We recently spent some time with Tom Gerson, one of the principals of SECT Tech, a team of bioscience executives who work to identify, advise and support the growth of early-stage life science and healthcare technology companies and entrepreneurs in Connecticut. SECT Tech has been a CTNext partner since 2014 and has worked with over 100 early-stage companies since its founding in 2012. Tom shared some of his thoughts and views on entrepreneurship today, common challenges facing startups and how his organization teams up with CTNext to help drive innovation in Connecticut.
What is SECT Tech?
We are a group of three people, each with life science industry experience in different functions, focused on helping startup companies in life science and healthcare technology grow. We really like to roll up our sleeves and get to know people and science, and identify potential commercialization possibilities. We’ve all been around the block a couple of times—we know people and organizations and have access to resources, both within Connecticut but also from other areas where capital resources are available. Since we started about four years ago, we’ve worked with over 100 companies and currently have an active client list of over 40.
What would you say is the primary value you offer to your clients?
Often, the companies we work with are founded by one or two people who are scientists by training and have a great idea but really don’t know how to run a company and don’t know what’s required from a strategic, business model, operations, staffing or partnering point of view. So, in addition to helping our clients raise capital, we act as an ad hoc board of directors and try to provide whatever the companies need.
Aside from funding, which is the obvious need of most if not all startups, what are some of the common needs among your entrepreneurial founders?
I would say the common need is getting founders, entrepreneurs and startup CEOs to focus on whether their technical or scientific idea, which almost always is innovative, interesting and cool, can be made into an actual business. A lot of the people we deal with have very deep and strong scientific or technological backgrounds. But in many cases, this is their first time trying to make a business out of something. A reasonable percentage of the time, there may not be a business to be made, and that’s a difficult thing to address. Sometimes, there might be a business opportunity, but not in the way the founder had originally envisioned it. Understanding the commercial applications of the underlying technological or scientific invention and how to pursue it is probably the biggest strategic or conceptual issue that we work to get companies focused on.
How do you work alongside CTNext?
For a while, it could be argued that we served as a feeder for CI, identifying companies that are investment-worthy and companies that might be able to grow and prosper in the state. With CTNext now having a higher profile with its own board and as a standalone subsidiary of CI, the nuts and bolts of what we do has pretty much been the same, though we have more visibility and traction in the marketplace. We meet with EIRs and other CTNext members. Every once in a while, somebody will apply to CTNext sort of over the transom, if you will, and we’ll begin working with them until we think they are ready to be presented to investors.
How do you think an entrepreneur can best leverage the joint resources of SECT Tech and CTNext?
My advice to entrepreneurs is to be open-minded. Don’t be bashful just because you haven’t figured it all out yet. Almost every successful life science company that ultimately made it probably had three or four times during its existence where it was really close to not making it, where they were about to make some decisions that were not going to be helpful or where they had to pivot their business model and ended up doing something different from what they started out to do. The people at CTNext and SECT Tech have already paid for it. They’re Connecticut residents. The programs are all funded through the state. If you’re starting at a company in the life sciences or healthcare technology, use organizations like ours to the greatest possible extent. Don’t think you’re imposing. I would say go for it, don’t be bashful, and keep coming back for more.