How Innovate Arkansas Enhanced Boston Mountain Biotech's Science Acumen With Business Expertise
Chemical engineer Ellen Brune likes to joke that she decided to be an entrepreneur "six months after she founded Boston Mountain Biotech," a biomedical technology company that assists pharmaceutical manufacturers in producing more potent drugs through Boston Mountain Biotech's protein expression and purification platform called Lotus technology.
"Innovate Arkansas has been involved since the very beginning, when I was still in grad school and getting ready to start the company," says Brune, who began developing the technology that now powers her company while she was pursuing a PhD in chemical engineering at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. "The Innovate Arkansas team was invaluable in helping me and my business partner understand the process of starting a company, particularly with all of the small details that aren't necessarily intuitive to a scientist."
A Fusion of Business and Science
From breaking down debt and financing instruments to helping Brune's team understand the necessary legal steps to becoming a business, Innovate Arkansas' expertise was highly valued, she says.
"My background is in science, so the Innovate Arkansas team provided a wealth of knowledge and experience," says Brune. "While science is often a trial and error process, when starting a company, it's literally invaluable to be able to learn from someone else's experience and avoid some of the errors."
Brune's business partner and Boston Mountain Biotech Chief Financial Officer Ricky Draehn served as CEO early in the company's founding, says Brune. With more than three decades of experience working at Fortune 500 corporations, such as ConAgra Foods and Anheuser-Busch, Draehn added the financial acumen to Boston Mountain Biotech's team. Meanwhile, Innovate Arkansas, Brune says, complimented his know-how with a startup and entrepreneurship expertise.
"Innovate Arkansas was able to tell us which debt instruments would work best for our company, particularly in the case of future equity investments," Brune says. "We went with convertible notes, and Innovate Arkansas helped us draft those terms so that they put us in a good position for the future."
Tapping Into a Trusted Network
Above all, Brune says Innovate Arkansas' strength is in its network.
For a scientific company, patents play a large role in business success. Since the company was awarded a patent for its technology in January 2015, Boston Mountain Biotech has begun to think about the importance of legal counsel in patent litigation.
The company is currently in patent prosecution in Europe, Canada, and the United States, say Brune. "Choosing the right law firm or accounting firm, for example, is important for what we do. Those decisions have the biggest potential to cause problems if done wrong," she says. "Innovate Arkansas pointed us to the law firm that helped us get our patent issued. That's the type of advice the team is full of."
Whether it falls within legal, financial, or organization advice, Innovate Arkansas' team holds a deep wealth of knowledge about starting a business, which Brune says has been a great plus in the three years Boston Mountain Biotech has been at it.
"When we started, I was still in grad school, and while my co-founder and I were really invested in getting the company off the ground, BMB was really just a company on paper," Brune shares. "Now we have two more full-time employees, have raised over $500,000 in private funds, received an NSF Phase I STTR, and are well on our way to becoming cash flow positive. I know we'll be turning to Innovate Arkansas for any big changes or strategic moves that lie ahead."
Header image courtesy of Matt Reynolds, University of Arkansas