While working as a drug discovery scientist at a pharmaceutical company in 2009, an idea was brewing in my mind concerning a problem I was facing. The problem was how to make new drugs to cure pain which had fewer side-effects and worked more efficiently. Current medicines tend to hit too many similar “targets” along with the actual target. Chemists have struggled for years to try to improve this, but with little success.
But I knew that several tarantulas have evolved venoms for killing prey and defending against predators that happen to act specifically at these pain targets. Using venoms as drugs is not novel: there are already 15 drugs on the market that owe their discovery to them. But sourcing venoms is very difficult and even more so in a usable format.
Following my redundancy, I decided to solve this problem. I had the skills, a deep knowledge of relevant health and safety, and a thorough understanding of venomous animal biology from my own private study.
So in March 2010, “Venomtech” was incorporated – in the back of a pet shop in Ramsgate. This was where the venomous animals were, and I had negotiated a good deal with the owner for use of the space.
During the first year, 75 per cent of our sales were to mainland Europe, proving that there was a wider market. However, it was also clear that, if I refined the product into its component parts and made it ready to use for pharmaceutical customers, it would be of greater value. To do this, I needed more equipment and an experienced team to reach our full potential.
I started to build the company to tackle this challenge, bringing in a finance director, and headhunting a chairman with pharmaceutical business development experience. We secured small investments from friends and moved to the Kent Enterprise Hub, where we had proper laboratory space to bring in clients and increase production. We then started a first round of fundraising for £500,000, which would enable us to produce the product our customers required and develop the sales team needed to reach the global market.
Initial conversations with venture capitalists and business angel networks proved we were stuck in “the funding gap”, however. We needed a sum too large for individual angel investors to offer, and too small for VCs to be interested. But we persevered, raising £160,000 from a number of angels from three networks and securing a promise of further funds from “Expansion East Kent”.
In May 2014, we moved to a new enterprise zone – Discovery Park – where we have ideal, pharmaceutical-grade custom laboratory, office and meeting space. And the amazing network of supporting companies at Discovery Park led us to seek to raise the further funding we required through equity crowdfunding, specifically with SyndicateRoom. We were nervous of crowdfunding at first, as we needed to find sophisticated investors that understand the biotech sector and our business. As the only commercial venom lab in the UK, it’s hard to find people who understand the specifics of what we do.
We were quickly put at ease by the team at SyndicateRoom, who have an excellent record, even including biotech deals. They moved swiftly to understand our aims and needs, and worked hard on our business profile so that it would make sense and appeal to their investors (who they know well). Within hours of going live on the funding platform, we had secured many new sophisticated investors.
The raise is on track and we’re looking forward to a successful close towards the end of March. We have an excellent team who have worked tirelessly to get to this stage. Now we are ready to launch our international growth programme, headed by an experienced senior sales manager, currently waiting in the wings.