Biotech and blockbusters

July 23, 2012

Troy Wilson, Former CEO of Intellikine, compares biotech to Hollywood in order to explain how its approach to innovation differs from tech entrepreneurs in general:

What separates tech from biotech is that tech has the potential to break even or become profitable relatively quickly, and it can become self-sustaining. I have yet to see a drug development program that can become self-sustaining.  It’s not to say that it can’t be done, but it’s just a different business model. Biotech is much more like making Hollywood movies or oil drilling in the sense that it takes large amounts of money, and when you hit it, you hit big. It’s a very discovery-based business model and one that can be highly profitable if you set it up correctly. In that way, it’s a little different than tech, software or networking. In biotech or pharma, you really only have around 15 customers and that number seems to be shrinking.

Extending the film metaphor, we once wrote, “Success may not always start with failure, but the wise man expects a cameo appearance at some point in the movie.”  Two movies  – Titanic and Waterworld – might have had similar elevator pitches – big budget epics about ships on the open water – but the investors fared quite differently.

As with film-making, predicting technological trends is not for the weak at heart – and that’s before one tries to protect the IP and find a way to profit from it.  The road to failure is paved with innovations that couldn’t quite achieve a sustainable business model or, yes, hit an iceberg.  Not everyone can count on home entertainment sales and broadcast rights to break even.  (You may be surprised to learn that even Costner’s post-apocalyptic fiasco managed to eventually earn a profit.)

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