While I am just one of 4 million angel investors [Ref 4], my work at 3DHEALS and Pitch3D allows me to be a unique observer of the fundraising and funding process in healthcare 3D printing and bioprinting space. Recently, I was asked to give some perspectives related to bioprinting startup fundraising to the NASA Vascular Challenge group. The majority of the audience is composed of talented world-class scientists and technologists, many of whom aspire to be first-time founders and to make a positive impact to the world. I would argue that this talk is applicable to many healthcare 3D printing first-time founders. The original presentation is converted to this blog, which will share my perspectives on the following:
- What are the overall 2020-2021 life science investment trends?
- Where to find funding for early-stage bioprinting startups?
- How to get your foot into the door (of the investors)?
What are the overall 2020-2021 life science investment trends?
For anyone paying slight attention to the financial markets, the market is frothy, likely secondary to a combination of unrealistic optimism and pandemic monetary policies. It is not just the public market. The overvaluation and exuberance are also reflected in every other asset class. In 2020, based on the latest SVB report, US healthcare venture capital fundraising has hit a homerun of raising 16.8 billion dollars, a 57% increase. This is compared to 10.7 billion raised and an 11.5% increase in 2019.
Corresponding to the increase in VC money, there is a proportional increase in private investments into the healthcare sector in the US and Europe combined, with an overall 50% increase to 52 billion dollars. About 50% of the total investment is in biopharma, 20% in diagnostics and tools. This in part can be attributed to pandemic efforts in improving our battles against COVID-19, which is a problem worth solving.
If we further narrow our scope of the market research, the 3D printing industry as a whole has experienced a boom in 2020. While I am not recommending anyone to buy an actively managed index fund, ARKInvest 3D printing ETF (PRNT) is a good indicator of the overall public market sentiment towards 3D printing as an industry. About 10% of the fund is in the healthcare sector. In 2021, a rough estimate of the overall healthcare 3D printing (medical devices) sector is around 20% of the overall 3D printing industry (2.4 B for healthcare, and 12.6 B for overall industry). Overall, the estimate of the healthcare sector is 10-20% of the total 3D printing market based on different research groups. [Ref 2,3]
It is also interesting to see that China VC has doubled down on healthcare significantly more than the US and Europe since 2019. The comparison may not be totally fair since there was a dip in investment into healthcare in China in 2019. Nonetheless, the overall trend is increased activity. China being one of a few top 3D printing (and manufacturing) economies similarly has a larger number of native healthcare 3D printing startups, ranging from implants to dental 3D printing products. Additionally, the majority of the Chinese startups are funded by Chinese VCs. Often, the early-stage startups are relatively opaque to the outside world until new competitive Chinese products show up in the U.S. market.
In summary, there are many reasons why the 3D printing sector, in particular, has attracted both individual and institutional investors, and that enthusiasm could be various combinations of the following factors:
- Overall financial market influence
- Highly valuation IPO, merger and acquisition activities
- New government initiatives as a result of COVID 19, or strategic competitive reasons
- Last but not the least, pandemic has given healthcare and supply chain issues new spotlight, and healthcare 3D printing is in the perfect intersection of both. Many start to believe that healthcare/biotechnology is the last frontier of innovation.
Where to find funding for early-stage bioprinting startups?
While a frothy market may not be good news to investors, investing in the right startup even at a higher valuation is still the winning move.
On the other hand, to the entrepreneurs in bioprinting, biotechnology, and life sciences, the timing could not be better. Nonetheless, for scientists turned into first-time entrepreneurs, it is still hard to figure out where to find early-stage funding, and how to fundraise in general.
Early 2021, I have summarized a number of notable companies in the space of healthcare 3D printing, ranging from new startups (“newborns”) to new public offerings (SPAC or IPO, “unicorns”). It is often insightful to observe companies at different stages throughout their life cycle, find parallel storylines in the public market, and figure out the best strategies to fundraise or to invest. Often, reading the S1 of similar pre-IPO companies can be helpful in either polishing up a startup’s pitch deck or for investors interested in early-stage startups.
In general, there are 7 major funding sources. In the order of increasing difficulty and larger amount, they are:
- Grants and prizes (Free money!)
- Friends and family/angel investors
- Investment banker/Business loans
- Crowdfunding (Regulation CF)
- Corporate VC
- Venture Capital
Grants and Prizes – Free $$$
Grants and prizes are excellent non-diluting funding, but are they really free?
There is no free lunch, and that still stays true.
The other prized possession of the founders is Time, and applying and waiting for this nondiluting funding takes a lot of time especially when the grant/prize amount is small relative to the fundraising goal. Typically these make a lot of sense for seed-stage biotech companies, which need 1-5 million USD. There are many additional benefits in getting grants. To save more time, some companies may consider hiring a specialist dedicated to writing grants. They are not just for non-profit organizations.
However, for series A, the amount increases to double-digit millions in USD, and anything beyond will be into the triple-digit territory. Grants and prizes opportunities that would satisfy these dollar amounts are increasingly scarce as the amount increases.
