Successful Entrepreneur Tom Lancaster Visits Ben Franklin TechCelerator Teams

There’s nothing better than learning the ropes from someone who has first-hand experience—and that’s exactly the type of experiences that the Ben Franklin TechCelerator program is providing for budding entrepreneurs.

On Tuesday, March 22, interested individuals had one of many opportunities to learn from and connect with successful entrepreneurs. 

Tom Lancaster, Penn State alum and co-founder of SmartCells, visited Innovation Park and shared the story of how he and his partner started a company as MIT graduate students in 2004. Their goal was to develop the first glucose-regulated insulin to treat diabetes.

After years of the ups and downs associated with a pharma start-up, and raising millions of dollars from angel investors and through grants for ongoing research, Merck purchased the company in 2010 for $500 million. The fact that SmartCells had not yet commercialized a product at the time of the company’s sale indicates the enormous potential of their technology. 

In telling his story, Tom shared some tips he considers to be vital for success, including:

• Focusing on just one technology and reducing risks on it

• Starting with a clean company structure from a legal standpoint

• Letting your operations plan dictate finances 

• Identifying a network of potential investors

• Using only hard data to support your conclusions

• Picking a board of directors that can open doors for you

• Applying for grants—but only to those that are truly a fit for your company

Tom also stressed the value of programs like the Ben Franklin TechCelerator. He and his partner greatly benefitted from MIT’s Venture Mentor Service (VMS), a similar program. Tom says VMS helped them hone in their business plan, make contact with angel investors, and facilitate critical meetings for advancing their company.

To drive home the point that an entrepreneurial spirit is impossible to suppress, Tom briefly told the audience to stay tuned for developments from his newest venture—a startup company called Akston Biosciences Corp. This new company has already secured seed funding from the NIH to study new therapies for diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease and is currently working to secure angel investors.

Following his presentation, Tom opened the floor to questions, and many were eager to ask about the process he went through and to seek advice about their own journeys. Following the Q&A session, Ben Franklin Technology Partners offered an opportunity for networking.

This session was just one of many in the Rainmaker Series hosted by Ben Franklin Technology Partners. Through these sessions, the TechCelerator program provides participants with the opportunity to meet with real-world entrepreneurs who can provide tips for success and insight about real challenges entrepreneurs face. Learn more about the program HERE.