Founders Spotlight: Link Biosystems

Editor's note:

Student Venture Associate Kush Mody had a chance to virtually sit down with cohort member Dr. Kacey Ronaldson of Link Biosystems. Based on research from the lab of Dr. Gordana Vunjak-Novacovic, Link Biosystems is creating a systemic human pre-clinical model for cancer drug development.

Kush Mody
May 21, 2020

Kush: Tell us about your team, how did it get started?

Dr. Ronaldson: We are in the Dr. Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic's lab. She is a tissue engineer and ultimately, we realized that we were getting really good at making very small versions of each tissue. Thus, we started creating organs on a chip, also known as micro-physiological systems.

Kush: Tell us about your focus, what are you building/researching?

Dr. Ronaldson: Ultimately, we are building a framework around treating a human patient. We understand that each patient is inherently very different and by creating custom models individualized to each patient, we can ensure that we are receiving the optimal treatment. 

Kush: What is one fun fact about your team?

Dr. Ronaldson: We are all fun people and like to keep the overall culture very stress-free and enjoyable. One way we do this is by talking about our kids since that’s something we most of us have in common. Naveed does not have kids, but we let him talk about his plants. It’s a great time and all of us have learned a great deal about home horticulture.

Gordana in her lab

Kush: Why did you choose to join the BiomedX accelerator?

Dr. Ronaldson: We’ve gone through this accelerator before with other projects in the lab and we’ve had a fantastic experience being a part of it. It’s a great way to test our ability to communicate what we’re doing to a nontechnical audience. It’s particularly exciting to see how Columbia has added more and more resources to this entrepreneurial ecosystem each year.

Going through this accelerator also allows us to talk to numerous stakeholders from a variety of different backgrounds. From the coordinators, to the judges, to the all of our peers in the accelerator, everyone brings a fresh perspective to our ideas that we otherwise would not get by just being in the lab.

Kush: What are the biggest challenges you have faced since forming your team/startup?

Dr. Ronaldson: The challenges we deal with the most is the necessity to focus given the broad applications of our technology. We do so many things and do not want to spread ourselves to thin. For example, we currently need to find one particular use case on which to focus our platform and then go from there. It’s been especially important for us to talk to users and stakeholders about their pain points and see how our technology could be most advantageous to them. It is particularly important for us to find a problem where there are currently no solutions, as opposed to just attempting to replace a current approach.

Kush: What is the biggest lesson you have learned since joining the BiomedX accelerator? What are the next steps for your company/research?

Dr. Ronaldson: We’re still learning the lesson constantly and it is how to tell a clear story in a succinct and impactful way. For us to be successful, it will be crucial that we are able to clearly communicate what do we do, how do we do it, and who’s going to benefit. The class is a great guide, because it constantly reminds us to use the elevator pitch rather than the scientific oral presentation to which we have become so accustomed over time in our research roles.

This is especially important when delivering a presentation to a large audience with varying degrees of scientific knowledge. In a one-on-one conversation, it’s easy to adapt to a person’s understanding, but in short presentations to large audiences, this is a lot more difficult.

We find it particularly helpful to watch others pitch their technology and hear the feedback that they receive. This allows us to continue to refine our own approach and creatively think about how we can distinguish ourselves.

Lastly, this entire process of going through the BiomedX accelerator has been very helpful in teaching us the basic jargon around the fundraising, market sizing, etc. Getting comfortable with common abbreviations, such as TAM, SAM, and SOM, has been very enlightening and helps us see the topic from a different perspective.

Kush: What type of support/partnership are you currently seeking?

Dr. Ronaldson: We would love to talk to more people to figure out what exact problem we should target as the first use case for our technology. It would also be great to talk to industry personnel who may be interested in working with us from a commercial partnership point of view. We plan to apply to the BiomedX funding to get our original data set and killer experiment underway. Eventually, if everything goes as planned, we would also need support from industry incumbents to sit on our board and run the company effectively.