It’s not often people find themselves in a room full of angels, especially while they’re still on earth. But for Drew Marquardt, a recent weekend in Toronto gave him a front-row glimpse into another dimension: business heaven.
The second-year PhD physics student was one of 10 participants across Ontario to attend what’s been dubbed a “business finishing school,” a place where angels - or angel investors in the business world - take aspiring entrepreneurs under their wings, and teach them a wide range of business and management skills, as well as invest in startup enterprises.
The business weekend is part of Ontario Centres of Excellence’s SmartStart program, created last year to help young entrepreneurs gain the skills, seed financing and other support to start their own businesses. Participants are in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math.
At the beginning of this year, Marquardt received the $20,000 W. Garfield Weston Fellowship in Entrepreneurialization to support his research into developing a more effective treatment for plaque buildup and mucositis, two common oral hygiene conditions.
“The business itself would be an IP (intellectual property) generating company,” explains Marquardt.
“We develop new technologies and seek to partner with manufacturing companies,” he adds. “Our contribution to the partnership is the intellectual property. But it’s all built around the initial project, the mouthwash.”
John Wilson, Director of Innovation and Commercialization, explains that such a “technology platform company” can be attractive for investors.
“Having scientific methods and processes that could be used to develop a whole range of products is a good revenue generator for investors,” he says.
Physics researcher Thad Harroun is the company’s technical advisor. He explains that the technology platform will consist primarily of research into the use of lipid molecules and membranes that, among other things, transport drugs in the body.
Harroun says that “answering the call of innovation” is a sign of the times in research funding, where an emphasis is increasingly on applying technology in the marketplace.
“I think we’re fortunate that, in our basic research, we see an opportunity or an application and we’ll pursue that, and we’re glad to do that,” he says.
Meanwhile, Marquardt - whose family has owned and operated a business for generations - says he learned a lot from his SmartStart weekend, including how to budget, project into the future, and how to make a company look “investible” to angel investors and others, especially through the all-important elevator pitch.
“It was an icebreaker,” Marquardt recalls as the angel instructors plunged into the business pitch straight away. “You had to get up in front of everybody and give your one-minute spiel on the spot. The weekend was 16 hours of the instructors trying to give you everything you need to know to start up a business.”