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Episode 11 | BIO 2024 Preview

In this episode, host and NCI SBIR Program Director William Bozza invites NCI SBIR Director of Investor Relations Brittany Connors to discuss how biotech innovators and investors can connect with NCI SBIR and other NIH institutes from June 3-6 at the 2024 BIO International Convention in San Diego.

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Listen to this podcast to hear:

  • Overview of BIO International Convention and the networking opportunities for attendees to participate
  • NCI SBIR's involvement at the annual conference; how and where to connect
  • How the Investor Initiatives program supports SBIR-funded biotech startups
  • NCI SBIR-funded biotech startups to lookout for at the event

 

Episode Guests

Speaker Bio
William Bozza - SBIR Innovation Lab Podcast Host

William Bozza, PhD
Program Director
SBIR Development Center
National Cancer Institute

William Bozza, PhD serves as a Program Director, managing a portfolio of oncology startups (SBIR & STTR awardees) to facilitate small businesses in technology commercialization for cancer diagnosis and treatment.  Dr. Bozza is currently leading the Center’s efforts on the Small Business Concept Award for early-stage high risk/high reward technologies that are targeting rare and pediatric cancers.  He is also taking the lead on the Program’s Peer Learning and Networking Webinar Series to help SBIR companies learn from peers and facilitate collaboration.

Brittany Connors, PMP, Director of Investor Relations

Brittany Connors, PMP
Director of Investor Relations
SBIR Development Center
National Cancer Institute

Brittany Connors serves as the Director of Investor Relations at NCI SBIR. She has worked at NCI SBIR in various roles since 2013, playing a major role in the center’s Investor Initiatives program. She has maintained a vast network and works with more than 70 industry-leading investors and strategics each year to review the NCI SBIR portfolio and to select companies to attend and pitch at events like BIO.

Show Notes

Articles referenced in this episode:

Visit our website, sbir.cancer.gov, for the latest funding opportunities and commercialization resources to support your journey from lab to market.

Episode Transcript

[music]

BILLY BOZZA: Hello, and welcome to Innovation Lab, your go to resource for all things biotech startups, brought to you by the National Cancer Institute’s Small Business Innovation Research, SBIR Development Center. Our podcast hosts interviews with successful entrepreneurs and provides resources for small businesses looking to take their cutting-edge cancer solutions from lab to market.

I'm Billy Bozza, a Program Director at NCI SBIR and today's host. Today, we're excited to talk about the upcoming BIO International Convention in San Diego. I've invited the Director of Investor Relations at NCI SBIR, Brittany Connors, to discuss our program’s involvement at the event and how attendees can connect with our staff while we're there. Welcome, Brittany.

BRITTANY CONNORS: Thank you for having me, Billy. I cannot believe BIO is just around the corner and that we're talking about it already. I feel like the year just started. But let's talk about it, I'm excited.

BILLY BOZZA: Me too. So, before we discuss NCI SBIR's participation in the event, can you give our listeners who might be unfamiliar with BIO, a brief introduction to what the event is all about?

BRITTANY CONNORS: Yeah, definitely. So, BIO is perhaps the largest biotech focused event maybe in the world, probably in the world, bringing together upwards of 20,000 industry leaders from everywhere. You can really expect to see attendees from large pharma, I'd say that's a really good chunk of folks, the investment community, biotech startups, academia, nonprofit and government organizations like us.

It's really just four days packed full of educational sessions, company presentations, and I would say one of the biggest draws is the partnering meetings. A few of the educational sessions, I've already put on my calendar, include AI's Impact on Oncology Cancer Drug Development and Build your Product Pipeline with Non-Dilutive Federal Resources. Those will be super interesting, especially if you're looking to, you know, fund your company, if you're an early stage startup.

And then company presentations, BIO is really well-known for their Startup Stadium. So, this is something that small businesses can apply to ahead of BIO. So, then there's this competition and you get selected to be a part of the Startup Stadium. I think to apply, you have to be a company that has raised less than $10 million since inception and have fewer than 20 employees.

The great thing about Startup Stadium is that it's usually the first thing you see when you're walking into the conference and so it's great visibility. And if you win, I think you're fast tracked to certain incubator programs and you can also receive, I think, like, BIO membership and other perks from BIO.

In addition to Startup Stadium, there's tons of other company presentations going on throughout the conference, and these are kind of situated in breakout rooms, and they're 13 minute podium presentations. And really being noted as a presenting company, you know, within the Partnering app is a great way to increase your visibility for BIO, and to increase the number of your accepted partnering meeting requests, which is super important.

