‘A Startup Supporting Startups’: Inside Merck Digital Sciences Studio

Last year, McKesson Ventures joined Merck, Microsoft, the Global Health Innovation Fund, Northland Ventures, and the New Jersey Institute of Technology to create the Merck Digital Sciences Studio.

The studio was inspired by the work of Geof Hannigan, a computational biologist at Merck. In his work, he often had contact with later-stage startups that had great science and technology that could have a big impact on patients. Unfortunately, that tech was largely unusable due to regulatory or security issues.

“That got me thinking about how we could engage earlier with startups to provide guidance and direction as those companies mature,” Hannigan, now the executive director of Merck Digital Sciences Studio, said in a recent interview with Built In.

Merck Digital Sciences Studio takes what it calls a “founder-friendly” approach. It offers $150,000 in seed funding in a simple agreement for equity—without later strings attached. Hannigan says the studio wants the companies to be successful and not have to continue to offer additional equity or meet other requirements later.

Another important thing that differentiates Merck Digital Sciences Studio from other startup incubators and accelerators is its ability to provide founders with meaningful and deep engagement with the biopharma industry.

“We can help answer questions about engaging with pharma, creating and structuring deals and offerings, thinking about product-market fit, or even give the opportunity to network across Merck and have access to the people we have here,” Hannigan said.

Startups in the Merck Digital Sciences Studio are grouped into what it calls a pod program, with companies completing similar work. Meetings and facilitated discussions give leaders the chance to advise one another on solutions that encompass dispersed geographies and technical innovations. They also get access to people within Merck itself.

“We offer the startup leaders a buddy system that helps them access support within Merck,” said Hannigan. “They have someone to connect with inside the organization, and it’s also a great opportunity to expose Merck employees to the startups and innovative work through open house and networking events.”

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