Professional Development

Finding the Right Fit and How to Get There

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A busy year adjusting to a new career is evident when a blog post is more than a year overdue. This tardy post is appropriate, though, as it includes identifying an optimal career path and networking to set yourself on that path.

In November of 2015, I gave a talk at the University of Washington as part of the Bioscience Careers Seminar Series entitled, “Finding the Right Fit, and How to Get There.” The PowerPoint-free presentation focused on the three steps that in my experience, and from the experiences that have been shared with me, are essential to networking and finding a good career fit. The guidance focused on academics looking to leave academia but the principles are universal. The three general steps are:

  • Step 1: Know your community
  • Step 2: Know yourself
  • Step 3: Know the “stuff”

Step 1 includes going outside your comfort zone to broaden your contacts and advice on meeting with people for professional networking. Step 2 built on this with specific exercises to help guide your search and also a gentle suggestion to do some honest self-reflection. Step 3 refers to knowing the language and technologies or products of the field you want to enter. Some of the more specific ideas I included came from an earlier blog post: Five Networking Tips. There is also a downloading video of my entire talk available See the talk.

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The meat of the talk was followed up with discussions of small vs. large companies, startups, and consulting based on my experience, my observations, and the advice I have accumulated.

However, during the question and answer session, I realized the following gaps in my knowledge: 1) potentially out of date specific information on the career track at large consulting firms (such as McKinsey) for entry-level PhDs, 2) limited information on PhD-level scientists leaving academia for banking, and 3) I have no idea if STEM PhDs that then continue on for a JD enter law firms through a different career path.

Coming back to this after a year away, it’s time to update all my information. I am reaching out to my network, but if a reader of this post has anything they would like to share, please comment below.

Additionally, I’m continuing to collect personal experiences of academic journeys out of academia, as well as tidbits of useful advice. Contributions are very welcome.

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What’s my Worth?

Feats of strength can substitute for negotiations

When negotiations fail: arm wrestle (Boston College Festivus 2010, Me and Megan Kelly).

For many of us, evaluating our worth in the professional world is daunting. This intimidation keeps us from negotiating and then leaves us asking, “what if…,” long after sealing the deal. For women, there may even be guilt associated with mishandling negotiations since no one wants to perpetuate the ominous “salary gap.” Women in Bio, San Francisco, offered a negotiation helping hand February 26th at Nektar to remove some of the fear from getting what you are worth.

First, let’s take away some of the pressure. We have all heard the statistic that women make $0.77 for every $1 that a man makes. Early in 2014 Christina Hoff Sommers addressed this misleading statistic in U.S. News and then revisited the the idea as Feminist Myth 5 in TIME later that year. The statistic is based on average income for men and women and when you control for specific jobs, the gap nearly vanishes. Based on the career adjusted statistics, the real emphasis should be on choosing more profitable college majors if women want to earn more, not more aggressive negotiating.

Mary Haak-Frendscho, the event’s moderator, did bring up an interesting statistic from a Pew Research Center article. According to the article, women, on average, earn 93 percent of what men earn until they are 35. After 35, the average earnings shift to the 77 percent statistic. What happens at 35? It is something to consider and I guess I will find out this year.

Now that we are able to negotiate guilt-free since the future of women-kind is not on our shoulders, how do we prepare to come to the table? BioCentury Executive Editor, Simone Fishburn’s advice to do extensive, “soul searching before you walk into a negotiation,” is the lynchpin of preparation. We have to know our priorities.

When I first went on the job market after my postdoc, I had a long and detailed list of “priorities.” After some soul searching, and some experience, it was clear everything fit in four points: 1) a professional environment; 2) a collaborative, supportive, and respectful team; 3) a flexible schedule; and 4) part of my job is something I would do as a hobby. Number 4 may sound unusual, but examples for me are roles with a writing component (this blog is for fun) or forming partnerships (I enjoy networking and talking shop). A simple set of priorities helps with evaluation of and negotiation of roles.

Dilbert on the art of negotiation

There is always something to negotiate.

