You may choose to play a variety of roles in your startup. For example, you can be the chief executive officer (CEO) yourself or hire another person to serve as CEO while you take the role of chief scientific officer (CSO). At universities, you can choose to stay employed by them while pursuing your idea or leave behind your academic responsibilities to take on a full-time role in your business. Ask yourself whether you would like to. . .
- Be involved in technical or business leadership.
- Be involved in product development, business operations, or fundraising.
- Work on a full-time, part-time, or advisory basis, or if in an academic position, take a sabbatical to help get the company started.
- Take different roles at different times. Note that many companies are sold, in which case you would not hold these roles for long.
To help you decide to take on an executive position, take inventory of what you bring to the business.
- Do you have executive experience, and how well did it go?
- Do you have the resources to allow you to take on an executive role, such as initial unpaid time or flexibility to commit to the many meetings and respond to crises? Note that some academic institutions do not allow their researchers to take executive positions in companies arising from their research.
Here are some of the roles a scientist can play in the commercial development of their research-based idea:
Founders are engaged in starting the business. After founding the company, you would hire someone to develop the product and run the business. This would free you up to continue a research or an academic career or to start another company.
Chief Investigator/Chief Science Officer (CSO)/Chief Technology Officer
As CSO/CTO, you would run the product’s research and development (R&D). This would allow you to participate in the science of the product. You could hire someone to be CEO and run the company.
If you want to be involved in R&D with less of a time commitment, you could also be on the company’s scientific advisory board. This is a common choice when people remain at a university job.
These include. . .
- Chief Executive Officer (CEO) – The highest ranking position, reports to the board and maximizes the business value by focusing on long-term aspects of the business and setting future strategies.
- Chief Operations Officer (COO) – A high-ranking position that maximizes business value by focusing on current operations.
- Chief Financial Officer (CFO) – A high-ranking position that strengthens business value by using financial data to make decisions.
You could choose to focus on one of these aspects of the business and leave the science to others.
Some people choose to play multiple roles. If you are interested in participating in both the business and science aspects, it is likely to put greater demands on your time. To avoid strain but still gain the benefit of experiencing multiple roles, think about doing them sequentially rather than simultaneously.
Resource on Business Leadership Roles
Petersen D. Leadership at All Levels in Biotech. Corporate Culture, From the Trenches, Leadership, Talent. January 23, 2019.
Entrepreneur. Business Structure Terms | Small Business Encyclopedia. Entrepreneur. March 3, 2023.
Heaslip E. Executive Job Titles一What Do They Mean?. https://www.uschamber.com/co. March 8, 2021.
Investopedia. What is the C Suite?: Meaning and Positions Defined. Investopedia. July 25, 2022.
Leonard MJL. Choice of Entity for Biotech Startups. San Diego Corporate Law. November 9, 2015.
SBA. Choose a business structure. Small Business Administration. Accessed: 3/6/2023.