Most young researchers spend hours in the laboratory working on their projects, troubleshooting, repeating experiments and optimising new methods until they collect enough results and can move forward with their research. If they are lucky they will even publish them in a nice journal. The results will be the key steps of the academic ladder and PhD, Postdoc or group leader will be the words that pop up in most scientists’ heads when they think about their careers. But there are many other options for scientists out there! For those who want to take their results beyond paper and exploit them, starting up a biotech is the way to go.
The move from the lab to the market is not easy and for this reason we have created this entrepreneur’s decalogue with the help of Hans Genee (on the left), co-founder of Biosyntia and partner of Rafts4Biotech. Although during his early studies Hans did not have a clear industrial interest, during his PhD, and with the support of his professor and co-founder Morten Sommer (on the right), he managed to turn his thesis into a successful biotech and has become one of the top 10 under 30 Bioentrepreneurs in Europe! Here goes the list:
- Take good care of your idea
Transforming your lab results into a marketable service or product can be challenging, so once you have your business idea you should take good care of it as it will be the basis of your company. Determining the intellectual property of the discoveries of the people involved in the research and patenting the potential technologies should be at the very top of your TO-DO list to avoid future complications. This process may be expensive so you should explore all your options.
“We wanted to file a patent application for the discovery we made in the lab, (…) the university rejected the application so we had to find the money to file it ourselves, and so we basically started by applying for money, in this case we applied for some funding available for early stage ideas”
- Don’t be a lone wolf
“It is important to realise at an early stage that you cannot do it all on your own, and you have to invite people into the team in a way that it becomes a relatively dynamic team because you need changes as you move forward”
Starting up a biotech involves much more than just science. Legal issues, business plans, investors, employees, infrastructures… lots of things that you probably never thought about and that you won’t know how to handle. But don’t worry, it’s completely normal. You just need to find some help, so be ready to work on a team!
- Find the right partners
“My professor [Morten Sommer] he was also my co-founder and he had previous entrepreneurial experiences from other start-up companies that he had been involved in, so a large portion of the know how came from him”
Once you know what you can and can’t do on your own, find the people that can complement your skills and your team. You can start by considering people that you already know and trust and remember that experience is a big plus! But most probably you won’t be friends with the perfect team so exploit all the networking opportunities like fairs and conferences and find people that can complement your skills.
“I tried to identify the gaps and find the people that could fill these gaps, so we were building up the team as we saw gaps popping up”.
- Being young is not an excuse
“I think being young is an advantage, you take a risk when you are trying to commercialise your research but it is much easier to do it while you are young and you are not dependent on a high income, or you don’t have a family to feed and so on. Do it while you are young that is really important!”
For once in the job market being young pays off! Look at Hans’s example, he was 26 when he embarked on the bioentrepreneur adventure! Don’t feel intimidated by being young. Being at an early stage of your career makes you way more flexible to try new projects!
- Engage with your clients to test your hypothesis
“As early as possible you should engage with your clients or potential customers of your product to understand whether you are basically solving a true need. I see these as a hypothesis testing cycle, just as you have in research, you also have this in your commercial assumptions: In this case you may have the hypothesis that your product is a need or it will be required out there and they way to solve this is engaging with your customers.”
Biotech is a risky field. Stay alert and make sure that you are going in the right direction and listening to customers’ needs, they can really help improving and redirect your strategy.
- Be flexible and ready to learn
” In the first years of the company we didn’t have many employees and today we have about 10 to 15 and so my role has changed from being hands-on with the research to coordinating research and managing activities, raising funds, presenting the company.”
Be ready for having many different tasks along the way. From the lab to the office you will have a wide range of different responsibilities that will change as your biotech moves forward and grows. Embrace the changes and never stop learning.
- Enjoy the progress
“Research is very slow in general [in Academia], in Biotech what really gives me a kick is when you see a group of people working together and achieving results together that push the research forward in a synergistic manner as compared to for example a PhD or postdoc doing a project over many years on its own. That is really nice to see”
As things move forward you will see that your ideas start taking shape and that you will be really bringing your science outside of the lab. Congratulations you are on the right track!
- You have to be the one doing it!
The same way that no one will do your experiments in the lab, do not expect others to bring your discoveries into the market.
“As a researcher, if you have made a discovery that could be useful for society, you also have sort of the “responsibility” of taking the next steps. There is a lot of scientific discoveries in the labs that are never brought to the patients or the users simply because the people who discovered them may have expected when they published the publications that someone else would bring it on.”
- Remember: it is possible!
“When you start looking you realize there is lots of people out there who are interested in helping start-ups”
Synthetic biology can revolutionise sectors like healthcare, agriculture and industry and investors know it well. While the cost of DNA sequencing keeps dropping and the number of researchers in this field is increasing and so are doing the funding opportunities from public and private organizations. For the fourth straight year, the funding to synbio start-ups keeps growing, and for the first time surpassed $1B last year.
- Get inspired & go for it!
“I would advise the person to go for it […] of course it’s hard and people may not know what to do and they may try and fail but I think what we can do to make people do this [starting up their biotech] is showing cases of success and show that it can be done!”.
Although it can be a bumpy road, stay committed, move forward and get inspired by success stories like Hans’s! We wish you the best of luck!