I also don’t know of any company that has ever successfully exited due to free money alone. More importantly, since this is a business, you would want market validation, and that’s why raising institutional funding will be important beyond just the dollar amount.
Additionally, government grants (at least in the United States) are not given without caveat. There are occasions when IP generated under government grants is subject to certain rules and restrictions. Weighing the cost and benefit with your patent lawyer will be a wise move before your grant strategies.
Friends, Family, Angel Round
Angels play a significant role in funding early-stage startups, especially for first-time entrepreneurs with no track record of building businesses or even telling a good story around his/her company. “The best available estimates are that about 300,000 people have made an angel investment in the last two years. Many more people could become angels based on a net worth of $1 million or more, the potential number of angel investors is 4 million.”[Ref 4] Some angel investors invest in the founder’s character/talent through their personal interactions, some invest in the company’s story, and others invest for impact. If a startup can curate a good group of angel investors, sometimes, this can be equivalent to having a great group of advisors, marketing, future fundraising channels, in addition to the checks they write. While a typical angel check size (5K-100K) is insufficient for a seed round for bioprinting startups, angel groups can often provide amounts in millions.
While friends-and-family round sounds warm and cozy, I would advise caution, that is, if you want to keep those same friends and family. The bottom line is that if those friends and family members are also angel investors in other companies, chances are they are more knowledgeable in terms of the risks involved. That is, 80% of all startups will fail in five years.
With the newly instituted Regulation CF, many platforms now provide crowdfunding opportunities that allow non-accredited investors to invest as low as 100 dollars. This method can be particularly helpful for a seed round or bridge round when data is too scarce for institutional investors. We will expand on these platforms and the regulations around them in a later blog post.
But since biotechnology companies often need significantly larger check sizes and longer runways to achieve the holy grail, such as bioprinting organs, raising institutional money is almost inevitable. But what if you don’t know of any institutional investors?
There are generally three categories where you can find them:
- Corporate VC
One way to figure out who you should approach for fundraising is through reverse engineering. Some of the investor information is held private, but much of this information is public information. You can find this information from many different data aggregators such as Crunchbase or Pitchbook (expensive!).
For example, if you are a bioink startup and are looking for VCs, you could find existing similar biomaterials or bioink companies in the market (large or small), and then figure who their investors are. Large chemical companies often have a VC arm because they need innovations to stay competitive and are always looking out for potential acquisition deals. Therefore, by association, you can generate a few dozens of potential firms that you can reach out to that could be interested in investing in your company. A word of caution, however, is that VCs may have a conflict of interest in investing in too many startups that are direct competitors to one another.
How to get your foot into the door?
This would be a learning process, and you are likely to make many mistakes. Your time is as valuable (if not more) as the investors’. The law of “Give and Take” is always in play in this most capitalistic process of startup fundraising. Always ask what kind of value any kind of interactions or transactions have returned to you or the investors. (No hard feelings if you have not responded to my emails lately…)
It is a tough job, but isn’t this adventure the exact reason you have abandoned your professorship in the ivory tower?
How to participate in Pitch3D?
Many moons ago, we have published a few blogs focusing on how to pitch in front of the investors, and they are still worth a read here:
Try to pitch to investors carrying lower stakes, for example, friends and family, Pitch3D, or any friendly angels (like myself). If you make a mistake with them, you can get their feedback to polish up your presentations for higher-stake investors. For those who are truly inexperienced, I would highly recommend reputable accelerators or incubators such as YCombinator, IndieBio, Techstars, among others. You lose a small percentage of equity for years of company-building experience, investor network, the reputation that would add valuation.
You can apply to Pitch3D here. It’s free, monthly to 30+ institutional investors who are interested in healthcare applications using 3D printing. You would have 30-60 minutes free meeting time with me if you are considered qualifying for the process.
- Silicon Valley Bank Annual Report on Healthcare Investments and Exits
- Global 3D printing products and services market size from 2020 to 2026
- 3D Printing Medical Devices Market by Component (3D Printer, 3D Bioprinter, Material, Software, Service), Technology (EBM, DMLS, SLS, SLA, DLP, Polyjet), Application (Surgical Guides, Prosthetics, Implants), User (Hospital, ASCs) – Global Forecast to 2026
About the Author:
Jenny Chen, MD, is the Founder and CEO of 3DHEALS, a company focusing on educating, connecting, and discovering innovators and entrepreneurs in the space of bioprinting, regenerative medicine, healthcare applications using 3D printing. She is also a practicing neuroradiologist and holds degrees in both medicine and radiology from the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. She has completed fellowship training in neuroradiology at Harvard Medical School/MGH. She has served as Adjunct Clinical Faculty in neuroradiology at Stanford University Medical Center between 2013 through 2021. With a focus on healthcare technology, Dr. Chen serves as a startup mentor and advisor to 3D technology startups. She created the Pitch3D program that connects early-stage startups to various fundraising strategies and directly to 35+ institutional investors in the space of healthcare 3D printing and bioprinting. Her interests lie in automated biology, patient-specific medicine, biofabrication, and has a vision of a decentralized and personalized healthcare delivery system for our near future.