Shark Tank with SwedenBio

By Jill Bederoff

Raising awareness and having fun

Mikaila Ulmer was only ten years old when she appeared on the American television show Shark Tank where entrepreneurs pitch their ideas to “sharks” – investors looking for promising business ideas. One of the “sharks”, Daymond John, invested $60,000 to support her business idea, “Me & The Bees Lemonade”. She became one of the youngest American entrepreneurs ever, and in 2018, her 360 000 bottles of lemonade per year were being sold by 500 shops across America.

Inspired by the TV show and with the aim to raise awareness among life science companies about critical competences needed to succeed on a global market, Helena Strigård, Director General of the business organisation SwedenBio, decided to invite three Swedish “sharks” to assess the ideas of promising life science companies.

These “sharks” may not be as rich as the American ones, but they are loaded with knowledge and experience of how to become successful in the life science sector. The Swedish Shark Tank consists of Johan Strömquist, alias “The Regulator”, CEO of NDA Group, Carolin Wiken, alias “The Communicator”, a partner at Paues Åberg Communications, and Jonas Hansson, alias “The Investor”, a venture partner at Healthcap.

“Our sharks represent core competencies that any life science company must master, either in house or through service providers, to be successful. We want to raise awareness of how crucial these competencies are to be able to eventually reach the global market”, says Helena Strigård.

How did you choose your sharks?

“The individuals we’ve chosen are perfect ambassadors for these necessary competencies. Also, they are lots of fun – we think they will make a nice team of sharks on stage!” 

Do companies lack expert advice in these areas?

“Many do. And even if other companies are already well initiated in any or all of these areas – communication, financing and regulation – it is useful to listen to new perspectives and learn how it is done by others.”

On 10 March during SwedenBio’s annual executive dinner, they will gather in front of real sharks at the Haga Ocean aquarium in Stockholm.

“We want to contribute to raising awareness in a playful way, and show which skill sets companies need to be able to gear up whenever necessary”,

Helena Strigård, Director General, SwedenBio

“To allow all of Sweden’s 3 000 small life science companies to grow, we need to be connected internationally. We need to build some muscles in the small companies to enable them to negotiate with large pharma and feel that they have sufficient competence.”

The “sharks” will select a winner from three biotech companies, Idogen, Celluminova and Salipro Biotech, which will get five minutes each to present their ideas.

Just as in the American version of Shark Tank, the “sharks” will compete for the companies; the difference being that the stakes will not consist of money, but of know-how.

“The winner will receive a number of hours of coaching by these three experts. This is a way for us to contribute to the transfer of knowledge”, says Helena Strigård.

Each of the three “sharks” are excited about the opportunity to share their know-how with others.

Johan Strömquist, “The Regulator”, emphasises the importance of collaboration between different actors who all share the same objective – to help Swedish biotech companies reach out with their products. 

Johan Strömquist, alias “The Regulator”, CEO of NDA Group

“To us, collaboration is crucial for success. All of us should aim to share our knowledge in the ecosystem and raise challenges that the smaller companies might not always pay attention to. SwedenBio’s Shark Tank is a fun way of doing that, and I jumped at the opportunity as soon as Helena asked me.”

Johan Strömquist believes that regulatory issues are easily considered a later, or even someone else’s problem, by the smaller companies.

“Then, there’s a great risk that you’ll be wasting time and money on something that ultimately cannot be approved, or, at least, that you don’t develop the product in an optimal way. Of course, it’s difficult for smaller companies to have all capabilities in-house, and then, consultants like NDA play an important role. Regulatory insight at an early stage is not a ‘nice to have’ – it’s a ‘need to have’.”

Meanwhile, Carolin Wiken, “The Communicator”, believes that many life science companies need to be better at communicating with their audiences to deliver long-term value growth. 

“Public or not, a life science company’s communications strategy should be developed, curated, and implemented with the same consideration and caution as its clinical program. Firstly, science does not sell itself, it needs to be explained to most audiences. Secondly, a company’s share price is the main driver for the cost of new capital and its ability to attract tier 1 investors. And finally, because market cap matters.”

Jonas Hansson, “The Investor”, knows that in their struggle to get investments, some companies end up with the wrong investors.

“Developing drugs is expensive. To get external funding you need to convince investors why they should back your company and your ideas. Companies should focus on getting the right investors onboard, those who can add more than just money, for example, experience and networks.”

Johan Strömquist is looking forward to participating in similar initiatives in the future.

“An initiative like the Shark Tank is one of many ways to collaborate and exchange experience. Through the recently launched NDA Accelerator we’re also sharing experience and working in collaboration with other providers to meet the varying needs of the Nordic biotech industry.”