We should also enter a negotiation with realistic goals. Startups are going to be very different then Pfizer, which is different than non-profits. Dorian Hirth, Senior Vice President of human resources at Nektar, and Mimi Hancock, Partner at Spencer Stuart, both emphasized reasonable expectations several times. As far as salary, there are some online resources like Salary.com, Glassdoor, and SimplyHired, but much of their information is self-reported and they tend to inflate industry standards. In biotech, I have not found them to be very useful. The Radford guidance is ideal and what human resource professionals consult, but it is a pay service. “Your network is one of the most important things you can do,” according to Hirth. Your network is ultimately your best tool for industry information and advice on setting expectations around your priority list.

A few negotiables that I had not considered that came up in the panel discussion were promotion schedule, conference attendance, and opportunities to interact with higher management or partners. It is a phenomenal idea to use negotiation time to secure opportunities and emphasize priorities. It may give you more leeway than the typical salary/vacation/equity route. For me, since a flexible schedule is important, negotiating early mornings in exchange for free evenings and conference attendance to keep me talking shop and networking are options.

With our priorities and a realistic plan, it is time to go to the table. Here our greatest asset is, “confidence in your skill set,” says Hirth. We should not be afraid to ask as the worst they can say is no. However, avoid being obnoxious. Emphasize your desire for things to work out and put forth solutions suggests Fishburn. Hancock advises to, “look for cues and clues,” that you may be souring the relationship and to be open, honest, and transparent.

Realism and practicality in negotiations

Stay true to your priorities and be prepared to walk away.

Finally, Fishburn reminds us that negotiations are still part of the interview process so, “listen to the things they are not telling you.” This will provide important insight into what the working environment will be like and the personality of the future boss. If you feel you are not being valued or that you will have to compromise on your priorities, walk away. The situation will not improve when you are with them 40+ hours every week.

The take away is: in a negotiation be informed, relaxed, and confident and get what you are worth, or walk away, something else will come along.

My Microbiome Experience from Start to Results

Everyday I'm Samplin'For the past couple of years my Twitter feed, Facebook wall, and this blog have been overrun with all things microbiome; however, until a couple months ago, I had yet to contribute my own microbial ecosystem to the growing dataset. While at uBiome, I joined the movement and quantified my own microbiome with their five site kit. My experience was not completely authentic since I missed out on the excitement of receiving the sleek, black kit in the mail and I gained the excitement of processing my own samples, but I still want to share and promote some citizen science at the end.

uBiome Kit

Sleek uBiome kit

 In the beginning…

Usually your sequencing adventure begins with ordering your kit online, but I sped up the process by bringing one home with me. When I opened the kit, the instruction card greeted me and directed me to register my kit online. Easy enough. With registration complete, I was ready to get started sampling. Not as easy. To get the most accurate representation of your microbiome, sampling should be done after about eight hours without microbial ecology disruption. This includes showering, brushing your teeth, kissing, swimming in a chlorinated pool, etc.

uBiome the Whole Kit and Caboodle

The whole kit and caboodle

As my friends will attest, I would gladly use sampling as an excuse to delay a shower, but I sleep less than eight hours a night and leave no extra time in my morning routine, so avoiding everything for eight hours is tough. I decided to stay up a little later than usual and do everything at once; except for the fecal sample, that would come in its own time (though we runners do have our tricks).

VirulentB skin sampling for uBiome

Let the swabbing begin!

The instructions on how to sample are both on the card and on-line but I found the Vimeo video demonstrating skin sampling far more fun and informative. Swabbing was easy aside from the issue of working in the small spaces of the nostril and mouth (I definitely got a tap of skin and teeth in the samples, respectively). The extra swab was appreciated to take a second tooth-biome free mouth sample.

Creepy nostril sampling

Oh yeah, this is creepy

When I ask my friends about their experience with swabbing, they unanimously complain about the nostril. Yeah, swabbing inside your nose is creepy, in a “send chills up your spin way,” but it isn’t painful. It just feels wrong.

No one ever mentions the fecal sample. It reflects our actual comfort with poop. If we are as bothered by poop as we assume we all are, diapers would never get changed and there wouldn’t be 14 “poop tracker” apps in the iTunes app store.

Usually the samples would be mailed back in the padded envelope provided, but I skipped USPS and brought them right back to the uBiome lab.

In the meanwhile…

 

Once in the lab, the samples are entered into the system and the processing begins. A DNews video gives you a behind the scenes look at this part of the uBiome experience. Once again, I deviated from the typical experience, and processed my own samples.

