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How to Found a Science-y Startup Without Being a Scientist or Doctor

Science rules but you don’t have to be good at it to be good at biotech.

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BY Jeff Barrett - 30 Jun 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

We hear the term "BioTech" thrown around all the time. Personally, I have more of a pulse on what's happening with pharma bro Martin Shkreli--that guy infamous for unapologetically raising an AIDS drug from $13.50 to $750 per tablet who starts his trail this week for securities fraud--than anything related to curing cancer.

I've also been following the debate over the Senate's proposed health care bill. I recognize the term "big pharma" and know that a CBO score is the measure of how a proposed bill might impact the federal budget, but I'm not a doctor. Sadly, 35 seasons binging on Grey's Anatomy doesn't qualify me.

And while it's bad that I know more about pop culture than I do potential cures for cancer, I've done some digging and found that certain types of cancer may quickly become a thing of the past. Biotechnology is slow, but the stocks are booming, partly due to better certainty around surging drug prices. The technology and innovations that are being created are incredibly interesting, which is why I've written that biotech is becoming a great space for entrepreneurs.

Here's an example. There's a company called TapImmune that's developing vaccines for a variety of cancers designed to target both tumors and metastatic disease. It's working in collaboration with industry and clinical leaders such as the Mayo Clinic, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, and AstraZeneca.

They're advancing two clinical stage T-cell vaccine candidates (those cancer cell killers) in multiple Phase II trials for treating both ovarian and breast cancers. Their ovarian cancer program has been fast-tracked by the FDA with an Orphan Disease Designation, meaning there's such a clinical need for what they're developing that they can have more frequent interactions with the FDA.

A couple more examples: CRISPR scientists are only scratching the surface right now of what easy DNA editing can do. They've already been able to remove malaria from mosquitos and are getting close to being able to remove HIV from a patient's genome. There's promising research in treating muscular dystrophy and even a possible cure for blindness.

That's exciting stuff, and it can sound overwhelming for entrepreneurs.

Luckily, there are plenty of ways to create a medical startup that don't include large research and development costs--even if you're not a doctor or a cancer-curing scientist.

Find system deficiencies.

Every entrepreneur has heard it before: Airbnb is the largest hotel chain in the world and they don't own any property. Uber is the largest taxi company in the world and has no cars.

You don't need to cure cancer to disrupt the medical industry--just go to the doctor's office and fill out a paper form on a clipboard to see what I mean. Large medical networks and hospital systems need to run more efficiently.

Innovations that improve the medical records process or how information gets transferred will become the AirBnbs and Ubers of the medical world.

Make medicine convenient.

Amazon's recent acquisition of Whole Foods tells us one thing: The future is bringing fresh, organic kale right to your doorstep. Yet, emergency room lines are a nightmare, waiting for a specialist appointment can take months, and overall, the medical world hasn't caught up to consumer demand for convenience.

Some larger healthcare systems are already introducing programs that, for an additional fee, allow members access to same-day appointments and medicine whenever needed. An apple a day may keep the doctor away, but using technology to create quick, accessible healthcare through things like video diagnostics and chat is a great way to build a business helping those whom the apple fails.

Prevent cost by creating health.

In theory, the goal of insurers and health care systems is to keep people healthy and prevent catastrophic things from happening. Every doctor swears to "Do No Harm", and frankly, keeping people healthy is better for business. Innovations that allow people to better track their health, encourage them to stay in shape, and help them to kick bad habits will be as profound as those that help vaccinate cancer.

There are startups in Silicon Valley and around the world working on many of these problems, and the beauty is that they don't require deep, upfront medical knowledge.

Sometimes innovation is as grand and shiny as the light bulb, as mind blowing as a self-driving electric car, or as life changing as curing cancer. But more often than not, great businesses are simple tools that help people build better companies and live better lives.

So don't feel like you need to go to medical school, invent the wheel, or become Elon Musk. Focus on the three major needs of the healthcare system right now (systems, convenience, and prevention) and go hack a solution.