From Academics to Biotech: A Journey to the Supposed “Dark Side”
If you had told me last year that today I would be running the offices of Accelerator Corporation—at least for one morning while everyone is out of town—I would have probably sniffed in disdain, tossed my hair, and shuffled back to my post-doc lab bench, a free donut in one hand (magic vendor food) and a stack of cell culture dishes in the other. What you would not have seen is my furious Googling efforts to figure out what the heck your futuristic apparition was talking about. Accelerator wha? Venture capital who? Ah, Biotech. I don’t know about that. Like when Nancy Reagan admonished me to stay off drugs in junior high, my scientific training in academia had left me with the same feelings about Biotech. I felt an illicit curiosity about this dangerous thing stamped as “Business.”
Heresy of the highest order, I inherited the prejudice that biotech and Big Pharma were outposts for sell-outs or worse yet, the incompetents in science. Want your Ph.D. thesis committee to fail you? Mention your interest in business. In late night conversations, hushed tones over cold pizza, (next to the ultra centrifuge in the basement autoclave room), I speculated about what biotech might be like. “They make money? They drive cars younger than they are? How illicit! How exciting!” I had the naïve view that biotech and the business of science were havens for everyone who didn’t want to be an academic. I have discovered I was dead wrong. The scientists of biotech are adrenaline junkies who are just as brilliant and zany as any academician.
Since I’m writing this, one can assume that I did indeed finish my post-doctoral training and switched into business. During the worst financial crisis in 80 years. To the riskiest game on the block (venture capital). Like my desire to study stem cells during the Bush Administration, we’ll just file this one under “it seemed like a good idea at the time.”
In February of this year, I started my new vocation as the intern at Seattle-based Accelerator, a venture-backed incubator for biotech startups. For the record, Accelerator has no internship program. It reviews hundreds of business plans every year, and has a track record of forming three of the most promising companies in Seattle biotech of the past five years—VLST, Allozyne, and Theraclone Sciences—who have gone on to raise more than $100 million combined.
There is clue one: I am as lucky as Charlie Bucket and the Golden Ticket. In my six months at Accelerator, I have seen more scientists like me interested in transitioning to business than I ever thought possible. And I have learned that it is a very difficult transition to make, both in practice and in intellect.
Fast forward back to today. This morning I have answered the phones and doors, taken all shipments for three companies, dropped a transferred call twice on a very forgiving CEO, attempted to find the keys to a rental car in Pennsylvania, built a spreadsheet with all therapeutic antibodies originated in phage display, made three appointments to network for an upcoming trip to Tokyo, scouted technology on two university websites, edited an investment presentation, considered the effect of “Lehman Shock” on global investment liquidity, and prepared to meet a man … Next Page »