Processing my uBiome samples

Science is happening

As your samples make their way through the sequencing pipeline, you receive encouraging email updates to track your precious microbes. Eventually, you get the email you’ve been waiting for and your data are ready.

In the end.

Upon entering the data delivery site, my suspicions were confirmed: my microbiome falls outside the norm. I have far more Firmicutes and far fewer Bacteroidetes than the average Western population (and maybe would fit in better with the Hadza). This is most likely the result of my high fiber diet of fruits and vegetables. According to the Mayo Clinic, a woman needs about 25 grams of fiber per day, but Americans average 15 grams. I average 35-40 grams per day. My Firmicutes are well fed.

In addition to comparisons to the overall data set, there are other options on the uBiome site to play with your data, as well as phyla descriptions, but what I really want to know is how to apply this information. Unfortunately, this is where I hit a wall. Much of the research linking specific bacteria to conditions, like obesity, is based on correlative data and the findings from one study to another are often contradictory.

uBiome gut sequencing results

Never one for “average”

The young field of microbiomics isn’t ready to prescribe behaviors or lifestyle changes based on sequencing results now, but it will be. We can all contribute to this progress by acting as citizen scientists. If you start a new probiotic, decide to go Paleo, or start Couch to 5K, take the opportunity to advance microbiomics and sequence yourself before and after. uBiome is not the only option for sequencing your microbiome, but I would suggest that you pick one service and stick with it to ensure all results are comparable. Sequencing results can vary based on the methods used to generate the data. (Yes, this is problematic and groups are working to create a solution.)

In the meantime, I’ll stick with my fiber and exercise and quietly keep quantifying myself until science catches up and tells me how to live better through bacteria.

Five Networking Tips for Graduate Students and Postdocs

Metazoan signaling network

These are not the only networks (Korcsmaros, et al., PLoS ONE, 2011)

As PhDs prepare to leave the hallowed halls of academia, most are immediately confronted with the glaring fact that they have absolutely no idea how to find a job. We were told it’s all about the network, but we didn’t need to network, we were busy for the last five to ten years building all these amazing skills and now industry is going to fall over itself to recruit us, right? Perhaps, but it will be a slow fall that takes many months and a lot of pushing.

There are clear reasons for this lag that may not be obvious to the academic. First, most of your skills were developed using the cheapest, most MacGyver-ed method possible that your PI perfected 30 years ago. These methods are probably carried out on the the same equipment he used, too. This is because he refuses to admit someone developed something better in the intervening decades and he has one R01 for 15 trainees. Second, you chose your project, (insert crazy-specific thesis title that only you, your PI, and maybe one other person cares about), based on your passions and not on developing the skills that industry needs.

My thesis on IMC proteins in Toxoplasma gondii

A little casual reading…

There was no reason to consider industry, though, because you were going to be a PI, just like the 60 other students who started grad school with you and the thousands across the globe. Third, you know no one outside of academia and have no “real world” experience (pre-grad school counts very little). Even those PhDs lucky enough (or prescient enough) to work with current generation equipment and the most up-to-date methods in the sexiest fields may have trouble overcoming the lack of experience. Finally, get ready to fight the stereotype. Employers have assumptions about the PhD personality and the ability of PhDs to assimilate into cooperate culture.

PhDs increase while the number of academic positions stay the same

There are more PhDs for a stagnant number of academic positions (Schillebeeckx , et al., Nature Biotechnology, 2013)

Based on my observations, postdocs are averaging a year or more to find their first industry position. Under- or unemployment for more than a year is common. Here in the San Francisco area, many PhDs go to startups that are willing to take a risk and then find themselves jobless again within a year or two.

However, this is a hopefully and encouraging blog post! There are simple things graduate students and postdocs can do to expedite the future job search, protect against fluctuations in industry, and show themselves to be more than the stereotype. The most important is networking. It takes time, but it’s an investment that will pay off.

Increasing number of life science PhDs unemployed

The red line is on the rise. (Jordan Weissmann, The Atlantic, 2013)

Below are my top five networking tips, from one PhD to another.

  1. Attend networking events outside your comfort zone and network

Conferences and meeting in your field of expertise are important, but will not suffice. You must leave your comfort zone and diversify your connections. Start by taking a tour of events, attending several types of events hosted by different groups. Try happy hours, talks, and short courses by societies, meetups, and companies. Pick the ones that you enjoy and are most productive for your goals and then become a regular. People should start to recognize you.

