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From Bench to Business is all about bridging the gap between the science world and the business world. I give hints about how to start your own biotech business, highlight new and emerging biotech companies and products, as well as how larger companies are affecting the biotech world.

My posts are presented as opinion and commentary and do not represent the views of LabSpaces Productions, LLC, my employer, or my educational institution.

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Monday, August 9, 2010

The idea of becoming an entrepreneur is intoxicating. You get to pick your own hours, you are your own boss, you get to create things that didn't exist before. For us in the biotech field, it's doubly intoxicating. When we start our own business, we are doing things like curing cancer, creating things that enhance science and research, or educating the world. These are all causes that the average person would love to dedicate their lives to.

If you are thinking about creating your own bio-business, I am definitely not going to lecture you on the basics about starting your own business. Anyone who has gone through graduate school knows what it is like to work 'till 2 am and have to work weekends. You also know what it is like to have your mind completely engulfed by an idea, and how to continuously build and create upon it. Don't worry, you have already proven you can live and work in this environment. Beyond that, here are four questions you should ask yourself before you start your new business.

1. FAILURE- Can you handle it if your business fails? Sounds simple enough, you work in science, and you have experiments that fail all the time. I am not talking about handling little failures, I am asking how you would react to something you worked for a year on, for 14 hours a day, 7 days a week? Something you were blissfully excited to share with the world. It's scary. When your passion for the business counterbalances your fear, you may be ready to take the next step.

2. SCIENCE- How are you going to react if it isn't all about the science? Many scientists I know are research purists, if the project has to be changed in the name of profit, some would feel like they are "selling out." In big companies, marketing and R&D duke it out to get a compromise on what/when to release. Marketing always wants to get whatever is created out to market as fast as possible even with huge flaws. R&D will stay on a service/project forever to tweak this, add this, and expand, not wanting to release something until it is absolutely perfect. Meanwhile they lose out on the opportunity they could be having today or they could create something with so many additions that they price themselves right out of the market. Since you are creating a small company, you won't be able to have huge teams that duke it out to come to a compromise. You are going to have to be realistic and objective about how to combine both worlds.

3. RESEARCH AND PLANNING- Are you willing to create everything from scratch? It doesn't matter if you have the best business plan ever created, something you didn't anticipate will come along and have the potential to derail your carefully laid plans. You need to not only create a workable, flexible plan, but also look at all of the areas that aren't covered in your business plan and how they work together. Ex: HR-getting and maintaining your most valuable asset (labor), Marketing- creating a competitive advantage and a clear message to your customers, Sales-Knowledgeable representations of your company and what it is all about, Accounting-Management of all your assets, Customer Service- Maintaining customer satisfaction is always going to be your number one. If thinking about creating these things gets you more excited instead of wearing you down, its a great sign that you have the right outlook.

4. EXPECTATIONS- Can you be realistic with your expectations? The average business takes 5 years to become profitable. Although it's wonderful to be optimistic, but your expectation has to be around 5 years. Another good rule of thumb is to try to wow the market by a magnitude of 4. (An example is creating a product/service with double the benefits and is half price.) If you can wow the market by a magnitude of four, your expectations can be a little better (and you might qualify for venture capital funding). If you can't wow the market by a magnitude of 4, then the next best thing is to let your business take hold slowly.

If you read all these and can answer them completely honestly, then building your own business is probably the best fit for you. I wish you the best of luck on your adventure! You are going to need it.

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When do scientists start to look for a business partner who would handle more of the business side of the company, i.e. the plans you mention in question 3? Do most scientists even want someone to help or would they rather go it alone?

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Thank you for the update Jade!

Polostar- GREAT question! I would definitely recommend either having a business partner or hiring someone to help out with the details. Going at it alone, without experience will feel like a shot in the dark. However I do also recommend that this person have life science industry experience. I have seen people who had 20 years experience in marketing in other industries and were incredibly successful move over to the "start up life science" world, and they lamented to me that it felt like they were starting from scratch.
If you are choosing a life science business partner, you can make them own a percentage of the company but not as great as your own. You also need to make sure that there is extra left so that an investor -angel or venture capital- will want to invest in you. (I will have really in depth financing posts soon) You can also just hire a consultant.
This question actually deserves a post on its own. I will follow up with one in a couple of weeks.
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