MassChallenge & the Novophage Pivot
After Novophage, a 2010 alum, raised its newest round of funding ($5.75M) we reached out to them to get their story on how the MassChallenge accelerator helped them acheive this milestone. This post was written by Micah Rosenbloom, Chariman and CEO of Novophage.
As a serial entrepreneur looking for my next project, I spent nearly a year advising Novophage, as a MassChallenge mentor and as an informal mentor as well. I got to know the people– Mike, Brett and Tim. We held brainstorm sessons, went on business development calls and drank beer together. I got a sense of what it would be like to work together. We learned each other’s personalities, warts and all. That made joining as CEO a natural progression and I’d encourage anyone thinking of taking a founder role to “date before getting married.” MassChallenge and other accelerator programs help facilitate this type of “entrepreneurial dating.”
The pivot to “green chemistry”
When we met, the Novophage team was focusing on using their antimicrobial technology (a powerful antibiotic) for therapeutic applications. I wasn’t a “drug guy” nor was I convinced the market was worth the regulatory risk and capital required. Mike and the team also realized that developing a therapeutic is a hard value proposition nowadays; especially a biologic with a complicated combinatorial administration approach. We dug in and found it a greater challenge to translate the initial business model to a fundable product-market fit. Mulling over the problem, it was obvious we needed to change.
For me, the parallels to my last business, Brontes, were abundant. It was a great technical team with a core innovation, needing a market and problem to solve. Like Brontes, the team had won major business plan competitions, but still had not yet identified the killer app. We worked through it and arrived at this concept of “green chemistry.” Essentially, we studied markets where a bacterium is a problem and where we could reduce expensive and harmful chemicals with a more targeted and effective biological approach. We validated this with dozens of industry players (e.g. investors like Chevron and The Kraft Group).
The team entered MassChallenge with the desire to test our newfound market focus – test drive the fit so to speak, before we’d go out and talk to investors. Both the rigor and the short timelines were immensely helpful in sharpening our newly-crafted messaging and go-to-market approach.
You don’t have to win first prize …
Like Brontes, Novophage did not end up winning the competition outright. Given how hard it is to pick winners, many outstanding startups won’t necessarily end up winning competitions like MassChallenge. Through MassChallenge, though, we met some very interesting folks along the way who have helped us throughout our development. We gained greater awareness in the ecosystem, and shared in the ups and downs of becoming a finalist but not a winner of the competition (these are the same ups and downs we feel every day operating the business so it was great practice for us). Lastly, we’ve fallen in love with the newly designated “Innovation District.” So much so, that we’re moving into the area next month!
Good luck to this year’s group of MassChallenge companies.