In general, the events you pay for are higher quality and will bring in more people from industry. Free events draw people on a budget, i.e. graduate students, postdocs, and the unemployed. You can make great connections at these events but remember, investing in your network is investing in your future so pony up the registration fee.

At first it is ok to just show up. This is a tough first step for most people. After a few, though, don’t just grab a drink and try to blend into the wall. People are all at these events to mingle so pick a group and introduce yourself.

If this is particularly difficult, considering volunteering with a professional organization. It will provide a purpose for your interactions, will not feel like shallow small talk, and will give other members a sense of what you are like to work with, which is important for future recommendations and introductions.

  1. Talk to everyone

When out and about, make an effort to strike up conversations. You never know who is on the yoga mat next to you or in line behind you at the grocery store. This has the added benefit of making you more open and your conversational manner more natural at professional events.

For the same reasons, accept all networking meetings that your schedule and energy will allow. Prepare for meetings and come with an agenda. Be ready with enough information to engage in deeper conversations and to make efficient use of everyone’s time. At the end, “get to the next person” by asking for specific introductions to expand your network.

  1. Don’t over do it

You are now attending events and meeting with contacts and it is very easy to get overwhelmed. When I started building my network I was attending events and taking meetings everyday and sometimes twice a day. The burnout was quick and defeating. I learned my magic number is three career-building activities per week. It forces me to prioritize and allows me take full advantage of the most productive activities.

  1. Build a brand 

In order to increase networking efficiency, you need something accessible where contacts can get a sense of who you are before they meet you. It should also allow potential connections to evaluate if you are worth their time (it’s harsh but true). It’s an added bonus if this presence brings people to you.

LinkedIn is the most common first step for professional brand building, but it’s more stagnant and dry than Twitter and Facebook (see Belle Beth Cooper’s Fast Company article here).

Social media use statistics

The majority of LinkedIn users are inactive (Belle Beth Cooper, Fast Company, 2013)

To build a brand, start tweeting and making public Facebook posts based on your passions. Focus on the field you plan to build your career in and maybe a hobby or two. For example, I’m a molecular biologist interested in infectious disease, microbiomics, and next-generation sequencing, so my tweets and public posts are focused on industry news, research findings, and media related to these areas. To prove I’m still human, I toss in yoga and fitness tidbits, as well.

Blogs are an excellent tool, too. They come in all flavors and can be as focused as you desire. I use this blog to record my professional growth and share my current professional interests and thoughts. However, do keep personal and professional blogs separate. Updates on your toddler’s potty training show your humanity but do little to promote future employment.

  1. Follow up

This is the most important tip: follow up on every discussion. Your network will cease to grow if the people that make up your nodes do not feel appreciated or respected. After every event, reach out to the people you met; LinkedIn connections are the easiest. Try to include some reference to your discussion to show you were invested and not just collecting business cards.

After meetings send thoughtful thank you’s. Again, include something that shows you were engaged and internalized the conversation. Provide any additional information discussed during the meeting and ask for introductions to the next person or people.

Networking is a skill and it takes practice to get comfortable, efficient, and effective. Even if you stay in academia, with academic-industry collaborations becoming the standard a diverse network is priceless. Furthermore, the interpersonal skills you exercise through networking will translate into your personal and everyday life.

It’s a win-win investment so get out there and meet people.

Why I Love Contract Science Writing, an Evaluation

Science Writing for Everyone

As an engineering consultant, I knew I was busy, solving problems, slogging through tedious environmental regulations (CFR Title 40 still gives me the willies), and enduring round after excruciating round of report editing; but I never considered why I was doing these things or what skills I was gaining. I did not appreciate the value of my circumstances. Years later it become obvious that what I was really doing as a consultant was developing amazing technical writing skills; acquiring a keen attention detail; learning to manage projects, teams, and clients; learning how to sell products; and, this is the big one, learning how to take relentless critical feedback and integrate it without any sense of personal attack. If I had realized this at the time, how much more could I have grown? How many opportunities did I waste?

I like to think I learn from my mistakes, and since I prize the efficient use of time, it is now standard practice to reflect on any project and evaluate: 1) what am I learning, 2) what skills am I developing, and 3) how can I gain as much transferable experience as possible?

