Houston voices

UH: How biotech companies are withstanding the pandemic

At a time when the coronavirus crisis is impacting most facets of business, biotech startups are standing up to the virus. Miguel Tovar/University of Houston

At a time when the business world is reeling, biotech companies are still hanging on. Many biotech startups have successfully pivoted their entire platforms to focus on coronavirus-related work.

Of course, these companies aren't without their struggles. Clinical trials have come to a pause, finding investors has become more difficult and financing rounds have been surceased.

Even then, there are many biotech startups that have managed to snag government loans via the Paycheck Protection Program among other financial assistance. According to Vivian Doelling, the vice president of emerging company development at the North Carolina Biotechnology Center, COVID-19 has not impacted the bio science industry as much as it has others.

"Some of the smaller biotech companies have pivoted research to be more COVID-centric. This is also true particularly for companies with open platforms or who were developing products in the antiviral space," Doelling told BioSpace, an online biotech publication.

"To add to that, there are research organizations that are receiving more pandemic-centric business from biotech. And that includes clinical trial work," she continued.

Ongoing biotech challenges

It's no surprise that there have been some concerns regarding the delay of clinical trials for products that have nothing to do with coronavirus. It is feared that the delays might create product pipeline problems in the long run. See, companies usually file patent applications before trials even start. So, delays in clinical trials, according to Doelling, "could take up a big chunk of the time in which treatments can have patent exclusivity before generic competition intensifies."

Delays negatively impact smaller biotech startups. These startups' futures typically rely on the success rate of trial outcomes. Any delay in these trials subsequently hurts the small biotech startup. But, even then, the pandemic still doesn't seem to be affecting these startups.

Investment blues

"The expectation is investors are going to hold back more funds than they projected for their portfolio companies. There could be less funding available for new investments," expressed Doelling. However, it is her belief that biotech companies are hot investments right now, and sees new investments on the horizon.

"Investors are cautious at the moment," said Marty Rosendale, the CEO of the Maryland Tech Council, to BioSpace. "They're going to analyze their own portfolio to make sure those companies are solid."

Rosendale, echoing Doelling's investment concerns, says investors want to be more careful right now. They are making it a point to invest less money, which makes it difficult for startups seeking funding.

Keep on keeping on

Many startups are continuing to operate because they've found their rhythm in the virtual workplace. "I have not come across any biotech startup that has closed its doors during the pandemic," Rosendale said. "Sure, some have faced delays and temporarily stopped operations, but overall, haven't heard of any closing for good."

There are a few forces at play when it comes to helping biotech startups stay afloat during the pandemic storm. Landlords are forgiving rent and government loans are helping companies pay employees. "I know of companies that have been out there fundraising since the beginning of the COVID crisis. And they're still out there doing it," Rosendale said. "But I still haven't heard of one company that was forced to end or even delay a round of funding, not one."

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This article originally appeared on the University of Houston's The Big Idea. Rene Cantu, the author of this piece, is the writer and editor at UH Division of Research.

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Building Houston

 
 

Houston is among the top cities for veteran entrepreneurs. Photo via Getty Images

Houston has moved up the ranks in an annual study of the top places in the U.S. for veteran entrepreneurs.

The study, conducted by the PenFed Foundation and Edelman Data & Intelligence, puts Houston at No. 5 among the best metro areas for veteran entrepreneurs. That’s up from No. 12 in the 2021 study.

The study cites Houston’s economic growth, support for veterans, strong employment, and low unemployment rate among veterans as factors favoring veteran entrepreneurs.

More than 300,000 military veterans live in the Houston area. That’s the second largest population of veterans in the U.S.

Due to the Houston area’s robust veteran population, Bayou City was chosen in 2018 as the site for the third local chapter of Bunker Labs, an accelerator and incubator for military-affiliated entrepreneurs.

At No. 1 in the study is Washington, D.C., followed by:

2. New York City
3. Seattle
4. Dallas-Fort Worth
5. Houston
6. Austin
7. Sioux Falls, South Dakota
8. Cleveland
9. Rapid City, South Dakota
10. Boston

Elsewhere in Texas, McAllen-Edinburg-Mission landed at No. 20 and San Antonio at No. 23.

The study analyzed four categories for each city: livability, economic growth, support for veterans, and ability to start a business. The study evaluated 390 metro areas.

“As the nation navigates the economic impacts of inflation, the study focused especially on how inflation impacts cities differently,” says the PenFed Foundation, established by PenFed Credit Union.

This is the third year for the study.

“We want to help cities across the United States understand which environments are best suited for military veterans to start and grow businesses, and inspire city leaders to take the actions needed to support veteran entrepreneurs,” James Schenck, president and CEO of PenFed Credit Union and CEO of the foundation, says in a news release.

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