Dr. Leen Kawas Details 4 Key Attributes for Successful Life Sciences Startups

Leen Kawas
7 min readOct 13


Dr. Leen Kawas of Propel Bio Sciences, highlights various components for success for entrepreneurs and startup ventures in the life sciences space.

In today’s technology-driven world, the life sciences industry is often at the forefront of new medical and drug discoveries. The diverse life sciences arena includes biotechnology, biopharma, medical technology, and medical device firms. Whether a life sciences startup is pursuing a new disease therapy, or helping to advance an improved quality of life, these companies are driven by rapid-fire innovation.

However, the converse is also true. Innovation and technological advancements often occur in an atmosphere of uncertainty. To illustrate, the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic caused a global state of flux that rippled across multiple industries. In the life sciences arena, fast-paced innovation in drug development took place despite a complete restructuring of companies’ workplaces.

In 2023, longer life expectancies and higher infectious disease numbers will likely drive continued industry growth. To address emerging challenges, increased digitalization and artificial intelligence (or AI) have spurred numerous life sciences advances. Fledgling startups and industry-leading companies continue to identify likely development candidates.

While opportunities abound, however, the industry must navigate challenges that threaten to derail the firms’ progress. Aon, a recognized global risk management firm that tracks the life sciences industry, released the results of its 2021 Global Risk Management Survey.

Besides pandemic-era risks, the firm named supply chain disruptions, business interruptions, and cybersecurity risks as major concerns. Life sciences businesses also deal with obstacles in attracting top talent to drive continued innovation.

Propel Bio Partners Thrives Despite Life Sciences Industry Uncertainty

While life sciences companies of all stripes face ongoing challenges, startups face an extra layer of uncertainty. These early-stage businesses often encounter funding and logistics issues along with operations roadblocks. Fortunately, Leen Kawas, Ph.D. offered recommendations to help startups navigate the path to viability. Dr. Kawas detailed her advice in the Digital Journal’s July 28, 2023 edition.

Dr. Leen Kawas is Propel Bio Partners’ Managing General Partner. This Los Angeles-based venture capital firm invests in business-focused life sciences companies working to enhance human health. Propel Bio Partners is especially interested in partnering with women- and minority-owned businesses.

Dr. Leen Kawas’ Proven Life Sciences Achievements

Propel Bio Partners’ expanding investment portfolio has benefited from Dr. Leen Kawas’ demonstrated life sciences industry expertise. She previously served as Athira Pharma, Inc.’s highly effective Chief Executive Officer (or CEO). In this capacity, Dr. Kawas engineered the company’s Initial Public Offering in September 2020.

As of February 2021, Dr. Leen Kawas is one of only 22 female founders and CEOs who successfully took their company to an IPO in Washington State. She clearly understands how to nurture a bioscience startup and bring it into the industry mainstream. Taking it a step further, Dr. Leen Kawas knows how to plan for strategic growth while navigating the barriers that will inevitably arise.

Key Steps to Take a Startup from Concept to Reality

Although every startup business has distinct requirements, Dr. Leen Kawas offered a universal business startup checklist to drive the company’s organization. Next, she discussed four key factors that can help a bioscience startup increase its chances of success.

Zapier’s Business Startup Checklist

Respected business automation firm Zapier outlined a Business Startup Checklist covering seven key business formation tasks. Zapier’s business experts have broken each task down into its components, or subtasks.

  • Startup Costs: These include one-time startup expenses, overhead costs such as utilities, and labor costs. The startup’s founder should create an expense budget along with a dedicated business savings account. Finally, they should research potential income sources such as grants and venture capital funding.
  • Business Registration: First, the founder should choose a business structure with advice from a small business-friendly Certified Public Accountant (or CPA). Selecting a business name, and registering the business in the appropriate jurisdiction(s), are also important tasks.
  • Bank Accounts and Permits: The founder should first open a company bank account and obtain an Employer Identification Number (or EIN). Next, they should obtain a local business license (if applicable). Finally, the founder should apply for any required industry permits.
  • Reliable Accounting System: Here, the startup’s founder can hire a bookkeeper to handle the business’ accounting tasks. Alternatively, the founder can purchase business accounting software. Either method enables seamless data transmission to the company’s CPA.
  • Company Management System: First, an organizational chart displays the company’s structure. Next, the founder should put a suite of management tools in place. Alternatively, they can purchase a project management software program.
  • Branding and Marketing: Working with a branding expert, the startup’s founder should create a brand and its associated graphic elements. Adding a website that reinforces the brand, and social media accounts to reach the target audience, are also key steps.

How a Bioscience Startup Can Boost Its Odds of Success

Dr. Leen Kawas’ experience as a bioscience CEO and investor provides her with a valuable perspective. Here, she outlines four key attributes that can help drive the startup’s progress toward its goals.

