Most life science companies are founded by entrepreneurial scientists based on research conducted at universities. However, scientific founders are not necessarily the best ones to make the company a commercial success. But how can a scientist find the proper role in a radically different setting from the academic one?
Perhaps there is no clear answer to this question. Still, Professor Eran Segal from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Tel Aviv emphasizes that it is essential to decide how involved you want to be in the company early in the process. A decision he needed to make after founding DayTwo, a microbiome-based precision medicine company, in 2015.
“In the early stages of the company, I was heavily involved in outlining the company’s strategy and even involved myself in product development. However, as the company grew, it felt like a natural process for me to be less and less involved. I think it is important for scientists to hand over the company at some stage to people with a better business skill-set and to decide already from the beginning how they contribute in the best way to the company’s success,” says Eran Segal.
He further adds: “If you are coming from academia and you are the co-founder of a company, the first thing you have to decide is how much involved you want to be in the company. That is a key decision and remember that in the early stages of the company, you still have the power to decide who should take the company forward.”
Choose the right field of research
Eran Segal has focused on shaping his research in a translational and commercial direction during his whole career. He is currently one of the frontrunners in microbiome research and developing more personalized medicine based on computational biology approaches. He advises scientists with the same aspirations to wisely choose which research projects and research areas they choose to dedicate their careers to.
“It is difficult to make a real leap in areas where there is an immediate return because those research spaces tend to be overcrowded already. To achieve real breakthroughs, you will have to ask more questions with a higher risk. Even though the data you collect from asking those questions might not make you rich immediately, they could lay the foundation for establishing a successful company at a later stage.
DayTwo is an excellent example of this. The company was established after a five-year-long research project, and today it has raised 85M dollars in funding, has 80.000 customers and has close to 100 employees. However, according to Eran Segal, things could have gone less successful if the company had been spun out earlier from the university.
“It is a difficult balance when to spin out from the university. I think as long as you are significantly progressing the technology, it is wise to stay in academia because you increase the value of the company and prevent getting diluted too early,” he explains.
Nevertheless, there can be situations where you spin out the company earlier than expected due to other factors. Perhaps you cannot raise proper funding at the university, or you don’t have the right or enough people in the academic setting to scale up the project.
This article is based on an interview with Eran Segal when he visited BII to give a Talk at the Square.
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