Give It All You’ve Got
News Article by Eric Schott, PhD, Principal Scientist, Head of Translational Research and Clinical Development at Solarea Bio, Inc. and UR Alumnus
I have somewhat of a unique story of how I obtained my current position in industry. As a graduate student, I developed a novel microbiome-based therapy for the treatment of osteoarthritis with the potential for commercialization. After filing some intellectual property (IP) (ex: https://www.neustel.com/patents/sample-patents/), I decided to attend an industry-heavy microbiome conference in Boston, MA to learn more about the field and see what current biotechnology companies and other academics were working on.
Having a large number of angel and institutional investors in attendance, this conference provided a great networking opportunity. The meeting was very informative with lectures from founders of small biotech startups, academics, as well as large pharmaceutical companies, including Merck and Pfizer. I made it a point to sit next to someone new at each session and each luncheon to meet as many people as I could. Additionally, if I found any lectures particularly interesting, I went up and spoke with the individual to ask a few questions and get to know them personally.
Towards the end of the last day, a panel consisting of IP attorneys and institutional investors discussed the patentability of microbiome-based therapies. One of the panelists seemed particularly well versed in microbiome investment, so I decided to approach him after the session to discuss my ambitions and see if he had any advice for a young, aspiring entrepreneur. To my surprise, this individual was very helpful and was willing to connect me to a contact who had recently founded a microbiome startup.
Attending this conference and having the courage to engage with high level individuals is what propelled me to where I am today. Had I not asked this panelist and his contact for help, I might still be looking for an entry level position to start my career in industry. This leads to my first piece of advice for current or even prospective graduate students. Do not be afraid to network. This is the most important advice I can provide. Networking opens doors that you did not even know existed. As you grow your network, more and more opportunities will arise and may even lead to your dream job. Even though it can be intimidating to approach someone new, especially if they have an impressive title, it is crucial to your success. Just remember, the bigger the title, the bigger the network. Although not all of these people will be willing to help, many of them went through the same thing that you are, and have a special place in their hearts for a young scientist.
After the conference, the investor on the panel connected me with his friend who was in the midst of starting his company. We set up a time for a conference call so he could tell me about his experiences and provide any advice he could. I found the call very informative, and he offered his advice whenever needed.
As I continued to strategize and develop my ideas, I decided to take an entrepreneurship class (ENT 425) at the Simon Business School in order to learn how to devise a business plan. This brings me to my second piece of advice; If something interests you or will accelerate your career development, do it. Even if this adds to your already busy schedule, it will be worth it in the long run. The business class familiarized me with corporate structure, investment, and terminology. This turned out to be crucial to my current position, as I routinely meet with investors and need to be able to speak their language. Coming from a science background, this obviously was not my strong suit, but ended up being an important step in my career development. So again, even if said interest will take up more of your time, it will likely be worth it in the long run.
After taking this class, I was getting close to finishing my thesis and realized that I would not have the ability to start my own company without first having the ability to support myself out of graduate school. So, I once again contacted my new entrepreneur friend for advice, and he suggested I find a job in industry to gain some experience and to gain funds to continue the journey of starting a company.
Over the next three months, I applied to over 100 Scientist positions in industry at both small startups and large pharmaceutical companies. Out of those 100 applications, I only had two interviews – very discouraging – and was not offered either position. I was constantly on LinkedIn trying to network and speak with alumni currently working in industry to try to find an in. One day, I decided to reach out to my new entrepreneur friend for some advice. He suggested I continue networking and applying, and he offered to send my resume to his network.
I sent him my resume and to my surprise, he asked if I would be free to interview with his company. It turned out that my skill set was exactly what his company was looking for. Two days later, I was interviewing with the rest of his team and was offered the position. Today, I am the Head of Translation Research and Clinical Development at Solarea Bio, a microbiome startup in Cambridge, MA.
My journey from graduate school to industry was not easy, but was completely worth the stress and effort because I landed my dream job and a great company. This brings me to my third and final piece of advice; Be persistent and engage your network for help. Had I decided that breaking into industry was too tough and that I should settle for something else, which would have been easy to do, I would have greatly delayed my career progression. As you can see, my most important strategy was to build and engage my network. It is much easier to land a job when someone can recommend you and vouch for your skill set and personality. I knew that I wanted to work in industry but also knew that I could not do it on my own. With that, I will restate the three pieces of advice that were crucial to my success: Do not be afraid to network; If something interests you or will with accelerate your career development, do it; and finally, Be persistent and engage your network for help. If you take this to heart, you will get to where you want to be.
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