Olfa Thera and Opus Bio Win $100K Awards in QB3 Mentoring Program

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Andy Chang and Alex Scharr of Olfa Thera pitch the QB3 mentor board for $100K support.

Congratulations to Olfa Thera and Opus Bio, who won $100K awards from the QB3 mentoring program in a competitive pitch session on Thursday, December at Bakar Labs!

The awards will enable both companies to generate important proof-of-concept data that will help them attract seed investment to grow and develop their technologies and teams.

“This was a terrific event,” said Kaspar Mossman, managing director of QB3, who runs the program. “The judges had a very hard time making a decision. We are thrilled to be able to make awards to these bio-entrepreneurs, and we’re committed to continuing to support all companies in the program.”

Twice a year, QB3 mentors nominate their mentee companies to pitch for $100K awards, which can be made either as academic grants or rent-for-equity SAFE agreements.

Pitches are judged by the full mentor board. Eighteen mentors currently serve on the board, and no matter what a company’s technology might be, it is certain that one or more mentors will have deep expertise in the area. In making its decisions, the board considers factors as a venture capitalist would: What distinguishes this technology from the competition? What is the company’s IP position? What is the market size? What is the history of investing success in this sector?

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The Olfa team with QB3 leadership. L-R: Alex Scharr, Dave Schaffer, Noem Noiwangklang, Andy Chang, Kaspar Mossman

There is no guarantee that any awards will be made, but for this cycle the mentors decided that Olfa Thera and Opus Bio merited selection.

Olfa, co-founded by CEO Alex Scharr and UCSF professor Andy Chang, was nominated by their mentor John Hoekman, founder and CSO of Impel Neuropharma. Olfa is developing a new medicine to treat high blood pressure in patients who have no other option.

“Winning the Bakar Labs pitch competition is a game-changer for Olfa Thera, granting us not only essential resources but also a vote of confidence in our vision and scientific approach,” said Scharr. “With the support of Bakar Labs, we can accelerate the development of our novel hypertension and respiratory therapies. As first-time founders, we could not ask for a better entrepreneurial community!

Opus, developing non-immunogenic lipid nanoparticles, used to deliver medicines such as Moderna’s mRNA Covid vaccines, was nominated by Widya Mulyasasmita, a general partner at Bakar Labs’ affiliated VC firm, BEVC. Widya mentors Opus co-founders Niren Murthy, a UC Berkeley professor of bioengineering, Berkeley postdoc Hesong Han, and UC Davis postdoc Kewa Gao. The Opus team also includes interim CEO Kent Johnson, an investor, and Jevon Feinblatt, who leads business development.

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Opus co-founders Hesong Han and Niren Murthy, with Dave Schaffer, Noem Noiwangklang and Kaspar Mossman of QB3.

“We are thrilled to have been selected by QB3 for this award,” said Murthy. “This award will help us enormously and will provide the resources needed to validate our technology. We look forward to working with QB3 in the future.”

Also pitching at the event were HPI Biosciences, KuriBio, and Omni Therapeutics, all participating in the QB3 program. At the social following the pitch session, the founders of HPI connected with Jenn Leeds of Novartis, who agreed to mentor them going forward; HPI had already been receiving guidance in the program from Ben Sun, a Skydeck advisor. At Novartis, Jenn has a long title: executive director and head of business development and licensing search and evaluation for the West Coast and Canada, translational medicine, and oncology.

The QB3 Mentoring Program is selective, matching mentors with 20% of applicants, although all get useful feedback. Applications are taken quarterly, and do not require university affilation. The deadline to join the next cohort is Friday, February 16, 2024. For more information, contact Kaspar Mossman.