Founding a company does not equal to selling your soul to the devil. It is the best way to move your science forward.
This is what I try to convince the most brilliant scientists to believe in.
The best researchers became researchers as they love to make new science and are really good at it. Business is seen as a distraction to science, something to stay out of. It is evil — either a prime one or a necessary one. Of course I am exaggerating, but at the same time I am sure that many scientists find themselves thinking along these lines – at least for a moment sometimes.
I also believe that the best life-science companies are founded by scientists, in a similar manner that the best online companies are founded by hackers and geeks. Founding a company is about doing things, not about managing things. The best individuals in doing are the ones who know the domain very well, not the ones with an MBA-grade business plans.
If more companies would be founded by scientists, the world would be a better place to live. This is especially true in life-sciences, where we can help people to live longer, better lives. If more companies were founded, the work would become faster available to people. Today, we are wasting science.
A scientist founding a company will accomplish more:
1. You will have money to do research you would not be able to do otherwise. This is especially so in biotechnology, where the move from pre-clinical research to clinical trials (i.e. from lab to humans) is the ultimate proof for your science and costs EUR 5-10 million. This money can be attracted from external investors “easily” for a strong idea, but I am sure that academic budgets are far away from this.
2. You will attract better people to work for your science. While building your company, you can maintain another side of your brain and activities in the academic side. This way you get the best of both worlds: in addition to what you can do academically, you have access to the talented and experienced researchers, operations people and managers on the commercial side. They will make your brainchild grow faster and become stronger.
3. You have a financial upside. No-one should be greedy, and the companies founded to make money for their founders seldom do so. However, in case that your idea is internationally competent, there is an opportunity to earn, which further allows a potential financial independence for science of your own in the future. Think about the day when you can do what you want, instead of pleasing your funding parties.
The core ingredient is your strong science. Once that is in place, it is about the logistics of building a business.
Dear scientists. Please set-up companies and have more available for your research.
Timo Ahopelto is Founding Partner at Lifeline Ventures to help health and online businesses grow faster. He has co-founded CRF Health, the leading patient diary company in clinical trials and one of the most successful Finnish venture-funded companies all time; was one of the first to join Blyk, the first ad-funded, free mobile operator; and is currently working with companies like Oncos Therapeutics.
Image on the courtesy of National Institutes of Health