Keeping operational in COVID: pandemic planning and resilience

Dr Carolyn PorterIn our latest guest blog, Dr Carolyn Porter, CEO of CytoSeek, shares her experiences of running a company during the coronavirus pandemic and how the Company was able to keep running as usual through these challenging times.

Joining CytoSeek in January 2020 as its first CEO, I was prepared for many things but dealing with a full-blown pandemic was not yet part of my playbook. The company had closed a small seed round backed by UKI2S in late 2019 and additional fundraising was on the horizon for the second half of 2020. As all emerging Biotech and Tech companies know, the ability to secure financing is heavily dependent on generating favourable and advancing data packages.

In the current COVID crisis this remains an important metric for investors but is joined by a more fundamental metric of whether you have a site that is operational at all and an R&D programme and flexible workforce that can be adapted to social distancing.

CytoSeek’s operations were based at the University of Bristol where the company originated, and the University closed its doors in the third week of March for all but COVID research. We had anticipated the closure and identified and prioritised value adding non-laboratory tasks for our R&D team to maintain focus and prepare for an efficient return to lab work.

Otherwise described by a colleague as “planning to within an inch of your life” the team were arguably even busier than before lockdown. We increased the frequency of weekly team meetings and, as CEO, my regular one-to-ones with team members went from monthly to weekly to maintain team focus and check in with team members in solitary lockdown.

As it became evident that the timing for lockdown lift was unclear and we were conscious that a prolonged interruption to R&D activity would impact our future fundraising, we looked for options to move our R&D activities to an alternative location.

In the space of a month we had investigated alternative sites, negotiated appropriate contracts, moved our labs to an incubator facility in Bristol and recommenced operations. Having spent the first month of lockdown in constant Zoom mode, it was a pleasant respite to reconnect (at a distance) to the team and physically move our equipment to the new site. We could not have done this without the flexibility and generosity of other companies in the ecosystem (some furloughed due to COVID) enabling us to use their labs on a temporary basis.

It’s been a period of intense planning, a test of resilience and team working for the Company and a great dry run for a planned move to our own facilities as part of a future fundraise. I’ll be adding a new chapter to my own playbook that hopefully won’t be opened too frequently in the future.

For more information on CytoSeek’s cell membrane augmentation technology visit the CytoSeek website.

CytoSeek is a UKI2S portfolio company and we are looking for innovative start-ups and spinouts to invest in. Get in touch to discuss our investment opportunities.

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