Over the last two years, I have taken on several technical writing contract projects and love them. Below are my reflections on the “why” and the general criteria they meet:

1) Exercise an existing skill: technical writing skill

Neglected skills atrophy the same as unused muscles, regardless of the number of years invested in developing them. I spent five years learning Italian and how much can I speak now?- nada..or is it niente? Contract writing for multiple companies provides excellent skill reinforcement since each project is different. It hinders recycling a formula from project to project and requires active thought and growth.

2) Expand an existing skill: scientific communication to a broad audience

Scientists talk a great deal about the importance of communicating science to the general population, but most of us never do. A poster or a talk at a general interest conference doesn’t count. The closest I had come was writing due diligence reports to business people with Oxbridge Biotech Roundtable (OBR).

This is not Science Writing

Tucker Martin, Worchester Polytechnic Institute

When I started writing service descriptions for Science Exchange (SE) I learned what it meant to write for anyone. Describing “science for the people” forced me to distill concepts to the basics and to ask for feedback from naïve audiences. It became clear that examples of when to use a service are most important and reinforced the idea that analogy is usually the best tool for disseminating knowledge to uninformed audiences.

3) Develop new skills: learn novel techniques and fill-in knowledge gaps

Writing service descriptions and especially grants for different companies requires learning about new fields and techniques outside the narrow focus of my research. It forces me to stay up to date on current science and technology trends. Contract writing can bring to light any gaps in knowledge, as well. I have had to fill-in plenty of holes in my areas of expertise.

4) Lead to additional opportunities: other contract projects

Learning the theory behind new fields helps me find opportunities to gain technical experience in areas outside my existing expertise like next-generation sequencing. It also provides conversational knowledge for conferences and networking events. Through engaging people in deeper conversations other opportunities arise that allow me to stay on that exciting slope of the learning curve and keep cycling through the list above.

Deer Mountain: the basis of my first writing contract

My first paid writing project in 2nd grade entitled “3 miles that became 6” tells the harrowing tale of my family’s hike on Deer Mountain. Critical acclaim has been slow in coming.

Perhaps these general criteria will provide something to mull over the next time you evaluate a project and consider stepping a little outside your comfort zone. Always keep asking, “what am I gaining and could I grow more?”

Connect with me on Maven

Citizen Science brings humanity and the microbiome to the world

                                               

                                              Badge from Beware Comics

Outsourcing is the reality of modern science. I’ve written posts on contract research organizations (CROs) and the pharmaceutical industry’s move to innovation hubs, but these are dry, corporate initiatives. They are important to our understanding of the business of science today, but where’s the humanity in a CRO? Where’s the joie de vivre in an innovation hub? 

Citizen science is the beating heart of science today. It’s inclusive outsourcing.  

No field of biology has embraced citizen science as enthusiastically as microbiome research, and the reception from the world community has been reciprocally enthusiastic. The success of projects like uBiome and American Gut illustrate the power of community involvement. Both the commercial uBiome and academic American Gut took universal engagement another step to additionally address the research-killing paucity of funding by crowdsourcing.

Give us your fecal samples, your skin swabs, your mouth swabs, yearning to be sequenced

uBiome raised over $300,000 on Indiegogo offering microbiome sequencing services similar to 23andMe in exchange for donations starting at $79. In addition to the monetary donation, they gave participants the option to relinquish ownership of their anonymous sample and results for development of population statistics and future research. After Indiegogo, uBiome continues to offer sequencing commercially with the same option to transfer ownership. They now have control over thousands of samples and a treasure of data that make scientists like me salivate. Unfortunately, we need to swallow and wipe our chins since uBiome is currently keeping their data close.

American Gut is the largest citizen science campaign to date. They have raised over $500,000 in one year on FundRazr and have over 3,000 fully sequenced samples. Working off the same principles as uBiome, they offer contribution levels starting at $99 and going up to thousands. Currently the highest donation has been $3,750 for a Functional Feces characterization.

                

Examples of American Gut donors, part of their “All the cool kids are doing it” approach (from left: author Michael Pollan, ultramarathoner Dean Karnazes, and Mrs. USA 2011 Shannon Ford)

Unlike uBiome, American Gut is making their data publically available through the open-source Earth Microbiome Project and through the European Bioinformatics Institute (EBI). They plan to publish their findings in several papers and hope other researchers apply these data ad libitum

Biased data or no data?