Engaging the Right Team Members and Experts
A bioscience startup should hire employees with skill sets matching the business’ needs. Although the bioscience industry covers a range of specialties, many firms hire research and product development lab team members. Employees with drug discovery protocols knowledge are also in demand. For perspective, bioscience firms are currently facing a shortage of workers with AI and other specialized technology expertise.

Dr. Leen Kawas pointed out that bioscience firms’ distinctive needs dictate that they have access to specialized experts. To illustrate, advisors with supply chain, manufacturing, finance, corporate development, and government regulations expertise are sought-after consultants.

Founders who attempt to navigate the industry without these experts’ assistance will find themselves at a disadvantage. In the worst-case scenario, the startup may continue to flounder its way into oblivion.

Evolving digital technologies like artificial intelligence and other types of advanced machine learning have the potential to assist in the development of new life sciences concepts. Startups’ founders should be open to consideration of the technologies’ use. Their benefits often include more efficient results, which can help to reduce a startup’s overall costs.

Understanding AI’s Bioscience Applications

The bioscience industry is increasingly using artificial intelligence and machine learning (a form of AI) for varied applications. In fact, industry experts and respected company leaders believe that 2023 will mark a pivotal point for the technology’s use and value.

Currently, the bioscience industry uses AI to automate highly repetitive tasks, streamline large data set processing, and enable better data flow. The technology can also be useful in data analytics, drug manufacturing, research functions, and more.

Next, AI technology can be used to accelerate the process of vaccine development. With new COVID-19 variants and other emerging viruses, vaccine synthesis and manufacturing must also pick up the pace.

Finally, AI and machine learning technologies can play a key role in personalized medicine development. The technologies will help medical professionals better understand each disease before identifying the optimal personal treatments for each case. The AI tools can also locate potentially useful medications for uncommon or hereditary diseases.

From this perspective, Dr. Leen Kawas emphasized that bioscience startup founders should obtain a working knowledge of industry-specific AI applications. This will enable better decision-making and help the business identify upcoming opportunities that use this technology.

Obtaining Sufficient Funding for Continued Growth

Startups are often underfunded, and some of these companies have a difficult time obtaining investment capital as well. As a result, some startups must shut down operations because they simply don’t have enough money to keep going.

To avoid this unfortunate outcome, Dr. Leen Kawas recommended that life sciences startups ensure that they are well-capitalized from the outset. In addition to minimizing the chances of immediate financial problems, consistent funding sources will set the stage for further expansion.

Navigating Ongoing Economic Obstacles

Businesses in multiple industries have seen higher expenses due to inflation. In the biosciences industry, startups must often pay higher prices for needed supplies and equipment. Relevant technology is also more expensive.

Dr. Leen Kawas urged bioscience startups to build an “inflation cushion” into their projected operating costs and investor pitches. Concurrently, she advised startup founders to be ready for more economic volatility and determine how it could affect each company.

Dr. Leen Kawas Emphasized that Preparation is Key

Following Dr. Leen Kawas’ advice does not provide an ironclad guarantee of success. However, Dr. Kawas stressed that a well-prepared startup has an advantage over a business with precious little capital and insufficient planning and coordination.

“Following these tips does not, of course, guarantee that a startup will succeed with its goals, but it will help create a stronger, more viable company with a greater chance of thriving compared to one that enters the market unprepared,” emphasized Dr. Leen Kawas.

About Leen Kawas

Dr. Leen Kawas excels as Propel Bio Partners’ Managing General Partner. Established in 2022, this Los Angeles-based venture capital firm works with startup and early-stage bioscience companies. In addition to financial support, Dr. Kawas and other advisors are able to offer their specialized technical expertise.

Prior to Dr. Leen Kawas’ Propel Bio Partners’ venture, she was the co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Athira Pharma, Inc. During her time at the firm, she moved multiple drug candidates through the challenging development cycle. Dr. Kawas also oversaw Athira Pharma’s Initial Public Offering, which took place in September 2020. Her diverse accomplishments resulted in several industry awards.

Like most accomplished technology leaders, Dr. Leen Kawas’ education prepared her for these career achievements. A Jordan native, Dr. Kawas earned a Pharmacy degree in 2008. Deciding to travel a different path, she came to the United States for her graduate education.

In 2011, Dr. Leen Kawas earned her Doctorate in Molecular Pharmacology from the University of Washington. She also completed the respected Foster School of Business Executive Training Program. Equipped with top-tier business management and leadership skills, Dr. Leen Kawas is well-suited to excel in the challenging bioscience arena.

Originally published at https://www.natureworldnews.com on October 13, 2023.



Leen Kawas

Ph.D. in molecular pharmacology and entrepreneur