And then expanding on that point for partnering, BIO’s Partnering app and partnering meetings during the conference are really just top notch, Billy, like, I know we've both been there before. It's kind of mind blowing to see people rushing in and out, the bells dinging when time is almost up for your meeting, and then you're running to the next one on the other side of the conference center, and it's just mind blowing.

I think I saw on the website that more than 57,000 partnering meetings took place last year at the conference in Boston, and it's just hard to even imagine that number. But really, you use the Partnering app prior to the event. You schedule your meetings, or you hope to schedule your meetings, you send out requests to people that you've identified as the right folks to meet with, depending on your needs. The partnering system has amazing filters that you can use.

For example, representatives from our office, like Billy, since he's a Program Director, he's likely searching for oncology-focused small businesses that might be interested in applying for our funding. And then for me, I'm searching for oncology-focused pharma folks and investors that would potentially be interested in our portfolio.

BILLY BOZZA: Awesome. So, with that in mind, what type of involvement can attendees expect to see from NCI SBIR?

BRITTANY CONNORS: So, I finally figured out that we will be at Booth 825 this year. So, if you're interested in learning about the NIH small business programs in general, this will be the booth to go to. We will be participating at this booth, so Booth #825. In addition to us, there's, you know, 23 other institutes at NIH with SBIR programs. So, representatives from those other institutes will also be at this booth. So, if you have a technology that maybe, you know, is cardio focused rather than oncology, you can probably meet someone from NHLBI, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute at that booth as well. And that's just one example.

So, we'll be at the booth throughout the event. You can go and if someone you're looking for isn't there, I'm sure you can find someone who can help you find them. During the event, we also meet with investors and strategic partners to let them know about, you know, what we're doing at NCI SBIR, and to let them know about all of our amazing portfolio companies that might be a good fit for them as well. You know, if not now, then down the line.

And then vice versa, really. A lot of investors have come to me with companies they're either, you know, vetting or, you know, companies that are really early stage in their portfolio and they're looking for additional funding. So, it's a good way for investors to really learn about us and, you know, what we can potentially offer the companies that they're working with.

And then we also sponsor our companies to attend and pitch at BIO. And this includes them being listed as NIH Innovation Zone companies and you can find that marker in the partnering system. Companies are sponsored for this opportunity after they've been selected for our annual Investor Initiatives Portfolio Showcase Program. So, they, you know, we open that program once a year, companies apply, and then I recruit a panel of around 70 third party investors and strategic partners to score and comment on all of the applications relevant to their interest.

Usually, we get around 100 applications and select 35 to 40 companies into the program, which includes matching them to technology and stage appropriate events like BIO. And then they have the opportunity to pitch and network and, you know, a lot of them haven't necessarily done much of that. So, it's a great way for them to really kickstart those kinds of those kinds of necessary business development activities.

And so, just to plug all of these companies, we've invited the following seven companies to take part in the Innovation Zone this year, most of them will also be pitching. So we have Acuraonics [phonetic]. Acuraonics develops novel therapies that selectively target cancer cells and deliver cytotoxic payloads, thereby increasing efficacy and reducing toxicity risk. Their lead candidate is a novel small molecule drug conjugant, in preclinical development for pancreatic adenocarcinoma, synovial sarcoma, and other rare tumors.

Indie Labs has developed hydro-pour, a simple, scalable, and efficient way to accelerate the discovery, development, and manufacturing of engineered cell therapies such as T Cell immunotherapies. This novel non-viral technology utilizes the power of microfluidic vortex shedding to rapidly deliver small molecules, nucleic acids, proteins, and gene editing complexes to immune cells, to immune cells, not sales, in a matter of seconds, yielding millions to billions of high-quality cells with negligible impact to cell viability and function. Billy, I think that's your company in our portfolio.

And then we have Luminary Therapeutics. They are a clinical stage company developing innovative allergenic cell therapies that utilize the companies unique Gamma 2.0 Plus platform to target solid tumors and B cell malignancies.

Reveal Pharmaceuticals aims to improve safety and deepen insight for magnetic resonance imaging. The company is developing a clinical stage, gadolinium free general purpose MRI contrast agent.

Stem Synergy Therapeutics is focused on discovery and development of small molecule drugs that target developmental pathways fundamental to cancer and cancer stem cells.