Crowdsourced microbiome initiatives are facing the same criticism of biased data as other crowdsourcing campaigns. Recently Steven Novella reviewed CureCrowd for Science-based Medicine (ultimately concluding it is too biased) and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) published “From Conservation to Crowdsourcing” in 2011, which touches on the bias issue. It is true, citizen science data are biased to individuals who can afford to contribute financially, are aware of these initiatives, and are motivated to join in citizen science. However, we now have data where we had none before; data that did not rely on tax dollars or single-source private benefactors to generate; both routes that empirically take significantly longer and are lower yield than commercial efforts (e.g. NIH Human Genome Project vs. Celera) or now crowdsourcing (e.g. NIH Human Microbiome Project vs. American Gut). As a side note, according to American Gut’s website, it appears they are closely linked to the Human Microbiome Project.

As long as researchers acknowledge the bias, are committed to addressing the issue, and accept that their findings may require reassessment as less biased cohorts become available, then this is not an end game issue.

The larger issue is the proper application and analysis of all these heaps of data being shared. Elizabeth Beam’s Harvard Science Review article, “DATA: The bigger the better? A survey of analytical traps and tricks,” concisely summarizes this issue.  

Engagement beyond money and samples

The appeal of the microbiome to the general population goes beyond crowdsourcing. Manipulating your microbiota is all the rage and DIY projects abound on the internet. There are recipes for probiotic yogurts and other foods, and plenty of diets to alter and optimize your gut bacteria. However, the most impressive is the DIY fecal transplant on The Power of Poop. I hope never to need to self-administer this procedure, but I’m glad to know there is a step-by-step guide openly available should the need arise.

               

               Fecal transplant shopping list from The Power of Poop

 This DIY prevalence circles back to the humanity of citizen science and the positive implications of investment by the greater community in research. Crowdsourcing is a successful, if not perfect, route to doing valuable science while educating people and removing the image of scientists behind locked doors, hunched secretively over arcane experiments.

Citizen science is the proactive science of today and tomorrow. 

OneStart Americas young entrepreneur bootcamp

              

“The most important connections will be with fellow entrepreneurs.” With these words from the Oxbridge Biotech Roundtable (OBR) founder and CEO, Daniel Perez, the intense one day Entrepreneur Bootcamp for the 35 semi-finalists in the OneStart Americas life science business plan competition opened on Saturday, February 8th at the Stanford University School of Medicine. The Bootcamp, presented by OBR and SR One, initiated the mentoring component of the competition with experts in key areas of entrepreneurship presenting to the semi-finalists in the morning and then providing one-on-one mentoring sessions and pitch feedback in the afternoon. This formal program was interwoven with casual networking throughout the day to the benefit of all attendees.

               

Matt Maurer and Jordan Epstein of Stroll Health network with OBR volunteer Laura Sasportas

OneStart is the largest biotech business plan competition in the world. For both of its two concurrent competitions, OneStart Europe and OneStart Americas, teams of life science entrepreneurs under 36 years of age apply in one of four tracks: drug discovery, medical devices, diagnostics, or health information technology. Americas entrants, who retain all intellectual property, compete for $150,000, free lab space at QB3 in San Francisco for up to one year, and business and legal support. In January, the 35 semi-finalists in the Americas competition were announced and Saturday’s Bootcamp initiated two-months of intensive mentorship for these elite entrepreneurs involving venture capitalists, pharmaceutical executives, and other entrepreneurs as they develop a comprehensive business plan.

“Ideas are cheap, it’s all about execution.” – Drug Discovery Discussion Session

“Time is your greatest risk.” – Nassim Usman

Bootcamp opened with general comments from Daniel Perez; Matthew Foy, partner at SR One; and John Daley, Stanford law student and OBR organizer of OneStart Americas, and then immediately went to the nitty-gritty of life science entrepreneurship with a “State of the Industry” presentation from Tamara Rajah, a partner with McKinsey & Company. During her talk, Rajah stressed the need for founders to focus on the patient and to disrupt markets as a means to add value.

