03 November 2021

From Novel Idea to IPO: How SQZ Biotech Leveraged MassChallenge Mentorship for Funding and Industry Growth

“When we started out with SQZ, we had plenty of friends, former professors, or other colleagues who were willing to give advice, but it was MassChallenge that really advanced our development and understanding of the industry. We learned how to speak about our solution, which is highly technical, and gave us tremendous exposure to a network and mentors that seven years later, are still involved with us.” - Armon Sharei, founder and CEO of squeeze. 

SQZ Biotech is a clinical-stage biotechnology company developing transformative cell therapies for patients with cancer, autoimmune and infectious diseases, and other serious conditions. SQZ’s cell therapy approach is novel and works by “squeezing” a cell in order deliver therapeutic programing inside of them, which can then be re-inserted into the patient to help combat disease. “In a real-life setting,” said Sharei, “it would be like if you sent a sumo wrestler through a hula hoop at the speed of sound.” 

This therapeutic approach differs from the typical pharmaceutical drug developomentpath, which is to deliver a mixture of molecules into the body that the cells will see and drive some kind of reaction – a process Sharei describes as “pretty basic in what functions they can achieve.” By using the cells themselves, therapies could not only be  more sophisticated in the way they address disease, but they may also contribute to fewer side effects. and an overall better patient experience..

In 2014, SQZ entered MassChallenge with goal of gaining the necessary businesses and industry understanding for their team of young scientists with backgrounds in academia. Upon completing the four-month accelerator, SQZ had made tremendous accomplishments. For example, the SQZ founders: 

  • Honed their pitch and verbal approach to explaining their technology
  • Gained a chair member from their mentorship group (Amy Sherman, who would remain with SQZ seven years later)
  • Won non-dilutive capitol with the Diamond Prize
  • Won funding from Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) to develop their technology 
  • Gained significant exposure as they opened their Angel Funding round, which ended in $1 million

“We were trying to hone our story and find the best way to communicate it to a broader audience,” Sharei said. “We received a lot of great coaching from very experienced and passionate people that proved invaluable. The biggest example of this is obviously our current Chairwoman Amy Sherman, whom we met at MassChallenge and is with us today.”

In 2020, SQZ decided to go public in order to accelerate its growth. Sharei credits the milestones they hit with MassChallenge for contributing to the company’s successful early development. 

“Going public was an extremely exciting time, obviously,” said Sharei. "As you advance and start to bring programs into clinic trials, your capital needs can start to shift pretty significantly and that's where the public markets provide access to a far greater pool of capital." 

Today, SQZ has two clinical trials ongoing in oncology and plans to initiate two additional trials by the end of 2022.

 

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