I Began My Own Biotech Startup and So Can You
Stuck in Love-Hate Relationship - Passion for Science, Frustration with Tools
Have you ever felt passionate about your work, but so frustrated with the tools, that you wanted to scream? This is where I was, running hundreds of experiments during research in developmental biology with injection needles that broke, clogged, disappeared in yolk, needed recalibration… Frustration. Frustration. Frustration. Boom!
From Stress to Startup
Out of frustration an idea was born. I imagined a needle designed to solve the problems associated with the standard ones. I can make this happen. Adrenaline was pumping through my body. Excited by my idea, I was ready to spring into action. I realized that I could help myself and other scientists perform successful injections. “No problem” I told myself, “I will start up a business”.
Dazed and Confused
Wait, where do I start? Should I register a patent? Is there a market for my product? How big? Where will the funds come from? Who can I talk to? So many questions!
I am Grateful for the Help and Sharing What Worked
I received a grant and my product is now in development. A lot of people helped me start my own company. I am grateful to them and want to share tips about what really made a difference for me:
1. Build Network
In the early stages, I met with dozens of people, including founders of new companies, established scientist entrepreneurs, and tech transfer people at universities. I would drive an hour each way for a half hour meeting, because I always learned something useful. Every time I met someone; I would ask them who I should talk with next.
2. Get Legal Advice
Early on, a mentor introduced me to an attorney who prepared a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) for me. I emailed it ahead of every meeting. This is normal; everyone expects to sign an NDA before a conversation about a business idea.
3. Take Advantage of Programs
The NSF I-Corps programs at George Washington University; AccelerateDC, and AccelerateDC GO and the National NSF I-Corps program, were a game changer for me. These hands-on programs support entrepreneurs through the process of interviewing potential customers about their needs. Also, there are incubators to help entrepreneurs like you, funded and supported by numerous universities, states, counties and cities.
4. Apply for Money
I was shocked at my success the first time I applied for Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) funding from NIH. Many applicants who are not funded initially are successful in later attempts. NSF also offers SBIR grants, and some states have funding for startups too.
5. Identify Your Cheerleaders
Find the people who will help lift you up when you are down, tired or out of patience. People who can help re-energize you, and help you keep going.
6. Be Prepared to Wear Many Hats
You need to think and act as a scientist, as a business owner, as an entrepreneur, as a public relations person, and more. Wearing all these different hats will move your startup forward in many directions in parallel while testing your ability to continue moving forward under often stressful circumstances.
7. Do as Much as You Can Yourself, but Get Help from Experts, as Much as Possible
...– to save money, get creative and do things on your own. Much problem solving can be done at minimal cost. On the other hand, there are situations when expertise is crucial and fundamental to the life of the business, such as a good legal and accounting advice.