MassBio’s Life Sciences and Healthcare Nonprofit Pitch Challenge provides an opportunity for six nonprofits to advocate for the mission of their organization and discuss how it is fueling the growth of Massachusetts’ biotech and healthcare cluster and impacting the future. To get a better sense of how this competition has benefitted the nonprofit community, we chatted with our 2018 winner, Dr. Laura Kleiman of Reboot Rx (formerly Cures Within Reach for Cancer), to see what she has to say about the experience and how it helped her advance the organization’s mission.
Could you tell us more about your organization and why you applied to the 2018 MassBio Life Sciences and Healthcare Nonprofit Pitch Challenge?
Cures Within Reach for Cancer is a nonprofit organization using artificial intelligence (AI) and an innovative business model to improve cancer care worldwide. We are passionate about bringing new and affordable treatments to cancer patients more quickly. Our focus is on repurposing non-cancer generic drugs with existing anti-cancer evidence. We are building AI-driven technology to drastically reduce the time it takes to identify the most promising of these drugs, and we are developing new financing models for funding the clinical trials that may be needed to advance them to the standard of care for cancer.
I applied to the Pitch Challenge because I was excited to see an event focused on innovation in the nonprofit sector as most pitch events are geared toward for-profit companies pitching to investors. I was drawn to the esteemed panel of judges and wanted to get their feedback on our work. Additionally, the event provided the opportunity to learn about and network with other nonprofits in the Boston ecosystem.
How has your organization benefitted from the event?
The event provided much more exposure to the nonprofit ecosystem than I had expected – both that day and in the time since. I was able to meet many people who have helped us refine our strategy over the past year and who have reached into their networks to connect us to potential funders. It takes an incredible amount of work to build a nonprofit, and success depends on engaging an army of supporters who all feel as personally connected to the mission as you do. Beyond that, we were bootstrapping our organization until recently, so the cash award we received was very helpful. And, perhaps equally valuable, I was able to leverage the video of my pitch to get the word out about our work.
What have you achieved since the challenge? How has your organization since evolved?
Winning the MassBio Pitch Challenge helped us build credibility as a fledgling nonprofit. We were subsequently accepted into the 4-month MassChallenge program, one of the largest startup accelerators in the world. While most accelerators are geared toward for-profit companies, MassChallenge decided to accept two nonprofits, including ours, into their social impact track, which was a major turning point for us.
We completed MassChallenge as a silver award winner and were voted the MassChallenge startup most likely to change the world. We built a very strong team, launched collaborations with IBM Research, MIT, and Northeastern University, and started developing a prototype of our AI technology. Based on these achievements, we were able to secure support from philanthropy, academic institutions, and corporate partners. Thanks to significant funding that we just received, we are currently undergoing a growth and transition period.
Why is the nonprofit sector so crucial to the life sciences? What impact does it have on the industry’s continued success?
Profit motives can drive progress, but so can the purity of a mission that is agnostic as to where the best ideas originate. Being a nonprofit puts collaboration over competition, and that means we can attract the best minds and a wide range of support among people and organizations who all believe in our goal and want us to succeed. MassBio and MassChallenge, for example, are nonprofit organizations assisting emerging for-profit and nonprofit corporations who have big ambitions with limited resources. Without their support, fewer entrepreneurs, scientists, engineers, and business professionals would be working on some of the toughest problems.
Laura Kleiman is Founder and Executive Director of Cures Within Reach for Cancer. Motivated by losing her mother to cancer and family and friends currently fighting the disease, Laura is building a collaborative organization across disciplines and sectors. Previously, she was Scientific Research Director in the Department of Data Sciences at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Laura holds a PhD from MIT in Computational and Systems Biology and was an American Cancer Society Postdoctoral Fellow at the Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School.