Meet the Entrepreneur: Caroline Barelle

Caroline Barelle, CEO of Elasmogen, was an Scottish Enterprise and BBSRC supported RSE Enterprise Fellow in 2015.

Her company is based in Aberdeen.

Hi Caroline, can you describe Elasmogen in 20 (or fewer) words?

Elasmogen is a next-generation therapeutic biologics company developing new targeted treatments for inflammatory eye disease and cancer.

What made you become an entrepreneur?

In a word, circumstance, which quickly turned into an opportunity. We were in the world of drug development and at the time I was working for a big pharma company here in Aberdeen. Unfortunately, the company made the strategic decision to stop their R&D activities in the UK. However, this meant that a substantial IP and asset portfolio rolled back into the University of Aberdeen – so enters our opportunity. Add to this an experienced co-founder, a talented and committed team and support from Scottish Enterprise (SE) and the University, and you have a recipe for a new spin-out biotech company.

What support have you received to get where you are today?

I have received different forms of support; all of which have been critical to me. First and foremost my family (my husband Alex and two incredible daughters, Constance and Charlotte), who have enabled me to travel and work late, and who have been there to listen and, importantly, keep me grounded and sane. Experience-wise (given I have never done anything like this before) my co-founder, Andy, who has successfully entered and exited the biotech world before, and our Chairman, Chris, who has a wealth of business knowledge and incredible drive. I would also highly recommend Converge Challenge, Scotland’s largest business competition, which I entered in 2015. Converge Challenge gave me great support, particularly with PR and branding, but also with IP, financial and legal advice which was crucial for the business at the time. Science-wise, an amazing team (Marina, John, Obinna and Magda) who not only deliver on the science, but critically believe in what we are trying to achieve and are committed to make this happen. Financially, SE and the BBSRC have played a crucial role before and after we spun-out the company. Last, but by no means least, the University of Aberdeen, who have supported us throughout this process.

What is the best business lesson you’ve learnt so far?

“Seek forgiveness, not permission”. Sitting waiting, or assuming something is being done, is dangerous when you are a small company with limited time and resources. I have learned this the hard way and I am much more gutsy about taking action and getting things done. What’s the worst that could happen…?

How did the Enterprise Fellowship help you get to where you are today?

Not only did it support me financially to enable me to push forward with this enterprise, but it provided me with the luxury of time to evolve the business model and an incredible support network to help me at each stage of getting the company off the ground. I made useful contacts and amazing new friends who continue to help me as the company has grown.

What is the best thing about being an entrepreneur?

That’s a tough one, as there are a number to choose from, but for me I think it’s the challenge. In our world, the science is challenging at best but it’s the additional challenge of being pulled out of my comfort zone and having to make those decisions and deal with those negotiations that form the backbone of the business. That can, of course, be a double-edged sword, as you need to prioritise to avoid becoming overwhelmed, but on balance, I respond well and operate more effectively when a little pressure is applied.

If you weren’t doing this, what else would you be doing?

Painting – not walls but canvases! I have always adored art and would have loved to have continued beyond school, but science won the day.

What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs trying to start a business out of University?

Overall, it’s positive to have the support of the University. However, I would strongly advise anyone considering this to be aware of how long the process can take, and that depending on the University and asset portfolio (particularly IP), the institute could take a substantial chunk of the equity before you have even started with investors and the inevitable dilution that follows.

Dead or alive, if you could have any mentor, who would it be and why?

Maria Sklodowska: better known by her married name, Marie Curie. She went from humble beginnings to become a twice Nobel Prize-winning scientist (the only one for two different sciences), at a time when women were not encouraged and sometimes not even welcome at academic institutes. She was a pioneer, an exceptional scientist and someone I admire hugely. I feel the greatest lessons I could learn from Marie Curie would be drive, passion and commitment. Even when the task seems insurmountable and when it’s easier to give up, I imagine she would be there with the pure determination needed to see it through.

What advice do you have for anyone thinking of applying for an Enterprise Fellowship?

Do it, as it simply was a life saver for me at the time. It gave me a runway to get the company off the ground and the tools and expertise to carve out the structure and purpose of the company.

What keeps you going when the going gets tough?

I have learnt to take time out without that destructive sense of guilt. It took a long time to do this, but now I see how important it is; burning yourself out serves no purpose. I also started exercising, which is a terrible admission given that it’s something I should have started years ago! There’s nothing like going for a jog/walk along the Ythan Estuary on a beautiful day to relax, or punching/kicking an imaginary person (no-one in particular…honest) at Body Combat to de-stress.

What would your younger-self think about where you are now?

Impressed, although I’m sure I wouldn’t tell myself that! I’ve always been passionate about science, and, in particular, in playing a part in developing a medicine that may help someone someday. It’s been a circuitous route to get to the point of founding a biotech company that does just that, but the experience gained along the way has been tremendous and the folk I have met are just fantastic. I judge myself by how I feel, and right now I am really happy.

RSE Enterprise Fellowships

RSE Enterprise Fellowships enable researchers from across the UK to commercialise their work. With the support of a salary and business development fund, awardees get to focus solely on refining their business ideas whilst also gaining access to some of best commercial training and mentorship available in the UK.

The next application deadline is 26th April 2017