Published in the journal Nature Biotechnology, Bassil Dahiyat describes his journey from being a PhD student at California Institute of Technology, to being CEO of a life science startup. He offers the following advice to anyone trying to follow a similar path:
- Establish credibility. ‘Nuff said.
- Develop business model for CUSTOMERS, not your product/technology/service. A big tendency for entrepreneurs with academic backgrounds is to have the product ready before even considering the market or the customers. The product is usually their expertise, and was developed from grad school / postdoc and the like, instead of finding a customer and market need first. This reversal of sequence sometimes leads to not having a product-market-fit, which is essential for success. (More about how to develop product-market-fit next time)
- Network, network, network!! No matter how well known you are in the academic field where you developed your product, the business will involve many other people — partners, investors, customers, payers etc. Don’t imagine that being well known in academia equates to being well known everywhere else. Attend conferences, join meetups, speed dating, talk to everyone. Some say 80% of the start-up effort should go into marketing. Not only will this network get you investors and customers, it will also bring extremely valuable feedback to make the product better.
- Embrace change. Sometimes, academia trains a person to become very rigid (faithful?) and stubborn. That has to be relaxed a little. Pivoting a start-up is very common, and may often lead to something much better. Be agile and adapt to opportunities. Recognize quickly when something is not going right, and restructure.
Dahiyat (2012). Stranger in a strange land? Nature Biotechnology. 30(11), 1030-1032.