At Theia, we had the opportunity to talk to a remarkable woman who has spent time in both the science and business sides of the life sciences industry. Natalie Ma is currently the director of business development at Felix Biotechnology, a seed-stage biotechnology company working to accelerate its deployment of novel biotherapeutics to manage infectious diseases using their proprietary phage technology. She helped launch Felix Biotech with Dr. Paul Turner when she was a Blavatnik Fellow in Entrepreneurship at the Yale Tech Transfer Office. As a fellow, she assisted eight faculty in developing ventures, primarily in the areas of infectious disease, rare disease, and synthetic biology. Three of these ventures are venture-backed, collectively with >$3 M in funding. Prior to this, she was a healthcare consultant at ClearView and received her PhD in molecular biology at Yale University.
Major takeaways from our conversation:
Expand your Horizons
After saving up throughout undergraduate and graduate school, Ma set aside a year to travel the world and “to take a step back and see what else exists in the world.” In hindsight, she appreciates how these experiences gave her greater adaptability, flexibility, and cultural competency — all of which she finds are important skills of a successful entrepreneur. Her travel experiences also taught her creative problem solving and made her realize that the worst-case scenarios rarely happen. As a result, Ma strives to perceive unpleasant situations as transient and manageable. Her meticulous travel blog reveals her budgeting and organizational skills, both of which would continue to help her throughout her entrepreneurial journey.
Tech Transfer Offices
Tech Transfer Offices are great places to “drink from the fire hose.”
As a Blavatnik fellow, Ma was instrumental in evaluating the viability of technologies for the formation and development of new ventures. She was additionally tasked with developing pitch decks, speaking to investors, reviewing patent contracts, and helping faculty identify markets and applications for their inventions. “It’s not just the science that wins the day,” Ma elaborates on the role of an entrepreneur in helping faculty connect their science with the real world.
Ma takes it a step further and encourages more women and students to reach out to the Tech Transfer Office at their respective institutions.
“They are there to help you,” she urges.
She has noticed that female underrepresentation is not spared in the realm of patents. Data from Osage University Partners (OUP), reveals that women are 40% less likely to communicate their ideas with a tech transfer office, and only 11% of OUP’s startup portfolio have female founders. Additionally, data from the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) suggests women only make up 12% of the inventor population.
Even though more start-ups are being formed, the proportion of female-founded companies has remained stable.
“We have an acceleration problem too,” Ma explains.
Through her conversations at Yale, she found that female faculty often do not realize that their research is patentable.
Ma claims that even if a there is a not a clear application and market for your research, patents can be carved out — research with animal models, for example, can yield valuable human biomarkers.
It is OK to be a novice again!
“We like being experts in a field, and are used to having the answers,” reflects on her experience becoming acquainted with the legal jargon involved in protecting innovation.
She acknowledges how it can be anxiety-inducing not to have answers and to be confronted with lingo you are not familiar with.
Ma demystifies this barrier — “Patent contracts are mostly stock language; after you read a few, you will get a hang of it.”
She encourages our listeners not to shy away from learning. “Learn enough to become dangerous.”
Interested in biotech, Tech Transfer Offices, or infectious disease? Check out Spotlight on Women in Healthcare Ventures on Spotify and Anchor!
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Story written by Luiza Perez , Priya Kumar, and Katie Donahey.