In careers, PhD/Postdoc Blog

Bioentrepreneurship is a growing popular career choice among STEM graduates. There are many who have made it big. They inspire the future bioentrepreneurs who may not have a clear idea of the route to successful bioentrepreneurship. To address this, the BESST* program at our University offered a 6-day workshop called “Fundamentals of Entrepreneurship”, presented by a renowned expert in the field. Among several important things, we learned about bioinnovation, bioentrepreneurship, technology transfer, patents, and networking. The final day comprised of informational interviews with a panel of successful bioentrepreneurs, who shared their perspectives on bioentrepreneurship with us. Overall, the workshop provided resources and useful insights for future bioentrepreneurs.

Bioentrepreneurship entails conceptualizion, establishment, and execution of businesses in the bioscience sector. It involves multitasking and multidisciplinary talents, which is similar to our ingrained expertise in academic STEM research, but with some significant differences that we need to be aware of. Our University does an excellent job in supporting entrepreneurship at different career levels. The website for our University’s Technology Transfer has a section specified for undergraduate entrepreneurs. Our Business School offers a professional MBA course specializing on Bioinnovation and Entrepreneurship. In 2008, funding from NIH’s CTSA (Clinical and Translational Science Award) initiative created the Colorado Clinical & Translational Sciences Institute (CCTSI), whose website describes it as “the academic home to help transform the clinical and translational research and training efforts at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus and affiliated institutions”. Subsequently, the NIH selected CCTSI to provide an entrepreneurial training program called I-CorpsTM (Innovation Corps), to biomedical, and translational researchers. Overall, the bioscience sector is rapidly growing in Colorado. Details can be found at the website of Colorado Bioscience Association.

For STEM graduates who are aspiring bioentrepreneurs, you first need to come up with a unique idea that is marketable. The primary criteria of the unique idea is usefulness or ability to solve problems. The idea is experimentally tested, like a scientific hypothesis. If we reach a stage when the idea is ready for experimentation and no longer solely confined to our personal thoughts, it is advisable to communicate with the respective technology transfer office of your university. They provide excellent resources and consultation needed for you to go ahead with your idea, which will now become an invention. This consultation is very important because you need to know the laws regarding protection, and proper implementation of your invention, if you aim to commercialize it. It significantly differs from a research proposal or publication in this aspect. Disclosing your invention to the public by any means may cost you the credits deserved for your invention, unlike a research publication where you are credited for a scientific discovery.

While experimenting our invention, we must keep good records, analogous to our lab notebooks. This documentation helps during filing a patent application for our invention and also provides evidence in case of a dispute or challenge regarding ownership. For our University, after submitting the innovation to their respective office, the application’s potential to materialize into a startup is assessed. Once the office decides to go ahead with the patent, attorneys are consulted for patent, copyright, and trademark of the innovation, which depend on various criteria. Some of the key criteria for a patent are novelty, utility, and nonobviousness, which measures the difference of the invention from previous knowledge in the field. In this context, we learned about the term “prior art” which denotes all the disclosed information about an invention before a certain date. Prior art helps determine the originality of the invention. According to Wikipedia, if an invention’s description in contained in prior art, then its patent is not valid. As STEM researchers, it is important to know the circumstances under which patent can be filed for the work that you publish.

Following the assessment, and protection of your innovation, or intellectual property, you need to navigate ensuing steps to transfer the technology to finally start a company. The University of Colorado is very supportive of entrepreneurs, and so their respective office works with the inventor to help with the subsequent licensing process, and formation of advisory groups, technical team, and determine their degree of participation in the new company. It is obvious that a very strong support pool of expertise is needed during the entire process. Hence, as an inventor, you need to constantly engage in active networking.

In this direction, one of the workshop sessions emphasized on professional networking. The attendees were asked to network in small groups, exchange information, and business cards. Conversations were meant to be kept professional, and brief, while connecting with the maximum number of people within a given short time span. An important trick was overcoming the awkwardness, often encountered by academics, in starting conversations with strangers. We must remember that attendees at a networking event are present for the purpose of networking, so walking up to strangers, introducing yourself, and starting a professional conversation is normal behavior. Unless you interact with someone, you will never know what opportunity that connection may provide.

The final session was a panel discussion with successful bioentrepreneurs who shared their experiences in starting a company. They spoke about the past, present, and future challenges of bioentrepreneurship. They educated us about lessons that they learned later through their experiences, which would have been good for them to know when they first embarked on their journey. Learning about their bioentrepreneural trajectories first-hand were very valuable lessons for academics with no previous experiences in the field. This session also served as an informational interview, which is an important step in choosing careers, and employers. Finally, the panelists enlightened us about their roles as recruiters for their companies. They spoke about how they inculcate their foresight regarding the company’s success while interviewing potential employees. Hence, this session also provided important insights on job interviews to academic researchers who are interested in careers in the corporate sector. Overall, the workshop was very informative in educating STEM academics about bioentrepreneurship.

Do you think it is time to start materializing the idea that you have been having forever ? Please feel free to share your inputs in the comments section below.

*BESST – Broadening Experiences in Scientific and Scholarly Training. A recent modification of BEST, for the BEST program at the University of Colorado Denver | Anschutz Medical Campus.

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