Why Join a Biotech Startup?
By Kira Medish, LinkedIn Bio
Over the last half century, the field of biotechnology has transformed numerous industries—most notably healthcare, agriculture, and environmental conservation. With its incredible potential to address global challenges, it is no wonder that entrepreneurs and researchers alike are increasingly drawn to the idea of establishing their own biotechnology companies. In this post, we explore our perspectives on the key processes involved in launching and sustaining a biotech company creation.
Entrepreneurs and professionals in the life sciences industry face several career choices that demand a hard decision: entering the pharmaceutical industry, embracing a life in research, or risking a career in the biotechnology start-up environment with no promise for pay-off.
Biotech startups offer a potential for innovation and cutting-edge scientific advancement that potentially results in diagnostics, devices, or medicines entering the commercial world. Creating a biotech company can be an exciting and rewarding journey. It is one that requires detailed planning and due diligence, collaboration, as well as a deep understanding of industry dynamics. Identifying a niche, securing funding, navigating regulations, protecting IP, and forming strategic partnerships are key elements of success. By combining scientific advancements with entrepreneurial skills, biotech entrepreneurs can make a profound impact on both medicine and society.
Moreover, there are many professional and personal perks to working in a biotech startup. To list a few: greater opportunity for career development and accelerated trajectory for career advancement; a smaller, more streamlined, business model and thus less bureaucracy; and an unmatched potential for outsized financial returns. While biotech startups come with a number of inherent risks, successful ventures generally result in significant financial returns. As startups progress through research and development stages, fundraising, and shepherding products or therapies to market, the value of the company can increase substantially. Joining a promising startup early on can offer the opportunity to become a key stakeholder, and thus benefit from the financial rewards that come with growth and success.
We spoke with Erin Fleming, co-founder of biotech start-up ProJenX, to hear about what the “every day” looks like at a biotech as well as hear about her personal experience navigating the industry. Erin previously worked in the not-for-profit sector, making the switch to the start-up world only two years ago. While she did emphasize the demanding and often time-sensitive nature of the work, Fleming shared how “having a role in creating a company’s culture and how that company will grow” was a unique and alluring component of creating a new biotech venture.
While the biotech startup industry may offer a unique and rewarding career path, pursuing a career in the pharmaceutical industry may also offer advantages. Pharmaceutical companies often have access to significant financial resources, state-of-the-art laboratories, and established manufacturing facilities, allowing for efficient drug development and production. They also have established regulatory processes including strong relationships with regulatory agencies, ensuring smoother navigation through complex regulatory frameworks. Moreover, pharmaceutical companies have well-established distribution networks and global market presence, facilitating the commercialization and widespread distribution of drugs. Although a career in pharmaceuticals is dependable and often lucrative, there are some potential disadvantages associated with working in this sector. For example, the industry offers little scope in workstreams and skillsets; generally, has a larger company size with many layers of management; and frequently breeds a high-pressure corporate culture. Moreover, the larger company size calls for established processes which can make work and projects move more slowly because of corporate red tape; and, for a similar reason, career growth tends to be slower as well.
To gain better insight into the mental calculus that goes into an individual’s career decision, we had a conversation with a scientific researcher who has been working for a pharmaceutical biotechnology company for the last 8 years. He emphasized the financial security that working for a pharma company provides and noted that there are opportunities to change roles and be promoted within his company. He feels this would be less feasible within a biotech start-up. He shared that he could see himself joining a biotech start up “…if I trusted the scientific leadership and [the science itself] excited me….” Nevertheless, although the idea of a biotech start-up sounds and often looks attractive, there always remains the risk that science cannot support the concept which is a risk not everyone is willing to make. 
Deciding between the pharmaceutical industry and a biotech startup requires careful consideration of personal aspirations, risk tolerance, and desired work environment. The pharmaceutical industry offers stability, established infrastructure, and a wider range of career options. In contrast, biotech startups provide opportunities for innovation, impact, faster career development, and the potential for higher financial rewards. Moreover, Fleming noted that there is significant value to be gained by working at a very small company in your early career because one “learns on [their] feet” and gets a “holistic sense of how things operate.” Thankfully, the biotech ecosystem offers a very wide variety of career choices and opportunities. Ultimately, the choice depends on individual preferences, professional goals, and the desire to either work within an established system or shape the future through entrepreneurial ventures.
 A clinical-stage biotechnology company developing novel, brain-penetrant, targeted therapies to address debilitating brain diseases, with an initial focus on ALS.
 Conversation between Jonathan Cruz, Principal Scientist at Regeneron, and Kira Medish. July 7th, 2023.
This post was prepared in good faith by MEC in August 2023 based on information from sources that are believed to be reliable. The contents herein contain a description of an investment made by MEC. References to any investment included herein should not be construed as a recommendation of any particular investment or security. Specific investments identified or described do not represent all of the investments completed by MEC, and the reader should not assume that the transactions discussed were or will be profitable. It should not be assumed that investments made in the future will be comparable in quality or performance to the investment described herein.