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Biotechnology Entrepreneur

The biotechnology entrepreneur often starts with a technical background, most commonly including scientific laboratory research. It is quite common for scientists who have spent a number of years in an academic environment to start a new company based on a technology platform or a novel discovery they made during their tenure at a university or research institute. Alternatively, a scientist or a group of scientists from a rather large company may decide to leave and start their own venture based on some of the research and development work they had either performed or thought about doing for their previous employer. This type of business may or may not be a spin-off from the parent company. In some cases, a businessperson or two may join the scientists in the start-up of the new company. A less frequent but still relatively common phenomenon is the start-up of a new venture by someone with a stronger background in business than in science. All of these individuals may receive financial support from venture capitalists, people who provide funding for new businesses in return for a share in future profits.

Whatever the background of the entrepreneur, there are a few key initial elements that are critical to achieving success. First and foremost is funding. There are a number of ways to secure funding, including small business research grants from the government, personal funds and loans, private "angel" investors, and venture capitalists. Entrepreneurs must become proficient at marketing themselves, their ideas, and their company in order to raise capital for the business. Equally important is having an attractive and viable business plan and business model, preferably based upon a novel technology or combination of technologies that has or can develop a strong patent position. It is also extremely important to have a good understanding of the market that will be served by the new business. Excellent communication skills are also crucial, as is the ability to recognize and recruit talented individuals, to hire them in the right order and place them in the positions that will best help the young company to focus, execute its plans, and grow.

A common mistake of the technically oriented entrepreneur is to try to completely manage both the technical and business side of the company without consulting an experienced administrator to manage the business affairs. There are, however, the occasional entrepreneurs who can navigate both the business and technical sides with equal success. These leaders will usually retain the position of chief executive officer (CEO) as the company continues to grow. The technical entrepreneur who recruits experienced business people to help foster the growth of the company quite often ends up becoming the firm's chief scientific officer or the chief technical officer. This is probably the most commonly encountered scenario for companies that end up being traded on the stock exchange by releasing an initial public offering (IPO) of shares in the business.

A successful entrepreneur must also be an effective leader, able to contribute with creative ideas as well as to motivate staff and colleagues. He or she is often an individual with unending enthusiasm, a strong vision, and the ability to convince others that this vision will be successful. Entrepreneurs must have the conviction to do what is necessary to successfully execute the company's vision, while being flexible enough to adjust to new or different opportunities when they present themselves.

For a successful entrepreneur in the field of biotechnology, the rewards can be enormous. There is the satisfaction that comes from starting with an original idea and, through hard work, making it a reality, but there are financial rewards as well. Biotechnology entrepreneurs may draw initial salaries of $150,000 or more, and potentially can claim very valuable stock options should their start-up companies eventually go public. A number of CEOs ultimately became multimillionaires on the strength of such options in the biotech boom of the late 1990s.


Anthony J. Recupero


Pappas, Michael G. The Biotech Entrepreneur's Glossary, 2nd ed. Shrewsbury, MA: M. G. Pappas & Company, 2002.

Robbins-Roth, Cynthia. From Alchemy to IPO: The Business of Biotechnology. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Publishing, 2001.

Werth, Barry. Billion-Dollar Molecule: One Company's Quest for the Perfect Drug. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994.

Business-minded scientists seek support from their peers at web sites such as <http://www.bioe2e.org>.

Additional topics

Medicine EncyclopediaGenetics in Medicine - Part 1