuania is having life sciences generate 5% GDP by 2030. Hence, acceleration is directed at regional growth in life sciences, rather than start-up development. During programme development, Dr Haley suggested objectively evaluating the funding model and financial return, carrying out early performance analysis and considering collaboration with academic bodies, as well as online training solutions. In Lithuania, funding of a life science accelerator is largely managed by the Ministry of Economy and Innovation, therefore, advise was directed at the public sector and its members in the audience. While carrying out public investment into accelerators, it is important to consider the indirect, collateral effects of investing, launch pilot programmes, complete thorough performance analyses and remember that accelerators are not “silver bullets“ capable of solving systemic flaws. If such problems are present, technological development processes must be addressed first.
Several programmes aimed at developing the life science industry in Lithuania are currently running. One such programme has been launched by the Agency for Science, Innovation and Technology (MITA). As part of the programme, companies receive consultation, various competitions and events are being held. MITA also funds start-ups and small-to-medium-sized companies under the Inočekiai and Inostartas programmes. Even so, small businesses do not receive enough specialised expert support in technological development, market analysis and industry-relevant investments. While many life science businesses benefit from funding by MITA and other public bodies, the increase in the number of companies is followed by the lack of infrastructure.
The second guest, Colin Roberts, is the Venture Development Director of a British life science accelerator BioCity. The unique acceleration model integrates several acceleration programmes, incubators and investors. BioCity selects start-ups in their earliest stages, collaborates with universities in search of potential technologies (pre-acceleration), critically assesses start-ups based on expert knowledge in academia, health care and industry. Acceleration programmes are used to estimate the scientific and commercial value of the companies, with only the most promising earning a place at BioCity.
Successful programmes should be found on collaboration between acceleration programmes and incubators. The Lithuanian Plan for the DNA of the Future Economy involves forming 6 new incubators that will, hopefully, be aligned with the future accelerator, working as a coherent system that supports consistent and effective growth in life science technology.
During the event, the Managing Director of Enterprise Lithuania, Daina Kleponė, reviewed the analysis carried out by Johnson & Johnson in 2018 which concluded that attraction of investors is a major challenge faced by the life science industry. Such start-ups are often considered high-risk and require significantly higher investments than their counterparts in other industries. The following discussion led by the speakers, Juozas Nainys, director of DropletGenomics, as well as the president of LBTA, Tomas Andrejauskas, stressed on the importance of involving investors into the development of the acceleration programme. The integrated model presented by BioCity, unifying universities, medical institutions, investors and industry representatives, gained significant participant interest.
Collaboration between Lithuanian and British experts will be of high value during the development and launch of a life science accelerator in Lithuania. It appears that the long-discussed project is finally taking form – specific investments are being considered and heated discussions are searching for the most appropriate acceleration model. Unfortunately, the quality of the future accelerator lacks attention – selection of the most effective programmes, attraction of experts, integration of existing programmes and business incubation opportunities are yet to be discussed.
The Lithuanian Biotechnology Association would like to encourage all countries interested in the implementation of a life science accelerator in Lithuania to join in finalising this project, ensuring its quality, effectiveness and continuity for the benefit of all.