Through reviewing a case, vicariously experience the thrill of having a research idea that could make an important contribution in your field and lead to starting a biotechnology business.
- Learn how to assess whether entrepreneurship is an appealing path to take and a good fit for your personality, interests, and goals.
- Understand the experience of early entrepreneurship in life sciences through a real-life example.
Case: Leslie Bowen, PhD
Description: 41-year-old Leslie Bowen is an associate professor and neuroscientist with a research idea for a product made using a novel approach to laboratory-grown neurons with potential clinical applications. She thinks it will be marketable.
Leslie started as an assistant professor in the tenure track at the age of 30, following a postdoc at another university. She built a renowned research lab with NIH career awards and RO1 funding and became an associate professor by age 38. Since reaching those goals, she finds herself restless and ready for a new challenge.
Scenario, Part 1: Leslie wishes to learn about the feasibility of entrepreneurship as a career path for her. She calls to make an appointment to talk to her university’s Technology Transfer Office. She has an idea for a business built around her unique approach to growing neurons in the lab but first wants to learn more about entrepreneurship. She has some doubts about whether going into business is the right path for her and wonders about her options. She talks to Laila Robinson, a member of the Technology Transfer support staff.
Hello, this is Leslie Bowen. I’m an associate professor in the Neurology Department. I’d like to talk with someone about an idea for a business I have and explore whether entrepreneurship is the right path for me.
Hi, this is Laila Robinson. I’m a technology transfer officer. I’d be happy to help you explore that further. What type of product are you talking about? A biomedical device? A pharmaceutical?
It’s a novel approach to tissue growth that other scientists could use and that might have clinical applications. It’s such a great idea—I thought I should at least explore it.
It sounds interesting. Let’s set up a meeting to discuss it and talk about your options.
[They meet in person the following week. After briefly getting to know each other, Laila continues:]
You said on the phone that you want to explore whether entrepreneurship is the right path for you. Can you say more about that?
I wonder about the risk to my career and finances. What would I be left with if the business failed?
As it turns out, there are a number of ways to protect yourself financially, such as choosing the right business structure to separate your personal finances from those of the business. I can describe them when you are ready to think about them.
Okay, maybe later if I decide I want to do this. I’m not sure I want to leave academia. However, I don’t think I’d have the time to develop the business if I don’t. For example, I only have a few minutes to talk with you today because I need to get back to my lab.
You have options for what role you play in a startup, including some that do not involve leaving your academic career.
For example, you could stay at the university and develop the idea enough to make its value more of a sure thing and then sell it or license it to industry. You could take on partners who work full time for the business while you are a part-time chief scientific officer. You could quit your faculty position later to work full time for the business if things take off.
I could see myself going that last route. It seems like there are more options than I realized. Well, you’ve given me a lot to think about.
I know you have to get back to your lab. I hope this has been helpful. Let me know if I can answer any questions or be of further help. I’d love to meet again and hear more about your idea.
Thank you. I need to think about it some more, and then I’ll call you.
Programs for Academics (NIH) – Small business Education and Entrepreneurial Development (SEED) programs and resources to support academics interested in translating their discoveries into healthcare products.
Select a Business Structure – This article, available on Bio Startup Advice, describes the different business structures available for your business, including LLC and corporations, which are important to protect your personal finances by separating them from those of your business.