               

Thorsten Melcher presents to Bootcamp attendees

Thorsten Melcher of Johnson & Johnson Innovation, and previously part of the “most successful biotech in Half Moon Bay,” followed up Rajah with a talk steeped in humor on “Building a Company”. Melcher cheekily apologized as he said, “I’m telling the stories in the German way, everything was horrible,” but the gravity of his advice to the eager audience was clear as he highlighted the need for the right people, the necessity of a network in fundraising, and the critical importance of execution. His sage advice on funding segued into Genentech Investment Director, Simon Greenwood’s, perspectives on raising capital. Greenwood focused on the need to create your own barriers to market entry and gave direct coaching on how to sell yourself to venture capitalists. During the question and answer, Jill Carroll, a partner at SR One, corroborated Greenwood’s advice and further emphasized the need to be first or best in class to get the dollars. Nassim Usman, CEO of Catalyst Biosciences, reinforced the timelines for funding and success introduced by Melcher and Greenwood saying, “Time is your greatest risk.” Usman was joined by Karl Handelsman, founder of Codon Capital, for a question and answer session on “Managing Failure and Risk”, where Handelsman summarized the key to successful risk management as, “Ask good questions, listen, and figure things out.”

In addition to the need to disrupt markets to add value, another theme of the day was the essentiality of the perfect pitch. Throughout the day investors, including Melcher, Handelsman, and Geenwood, put the pitch above all else, and “VCs don’t read” was heard several times, while  the value of a well-crafted executive summary was played down. Now enter the self-proclaimed, “deal killers of Silicon Valley,” Mike O’Donnell and Walter Wu of Morrison & Foerster. According to these two, lawyers do read and in their talk on “Corporate Structure and IP” they assert that as the people performing the due diligence required by venture capitalists, the greatest pitch may get you in the door, but a detailed written plan is imperative to getting the check.

“Don’t over invest in technology and under invest in biology.” – Drug Discovery Discussion Session

               

Entrepreneur panel of (from left) Foy, Daley, Perez, Iorns, Spellmeyer, Bethencourt, and Nag.

In the afternoon, audience participation drove a panel discussion on entrepreneurship including Elizabeth Iorns, cofounder and CEO of Science Exchange; David Spellmeyer, chief technology officer of Nodality; Ryan Bethencourt, CEO of Berkeley Biolabs; and Divya Nag, cofounder of Stem Cell Theranostics and founder of StartX Med. Topics included the value of accelerators, should you work with friends, how important is location, and balancing dilution with funding needs. When asked about operating in stealth mode, Bethencourt offered up the collaborative success story of Glowing Plant and Nag astutely asserted, “If you don’t share, you cut yourself off from being a better you.”

               

One-on-one mentoring sessions

The formal day concluded with discussion sessions in each of the four OneStart tracks: drug discovery, medical devices, diagnostics, and health information technology, followed by one-on-one mentoring sessions with successful entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and other experts. Each of the 35 semi-finalist teams practiced their pitch informally with a panel of investors and received immediate feedback.

“If you don’t share, you cut yourself off from being a better you.” – Divya Nag

“The most important connections will be with fellow entrepreneurs.” – Daniel Perez

               

Afternoon networking refreshments

Between sessions and during lunch, participants, speakers, mentors, and organizers ignored the rain and unusually cold Bay Area day to mingle outside sharing their ideas, commiserating over failures, cheering on successes, and forming important relationships. The networking relaxed when Bootcamp wrapped up at The Patio in Palo Alto. The response from attendees was overwhelmingly positive. Semi-finalists Jeni Lee of ViVita Technologies Inc. and Denise Lee of EpiBiome were impressed with the caliber of ideas and variety of people attending Bootcamp. They appreciated the opportunity to meet directly with investors and other entrepreneurs. PhD student, Jordan Despanie of Qairos Biopharmaceutics, enjoyed the opportunity to get advice on balancing his research with entrepreneurship and still making time for his hobby, screenwriting. Several attendees, like Luke Smith of Imani Health,  said they benefited from making contacts in the Bay Area even for things as routine as help finding housing.  

“Be prepared for the most scary and exciting time of your professional life.” – Thorsten Melcher

For the next two months, the teams will work intensively with their assigned mentor and new contacts to develop business plans. In May, the winning team will be selected from a pool of ten finalists based on criteria including innovation, impact to patient health, and quality of the business plan. It is an exciting time for these young thought leaders and exciting to get a glimpse of the future innovators of biotech.    

               

Aaron Hammach and Denise Lee of EpiBiome with Jeni Lee and Maelene Wong of ViVita

This article was originally written for the OBR Review and can be found here