It is safe to say that everyone has had at least one idea in their life worthy of an entrepreneurial venture, yet few of us actually do something about it. Of those who take that idea and turn it into a business, even fewer have the joy of seeing their efforts bear fruit. In a time when the life sciences are becoming increasingly relevant to technology and business, would-be businessmen in this sector must learn how to turn those light bulbs into beacons capable of illuminating the whole world, by effectively patenting, obtaining funding, and building teams and partnerships.


Choosing the next big idea

While starting a business might not be the most evident career path for life scientists, it can present an opportunity to translate their discoveries into impactful solutions. Today, with the explosion of technology and the healthcare industry, the complexity of the problems faced is increasing, and so is the value that one can create in those fields, not just as a big corporation, but even as a bold entrepreneur.

It is always best to sell a product you know about and love. If, or rather when, rough times come, you will be determined to fight through them and capable of finding new solutions on the go, thanks to your knowledge and experience in that area. But first, you have to make sure there is a real need out there for your product. When Dr. Mark Roth received promising results at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center lab, he realized he could actually help people by translating his biological research into a medical treatment. Ikaria was launched and met tremendous success, eventually being purchased by Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals for over $2 billion.

One way to verify the need for your initiative is to survey the landscape for established competition – has someone beaten you to your brilliant idea? Either answer is positive; existing competitors are good indicators of a business opportunity that works. Learn from them, and more importantly, differentiate yourself from them. Remember, there is no need to invent the wheel. Entrepreneurship often focuses on how to improve on an existing product or address an unexploited niche. This is how UK-based Bulb was born: Hayden Wood and Amit Gudka tried to challenge huge energy suppliers taking advantage of customers with overpriced, low-quality energy. This biotech company soon became the country’s largest supplier of green energy, with their power sourced from farm waste and hydrogen power plants instead of fossil fuels.


Patenting your inventions

Protecting your ideas and inventions is as essential as coming up with them. While ideas can only be protected by confidentiality agreements, it is up to patents to protect actual inventions. In order to succeed, life sciences companies must distinguish themselves from their competitors through their intellectual property (IP) portfolios. A strong patent portfolio is important for venture capital funding, securing its IP, validating its technology and demonstrating its commercial potential.

International patent applications are necessary to expand a company’s presence in the global marketplace. A business should file in countries with a large target market for the product, thereby protecting the company against potential infringers around the world. As a company’s core technology evolves, incremental improvements should be patented to continuously protect the IP.


The funds and the profits

Building a business is a marathon, not a sprint. On average, it takes two to three years for a business to be profitable. The tipping point for making profit depends on how high its startup costs are. The more capital a business needs upfront to develop its products or services, the longer it will take for a company to become profitable. Many factors will help the business jump over that first startup hurdle.

First, to make money one needs… well, money. Having your financial model in order is crucial for securing investments and making proper use of them. Entrepreneurs must solve how to raise funds and manage capital for initial operations, such as developing the product and building a team. This can come from private investors, venture capitals, government institutions, or even the very university from which the life scientist hails, in the form of innovation research grants.

It is all about people – the team, the consultants, and the partnerships

One initial use of funds is indeed building your team. A skilled, committed, and synchronized crew will help the entrepreneur push through challenges, learn from them and find new solutions. A leader surrounds herself by talented and hardworking individuals, outsourcing responsibilities that she cannot handle by herself and which frees her to focus on orchestrating the venture.

Today, Notable Labs is considered to be among the top startups in the biotech industry thanks to its top notch team of experts and the disruptive added value of the product it provides in personalized cancer treatments.

In addition to a team, external consultants, whether they are mentors or partners, are key to your development as an entrepreneur in the life sciences. As Angelika Fretzen, Technology Translation Director at Wyss Institute puts it, high-profile professors, as well as veteran entrepreneurs, can be invaluable in advising you and complementing your toolkit. No matter at what stage, a company can gain a lot by outsourcing some of its activity to expertise it lacks.

Speaking of partnerships, entrepreneurs will gain a lot from looking at the companies they partner with as long-term collaborators rather than service providers or receivers. Partners are extensions of your team, so you should seek out a common vision and motivation which will stimulate initiatives on both sides. Surprising as it is, this bi-lateral collaboration is becoming increasingly common between small entrepreneurs and corporations. As explained by Shaun Grady, AstraZeneca’s head of strategic partnering and business development, big pharmas pursue a much more interactive policy towards the smaller players who create most of the innovation large companies so urgently need.


The life sciences are increasingly offering solutions to major needs in the market, and the life science entrepreneur has the creative audacity and vision to turn a complex idea into an applicable product – no easy task, and one bound to encounter challenges and failures, but whose fruits are life-changing, and not just for the entrepreneur.