MBE Forum: Peter Fennessy – AbacusBio

“Start-ups: intuition and insouciance or the 10 things I wish I had known 20 years ago”

The last Bioscience Enterprise forum for the year featured AbacusBio founder and Managing Director Peter Fennessy. Peter has an extensive R&D background including a PhD in Biochemistry and Nutrition and 5 years applied research with AgResearch. He is also a Board member of Blis Technologies, NZBIO and the NRCGD. AbacusBio is a new venture consulting business that bridges AgBio science and business.

Throughout Peter’s presentation he focused on 4 areas of advice for a business start-up:

1:Things he would have love to have known 20 years ago (both as himself and as an investor)

  • Attitude – have to keep it fun, grounded, regular reality checks with an outside interest.
  • Mentor – Peter stressed the usefulness of a mentor but be clear what you want from them. In a later side note, Prof. Wendell Dunn (Foundation Chair in Entrepreneurship, UoA) stated that there were 3 types of mentor:mentoree interactions: 1- personal (focused on the development of the person) 2- the confidant 3- technical/ focused on the business. Peter, despite being a mentoree himself, he too is a mentor for students at the University of Otago that are looking to start their own businesses. I believe this is under the KickStart Program.
  • Realise your weaknesses
  • What are you trying to do? Are you creating a business or buying a job. The motivation needs to be there.

2:‘Doing It’

  • If your project has a strong need associated with it get it in the market ASAP as early adopters will test and give you valuable feedback to continue to develop your product.
  • Kill it quickly. Find out what will kill your product. Because of his links with Blis Tech he made reference to Probiotics. Stability is the Achilles heel of a probiotic product (good news for Encoate).
  • Be Flexible – The business you thought you were in might not be your actual business. Your business concept may be premature- let it evolve.

3:Ideas

  • Expose yourself to them – read read read
  • Don’t be too precious about your ideas – to test it you need to share it. Peter mentioned it’s not so much the idea but how you put it into practice that counts, providing the PCR technology as an example.
  • ‘Ideas are easier than actually following them through’
  • Recommended 2 authors – Jim Collins ( and Clayton Christensen (The Innovators Dilemma)

4: The Business Concept

  • It is always harder to sell a product than what you think
  • The technology is important but not everything
  • What is your point of difference in the market?
  • What is the IP situation around your innovation?

Blis Tech produced the first oral probiotic in the world. Other probiotics are typically found in dairy products for consumption. It was a throat spray that prevented strep throat infections having particular benefit on board long flights. Nestle have recently signed off on a deal with Blis for use of their product in an infant formula and has significantly boosted the creditability of the company and its hopes of profitability.

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