When we take a closer look at science and entrepreneurship, we might be surprised to see the similarities between these two seemingly unrelated professions. Both science and entrepreneurship undertake novelty and the risks that come with it. The magic happens when they integrate into science-based entrepreneurship. The goal of science-based entrepreneurship is to take advantage of academic research to commercialize innovative products that drive medical and technological advancement. In this article, we will explore further into the world of bioentrepreneurship.
What is bioentrepreneurship?
Bioentrepreneurship is the development and commercialization of biotechnology products. Bioentrepreneurship is also referred to as life science entrepreneurship, bioscience enterprise, entrepreneurship in biotechnology, or biotechnology enterprise. Biotechnology is the manipulation of living systems, organisms, or parts of the organism to develop products and systems that are beneficial to humans. This is a technology that has been utilized throughout history, such as brewing and baking. These are traditional processes that usually utilize living organisms in their natural form. Modern biotechnology involves more sophisticated modification of biological systems or organisms. Biotechnology covers various disciplines such as genetics, biochemistry, and molecular biology that help sustain the environment, fight diseases, overcome hunger, or generate bio-based materials.
Bioentrepreneurship is a highly collaborative process that integrates science, medicine, technology, business, law, and marketing.
Some studies have found that the most successful startups consist of a professionally diverse team. A new bio-business typically starts when a scientist discovers an interesting pathway or mechanism from their research that is initially funded by government or foundation grants. This scientist will then file a disclosure through the university to start commercializing this discovery. He or she will then license the discovery to the university, find collaborators, and search for small business innovation research (SBIR) grants. At this point, this scientist has two choices: either leave the academic position to fully commit to this process or continue their position and develop the company on the side.
Although many biotech startups start with a scientist, a bioentrepreneur can be a non-scientist who is interested in bioscience entrepreneurship. A bioentrepreneur can be a physician, an executive from a pharmaceutical company, a sales representative from a biotech company, or an investment banker who identifies an opportunity for a new technology.
Entrepreneurship and academic productivity
In 2011, the National Science Foundation (NSF) created an accelerator program called I-Corps (TM) to support early ventures and discoveries in science and engineering. The I-Corps (TM) program offers experiential learning to innovators to learn startup principles and jump start the commercialization process. Since then, it has become the world’s largest and most successful startup acceleration of life science innovation. Following this success, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has modeled a similar program to “empower entrepreneurs in developing and validating a strategic business model through diverse customer discovery in order to meet unmet clinical needs.”
In recent years, interests in bioentrepreneurship have been on the rise at university campuses in hopes of increasing commercialization of scientific discoveries which in turn will create more jobs and generate more funding in university research. Although the I-Corps program at the NSF and the NIH showed great success, there is an ongoing debate on the impact of encouraging entrepreneurship at academic research institutions. Some argue that embracing entrepreneurship will foster technological advancement and economic growth. On the other hand, opponents are concerned that encouraging entrepreneurship will distract students and faculty from fundamental research. In 2017, a published article surveying 39 U.S. research universities with doctoral programs in science and engineering demonstrated that science and entrepreneurship can coexist within research universities without disrupting the fundamental research mission of these universities. Moreover, the job market in academia is extremely small and highly competitive. Therefore, encouraging entrepreneurship stimulates graduate students to consider a career in the bioentrepreneurial space.
Additionally, in a research article published in 2020, Duval-Couetil, Huang-Saad and Wheadon evaluated the NSF I-Corps (TM) Program on the impact of training faculty in entrepreneurship and innovation. They conducted 26 interviews with faculty innovators from three large public research institutions and found that the I-Corps (TM) program is positively rated by faculty innovators to enhance their entrepreneurial knowledge.
Life science innovations are happening all the time in research institutions. However, to find a real world use for these findings, they need to be commercialized and made available to the public. Of course, starting a biotech company is no simple task. A diverse team of experts is required to launch a successful venture. Furthermore, biotech companies face more regulatory hurdles and take longer for a return on investment. But don't let that deter you from pursuing a career in bioentrepreneurship. Because at the end of the day, the goal is to better society by bringing innovations to healthcare and beyond. Are you a trainee that has an idea for a biotech startup? Consider joining Enventure's pre-accelerator "Bioventures". Find out more at https://www.enventure.org/category/bioventures.
Written by Thu Duong, B.S., Ph.D. candidate
Edited by Jeffrey Kim, B.S., Ph.D. candidate
This article is for information purposes only.
This article was written in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.
11. https://www.nature.com/articles/bioent831 - Paths to entrepreneurship in the life sciences
12. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ufe4oiZPew - Stanford University - 21. Entrepreneurship in the Life Sciences
13. https://nuclineers.com/whats-bioentrepreneurship/ - What is bioentrepreneurship
14. https://vimeo.com/17875916 - Overview of biobusiness