Anthony Franchini: Deal me in! One Postdoc’s venture into the life sciences business.

The PhD/Postdoc blog series features scientists at different stages of career development as they explore and plan for their next steps. Over the course of six months, Yeonwoo Lebovitz, Anthony Franchini, Megan Duffy, and Celia Fernandez will give monthly updates on their progress. Check back every Wednesday  for new posts.

Current position: Postdoctoral Research Fellow studying Microbial Disease, Immunology, and Toxicology
Program start date: July 2014
Institution: University of Rochester

Let’s get something out of the way first.  Without the BEST program, my life would be a lot simpler!  Everything would revolve around my next experiment, my next appointment at the flow cytometry core, and digging into that new paper I wish I had written in Cell Host and Microbe or the Journal of Immunology.  I mean,my life still does revolve around those things, but maybe 90% now, and that feels wildly different than focusing on it the full 100%.  I joined the BEST program at the University of Rochester (URBEST) to learn a little more about the business behind science, maybe get an inside contact or two in industry, and attend a few career stories as a tangent to my research.  It’s turned into a whole lot more, which is part of the reason why I’m here today (and over the next few months), sharing it with you.  

Participating in the BEST program hasn’t dramatically shifted my IDP or career path.  I am still continuing my march back towards doing clinical research. I’ll write more about that at a later date, but the majority of my time here on the NIHBEST blog will be about the two positions I consider my nights and weekend jobs.  The first is a fellowship working with a reagent commercialization company, Kerafast, based out of Boston.  I’ve been with them for just over a year, and taking that opportunity really spurred my interest in the business world and lead me to the second position: working as part of a management consulting group of Ph.D.s and trainees specializing in the life sciences. Am I crazy? Who even has time for a second position, let alone a third during their post doc years?  Clearly, I must not sleep, or caffeinate heavily (the former I do often, the latter not so much…I know, I’m weird).  Truth is, I’m much better when having to multitask. It helps me focus. 

First, let’s talk about Kerafast.  Joining the team as a fellow last August, it opened up the door for me in a lot of ways.  The overall mission of Kerafast is to bring investigators together and streamline the material transfer agreement (MTA) process in order to foster better access to unique reagents in the life sciences.  To do that, they work with PIs and the technology transfer offices (TTO) at universities to bring technologies on board.  My role as a fellow was to learn more about the MTA process, seek out interested PIs, and work with the TTO at UR (UR Ventures) to help make this happen.  I participate in monthly conference calls with the co-directors of the fellowship (both of whom are Ph.D.s/MBAs), I get to network internally with PIs at UR as well as fellows at other institutions, and I get to work closely with UR Ventures.  The atmosphere is very professional, and very business oriented.  In a later post, I’ll talk in more detail about some of my positive and negative experiences. But what matters most is that it opened a door for me, and it has surrounded me with a network of motivated people with a vastly different skill set than I ever expected.  That has made me think, and changed how I view things both in my own science and when talking to others. It also got me thinking that moving beyond academia could be fulfilling and interesting. I began reading more about tech commercialization, marketing strategies, and intellectual property. I didn’t fall asleep. I read some more. I decided to stick around and make the most out of this.  

Now, when boiled down to its core, my current research is focused on understanding how one’s environment shapes their development and ability to respond to stimuli.  In that sense, I use influenza to study dendritic cell function. But that concept can be expanded to encompass my career as well. Through the BEST program, I’ve found myself working closely with people who have Ph.D.s and MBAs.  This has been enlightening, and eye catching.  So, when the idea was pitched for a URBEST consulting club, I pounced. I should learn as much as I can about the business of science. At worst, I’ll just come off as a know-it-all about another topic. Fast forward a few months. The consulting club, now renamed CBETHNK, has a few projects under its belt, nine dedicated members, an advisor with lengthy venture capital and consulting experience, and has begun to branch out on its own. I knew after the first meeting I wanted this to become the best thing to come out of the URBEST program. I want CBETHNK to have an impact on healthcare and biopharma, serving as a gatekeeper that is respected by investors and looked to by start-up companies to help them do good science, make good decisions, and get the most out of their technologies. We’ve only worked on three projects to this point, over the course of nine months. It doesn’t feel like work. It feels like fun. I’m lucky enough to be the dumbest guy in the room full of others who are just as passionate about this as I am.  No doubt I learn more from them each time we meet than vice versa (and I’m sure they know it too). That’s because until a few months ago, I had never seen a market analysis. I didn’t know what CAGR (Compound annual growth rate) was. I thought Frost and Sullivan was a law firm. Now, I’m writing due diligence reports on start-up companies for seed investors, interviewing CEOs, and providing recommendations for clinical research. It’s the early stages, for sure. I’ll look back on these reports in five years appalled like I did with my graduate school personal statement a few months ago. But each new project has broadened my knowledge base considerably, and for that alone, even if I fail miserably at this, has made it completely worth it. But I’m gaining confidence and experience, and thats all that matters.  

This first blog entry was just exposition.  I’ll be back next month to talk in more detail, so stay tuned! 

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