Stingray Therapeutics is a clinical stage company developing an innate immune checkpoint of the anti-cancer sting pathway in breast cancer and many other cold tumors.

Trans Code Therapeutics is a clinical stage RNA oncology company committed to defeating cancer through the intelligent design and effective delivery using a highly optimized iron oxide nanoparticle to target nucleic acids to tumors and metastases.

So those are our seven companies. They will all be in the Partnering System if you'd like to reach out to them. And then like I said, I don't think company presentation times and locations are published yet, but you can find that information in the partnering system and in all of the bio marketing materials.

BILLY BOZZA: Awesome. I'm really glad you mentioned investor initiatives. I think it's such a great program. In addition to sponsoring companies to attend events like BIO, how else does this program support SBIR-funded biotech startups?

BRITTANY CONNORS: Yeah, definitely. So, I mentioned the Showcase Portfolio Program. And, you know, this program, we send companies out to events like BIO, but in addition to that, every year we also create an investor book. And so, this book includes the executive summaries of all of those showcase companies. And so, you know, at -- throughout the next year as we're meeting new investors, new strategic partners, you know, even people we already have a relationship with, we're constantly, you know, sending them that book. It's also on our website. Send them the link to the website and we'll let them know, “Hey, if you're interested in any of these, we can either gather more information for you or just make a direct introduction to the company.” And then we step back from there.

So, we're always trying to make introductions. We also have an Excel document that's kind of like a filterable portfolio and it lists all of the projects we have funded as an office over the past few years. And so that's something that I always send out in addition to the Investor Book, you know, and we've gotten a lot of introductions from that document as well.

Ahead of these events like BIO, we also pitch coach our companies and that's either done in house at NCI SBIR or we work with entrepreneurs and residents at the NIH Seed Office, who are wonderful pitch coaches for, you know, our companies and companies across NIH.

We also will do one-off-pitch and mentoring events with some of our partners. We've done pitch before, pitch events before with pharma, like J&J, where we invite -- they look at our portfolio and invite certain companies, you know, that are interesting to them to come and pitch, this time it was in Boston. And then they invite the local investment and strategic community to come and watch those and give companies feedback. And then the companies have the opportunity to kind of pick people's brains and really network on a more intimate level.

And then we also have done kind of a similar thing, but it's more of a mentoring focus where, you know, companies come and present to a pharma company like Bayer and then they are, you know, really talking for a little bit with the folks in the room about what their next steps should be, you know, their biggest questions on their commercialization path and so on.

So, we're always, you know, looking to meet new people, and I think that's probably the biggest thing that we do is, you know, meeting new people all the time and making sure that they know about all of the wonderful companies that we're funding.

BILLY BOZZA: Awesome. If, if our listeners are attending BIO, how and where can they connect with the NCI SBIR team?

BRITTANY CONNORS: Yeah, you can find us in the Partnering app. So, you can find our office under NCI SBIR, parentheses NIH. Like I said before, you can also head to Booth 825 to meet with, you know, a program director and other NIH staff. I think last year we had other, you know, additional company presentations and NIH educational programming going on at Booth 825 throughout the day, so you can probably expect to see a lot of that as well. There's always going to be a lot of people around that booth and, you know, you're always welcome to come stop and say hi.

BILLY BOZZA: Great, sounds great. And, and what about -- Where can our listeners find out more about events like BIO where they can connect with NCI SBIR?

BRITTANY CONNORS: You can head to our website, that’s sbir.cancer.gov. And I think on the main page of our website, you scroll down to the bottom right, and you can sign up for our e-mail blasts, and those will keep you updated on, you know, relevant funding opportunities, events, and conferences we might be attending. And you can also follow us on LinkedIn, which is the NCI SBIR Development Center and then on X, we are NCI SBIR.

BILLY BOZZA: Brittany, thanks so much for speaking with us today.

BRITTANY CONNORS: Thanks for having me, Billy. I can't believe it's almost BIO. And I'll see you soon in San Diego.

BILLY BOZZA: Sounds great. As always, don't forget to check our website, sbir.cancer.gov, for the latest funding opportunities and commercialization resources to support your journey from lab to market. This was Billy Bozza from NCI SBIR. Please join us again for the next installment of NCI SBIR Innovation Lab. And subscribe today, wherever you listen. If you have questions about cancer or comments about this podcast, e-mail us at nciinfo@nih.gov or call us at 800-422-6237, and please be sure to mention Innovation Lab in your query. We are a production of the US Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute. Thanks for listening.

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