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25 secrets every scientist should know

to run a biotech research or business project in the human health field and any other.

In the last years of activity I met many scientists. Scientists that are keep doing their research looking for new projects and those who decided to start their own business. I noticed some insightful patterns. So after reading an interesting old article in Forbes, written by Paul B. Braun in 2013, I got inspired.

1. The best way to predict human physiology is to base your technology on human-based biology. Don’t try to validate human-based technology with animal-based data.

2. The most important decision you can make is...where do you want to spend your time. Time is not infinite and you must decide on what you want to focus on. We see many scientists involved in many projects on different aspects of human biology. Perhaps, they have a cross-sectoral skill that can be applied to different approaches, but this is not the rule. So don’t feel bad if you cannot encompass everything. In life science, it is most common that you have developed a very specific expertise (even if you were not working on human biology before), so please focus on those applications which by receiving your full attention will do better than the applications that won't.

3. If you want to be a successful scientist and/or entrepreneur, there is no such thing as work-life balance. I am not happy to say this, especially in the entrepreneurship side. But it is a fact confirmed by many. For your mental health, you must be aware of this and if you find a long term balance model, I’ll be pleased to hear your solution.

4. The best biotech entrepreneurs do not need great ideas, they solve patients and market needs. These can be created by regulatory requirements, poor efficient processes in the pharma-biotech industry, other researchers' needs and so on. On the other hand, the best scientist should have the vision to work on a major societal challenge. Yes, I consider climate change as a very hot health problem (extinction looks to me not that healthy).

5. The one thing all successful health scientists and entrepreneurs have in common is the desire to make their idea a reality. You want to see your pre-clinical therapy translated into clinical practice or your smart health device into the hands of users. In the end, passion is a desire-driven emotion. And health for people is a right!

6. Think efficiently but jump out of the plane. Do you have a great solution to a health problem? Think twice about your solution and discuss it with as many people as possible. However, thinking and talking too much isn’t good, thinking efficiently is better, but at the end of the day you must get your hand into the dirt. Trial and Error, people!

7. Take small, smart steps towards your goals. If you are a scientist and an entrepreneur you know how to proceed in a step-by-step logic way. So, in the same way you were planning and running your experiments, do run your company! ...and keep measuring the outcome of each small decision you take. In the lab, we were calling them read-outs, experimental results or data collection, in business and project management they are called KPIs (Key Performance Indicators).

8. Delegate, Outsource, Ask for help! The legend says that the perfect scientist does everything, from pouring agar into Petri dishes to cleaning the cell culture lab floor. Even if you think that your research project should be run only by you (old school still ongoing in many PhD programs), actually science progresses through collaboration. Nowaday it is impossible to be an expert in every field and every technique that matters, so stop trying. Be the best thinker and the worst peer-reviewer of your project, but please externalize what you can’t do at the best. For an entrepreneur scientist, this is even more important since you don’t know (yes, I said you don’t know!) and you won't be able to control every single aspect of your business…finance, marketing, human resources….

9. Don’t waste time to work on your weaknesses, use your strengths. Create a team that compensates for your weaknesses. And most importantly, since you're addressing a human health problem, it won’t be a shame to have a very smart medical doctor in the area you are working. During the years, I identified at least 6 common big weaknesses for scientists founding start-ups, but it will be another post.

10. You don’t need to study an MBA to run your company, but be aware you don’t know almost nothing about business. So take some time to study how it works. And don’t be ashamed to rely on consultants that can help to clarify your business model and business plan. It is not always easy as the very well established pharmaceutical business model.

11. You need to know what a business model is, before telling your idea to anyone. Yes, even to your family.

12. As a human health problem solver you really need to do your market research. In general they said to entrepreneurs: “Get your product out in the marketplace and see if it sells.” In the health sector: a) it is not always possible; b) it’s a high-regulated sector; c) there are very important ethical issues to take into consideration; d) it can be very very very (should I say it again…) very expensive.

13. As a scientist, the only state of the art research that matters is a systematic review of the literature, don’t think that a quick PubMed search on your topic will tell you everything ongoing. And please, be aware that it is not so easy to retrieve human-data only from peer-reviewed scientific articles….we perhaps need better editorial standards…

14. There is some moment in your life where you will need to decide to be a researcher or an entrepreneur. Why? Because you won’t be able to publish everything and keep accumulating articles for your academic career if you need to protect your findings… is also called IP strategy.

15. You must clearly differentiate the client from the users of your health solution. You need to satisfy users' (generally patients) needs, but who is buying, paying and maintaining your cash flow is someone else.

16. As much as you are going to fight it you need a really smart/doers advisory board, which for a scientist means: a tough lab meeting with the smartest scientists you can get. You want them to: understand your technology basis and potential, give you new perspectives and ideas; to give you a network and to provide honest feedback. Kick off those who sleep in your lab meeting or advisory board and just wake up when the food arrives!

17. Checklist everything! Each check frees dopamine in your brain and makes your day more efficient.

18. Passion and motivation are not the same. If you earned your PhD, you should already know it. In any case check the bottom of this article for motivation tips.

19. If reviewers do not like your paper, you may change it or change the journal for the submission, someone will accept it in the end. It doesn’t work for a company’s service or product. The customer is always right. If you are not out of money then you may try to come up with a different version.

20. Save you money and don’t try any marketing campaign if your health solution fails. It is rather clear when you need to stop if you fail a clinical trial, but it’s not that clear in digital health solutions…..

21. Fail as fast as you can! Do things in the best way possible, and as I said in rule nº7….measure, measure and measure! If you measure each single step you take, you will be able to limit the damage and the economic losses in time!

22. Learn from your mistakes. This is a classic, should I really say these to researchers!? Once again….trial and error.

23. Creativity and innovation must be sustainable. Creativity is wonderful. In the business world, creativity that isn't tied to making money is a black-hole. So your creativity is finalized to innovation and supported by a business plan. On the other hand, if you are just a scientist, it is called basic research. And it is much needed in human biology.

24. Your idea and/or solution has a deadline. If you bet on the entrepreneurship path, don’t wait to fail, leave when you are successful. There are still a lot of things to work on. This is very true in academia too. However, if you are lucky enough to have a stable academic position, recognize that with time there will be someone better than you in doing research in your field…so collaborate with her/him!

25. If you are not a one-health-solution-only entrepreneur and you want to keep innovating…clinical trials can teach you a lot about your company scalability.

Written by Marco Straccia, PhD MBA




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