biotechnology entrepreneurship || career opportunities in the life sciences industry

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  • Career Opportunities in the Life Sciences IndustryToby Freedman, PhDPresident, Synapsis Search Recruiting, Portola Valley, California

    Chapter 31Biotechnology Entrepreneurship. 2014 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

    There are many career opportunities in industry, nonprofit organizations, and in government for individuals with science backgrounds. Whether you have an interest in laboratory work, business, sales, marketing, or clini-cal studies, there are hundreds of different careers in the life sciences industryand as a consequence, there are numerous opportunities to find that ideal job that matches your unique personality attributes, skills, interests, and long-term goals. A science or medical background is a valuable asset to have. Whether you are writing a patent, marketing a product, conducting a clinical trial, or doing a business deal, having a science background will greatly enhance your career. The chart shown in Figure 31.1 delin-eates over 100 distinct careers in the life sciences industry where you can apply your scientific or medical educa-tional background.

    For those wishing to escape from bench work, the good news is that scientists can transition from bench research to other vocational areas. Most researchers eventually do tran-sition into other careers at some point in time. These addi-tional career areas can provide an opportunity to explore other areas such as general management, team-building, project management, creative writing, and more.


    This chapter provides a high-level summary of 24 signifi-cant careers in the life sciences industry, as shown in Figure 31.1. If you find a career that interests you, I recommend additional reading in the specific area that piques your interest. At the conclusion of this overview there are two sections to help you move into a particular vocational area, one on steps for making a career transition and the other on job-finding strategies.435

    1 Entrepreneurship

    Do you have a fantastic idea that has the potential of being developed into a successful business? There are few things as exciting as starting a new company and attempting some-thing that no one else has ever done before.

    Entrepreneurship can be a stimulating and rewarding career, but it is not for everyone. It helps to be financially secure and to have done it before. However, I have seen postdoctoral fellows, graduate students, professors, and even undergraduates start and manage highly successful ventures without prior business training. If you are consid-ering entrepreneurship, I highly recommend considering a job at one of the growing number of incubators or accel-erators that are cropping up worldwide. An incubator is a supportive place where a cluster of start-up companies thrive. At an incubator, start-ups can share lab equipment, office space, and gain support from fellow entrepreneurs who are working down the hall.

    One highly successful example of an incubator is Univer-sity of Californias QB3 (QB3 stands for California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences, which includes three institu-tions, University of California at San Francisco, Berkeley, and Santa Cruz). QB3s goal is to benefit society by commer-cializing university research to benefit society. QB3 provides a supportive environment where new companies are being founded on campus in the same buildings where professors, graduate students, and postdocs are conducting research. Venture capital, biopharmaceutical, management consult-ing, and accounting firms are also actively partnering and assisting these start-up companies. This type of collaborative environment fosters communication, sharing of knowledge, and innovation. To learn more, visit

    Similar incubators are being created across the United States at top universities such as Harvard University, Uni-versity of Florida, University of Washington, and SUNY in Brooklyn, for examples. Also consider off-campus

  • SECTION | VIII The Later-Stage Biotechnology Company436Law

    Venture Capital &Banking










    Non ProfitsEntrepreneurship

    Sales Marketing

    Medical Affairs

    Regulatory Affairs


    Bio/PharmaceuticalProcess Sciences


    Human Resources+Recruiting



    Bio IT

    Services R&DR&D



    FIGURE 31.1 Career chart. incubators, such as Phoenixs TGen (Translational Genom-ics Research Institute), Kendall Squares incubator in Bos-ton, and many others. Working at an incubator will provide you with first-hand experience in a start-up environment where you will be exposed to the challenges of raising capital, building teams, and developing products. Also con-sider attending boot camp programs which can help you develop your business plan, raise venture capital, and be mentored by experienced executives who have built com-panies before. One to consider is Astia, which is a nonprofit organization dedicated to fostering women-led companies: visit

    2 Venture Capital

    A venture capital career is among the most coveted and exciting areas of all the careers in the life sciences industry. This career has real appeal to socially minded and team-oriented scientists because venture capitalists have oppor-tunities to meet and work with successful entrepreneurs that are developing and commercializing ground-breaking technologies.

    Most people think of venture capitalists as the people you go to when raising capital to fund their start-ups, but these individuals must first raise money for their own fund which they then use to invest in start-ups. Venture capital-ists provide considerably more than just a source of money. After venture capitalists invest in a start-up company, they may assume positions on the company board of directors to monitor their investment and also to assist the company with the many challenges that are encountered in emerg-ing businesses. Therefore, an operational background and experience in several successful start-ups is considered an optimal background for a venture capitalist.

    Corporate venture capitalists work in large pharmaceu-tical or biotechnology companies and, similar to venture capitalists, they also fund private companies using money from the biopharmaceutical company that they represent. There are institutional investors (also called equity research analysts), who invest in public companies.

    If you are interested in seeking a career in venture capital, consider applying for a fellowship with the Kauff-man Foundationa nonprofit organization committed to fostering entrepreneurism. Visit for more information. Many venture capital firms also hire associates and advisors (academic scientists or indus-try experts), consultants, and entrepreneurs-in-residence (EIRs). EIRs are experienced senior-level executives capable of running venture capital portfolio companies and managing their investments.

    There are other venture-type careers that involve work-ing with biotech companies. These include angel investors, who are people of high net worth that financially support private companies, usually before venture capitalists invest.


  • Chapter | 31 Career Opportunities in the Life Sciences Indus

    3 Investment Banking

    There are three major career areas in investment banking: advisory services, sell-side equity research, and sales trad-ing. Advisory service providers are involved in large finan-cial transactions such as helping their clients raise capital, complete initial public offerings (IPO), or mergers and acqui-sitions (M&A). This is a highly competitive career and can involve extensive travel, but the payoffs are quite large, as investment bankers are amply compensated for their hard work. If you enjoy transactional work or have an interest in finance, this is a promising career to consider.

    Sell-side equity research analysts conduct and publish background research on the particular public companies that they follow. These analysts provide ratings of pub-lic companies stock, such as buy, sell, or hold and they publish informative reports for clients. It is becoming more common for investment banks to hire MDs, Ph.D.s, and MBAs who can analyze and ascertain the chances of success for clinical trials, and by extension, they predict changes in stock value. Sales traders conduct stock sales transactions and promote stock sales.

    4 Discovery Research

    Discovery research is very similar to academic research and it probably is the most commonly followed path for science graduates wanting to enter into industry. If you enjoy work-ing at the scientific frontier, have an interest in benefiting human health, are an idea generator with a creative mind that can make unique connections; or if you simply enjoy lab work and would like to apply your laboratory skills to industry, this is the career to consider. There are many career levels within discovery research such as a research associate for undergraduates and Masters students as well as a scientist track for Ph.D. graduates.

    For creative scientists who do not wish to advance up the administrative path to director and vice president (VP) levels, there are the prestigious fellow or staff scien-tist positions which allow scientists to remain close to the research and at the same time minimize their a