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URMC / Education / Graduate Education / URBest Blog / February 2020 / Breaking into biotech: Not as Scary as you think

Breaking into biotech: Not as Scary as you think

By Eric Schott, PhD – Co-founder, Head of Translational Research and Clinical Development at Solarea Bio

As a young graduate student at the University of Rochester Medical School, I knew that I wanted to move into industry but did not quite know what I wanted to do or how to make that transition.  While my PIs were phenomenal mentors for learning the ins and outs of academic research, they did not have the resources to support my transition to industry. So, I set off on my own path, and learned a lot of valuable lessons along the way.

In my 3rd year as a graduate student, I was studying the effects of the gut microbiome on osteoarthritis and identified that positive manipulations of the microbiome could be protective against disease progression.  Looking at the space, no one had yet made the connection that microbial therapeutics could offer a benefit to the skeletal system. Then and there I realized the opportunity to capitalize and decided I would try to start my own company. I did not know where to begin, but knew that if I did not at least try I would regret it for a very long time.  Thus, I started looking into what resources were available to me at the University that could offer some direction.  I decided to sign up for the Leadership and Management for Scientists course offered by UR BEST as a first step in hopes that at the very least, I would gain some valuable knowledge into how to manage a team.  One of the lecturers was a business professor who was promoting an entrepreneurship course he taught at the Simon Business School. This was yet another great opportunity to really learn how to launch and operate a startup company, so again I jumped at the opportunity and signed up for the class.  I learned a great deal from that course and further solidified that this is what I wanted to do.

As I was quickly approaching my PhD defense, I knew that I would not be able to survive without a paycheck and needed to find an industry position while I incubated my company. After months of networking at meetings, reaching out to alumni on LinkedIn, and countless applications, I was connected with my now Co-Founder who was starting his own microbiome company in Boston, MA.  A mutual contact put us in touch in hopes that he would be able to give me some advice on how to start a company. We spoke over the phone many times and eventually he realized that I would be a perfect fit as a translational scientist at his company. After interviewing with the rest of his team, I was hired with the understanding that I would continue to incubate my own ideas and when ready, would go off on my own.  A few months after this, we had become rather good friends and would routinely discuss the future of the company.  A long story short, I suggested we combine company ideas to make one of the most unique and differentiated microbiome companies in the industry.  We mutually agreed and relaunched the company as Co-Founders. It was the best decision I ever made and have loved every minute leading a small startup.

Today we have six employees and are raising another round of financing.  In my role as Head of Translational Research and Clinical Development, I am in charge of designing and contracting preclinical studies as well as working with our clinical advisory board to design future clinical trials.  However, being a startup, I have many responsibilities that go beyond my title. I am also responsible for payroll and HR, and work hand in hand with my Co-Founder to set corporate strategy and bring in new financing.  Working in a startup environment brings a new challenge every day and has been incredibly rewarding. You must be extremely resourceful and have the ability to change direction at a moment’s notice. It is what I enjoy most about working in a small team and would encourage everyone interested in industry to explore opportunities in startup biotech companies.

Eric Schott, Ph.D. | 2/24/2020

Please join Eric Schott, Ph.D. on Monday, March 9th (11 am - noon) in LeChase Assembly Hall (G-9576). There will be pizza, water, and pop following his talk! If you wish to join Eric for lunch, please RSVP on Handshake.

Katherine Bognanno | 2/25/2020

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