Yale’s Business of Biotech series has seen growing interest from graduate students and postdocs looking to explore career opportunities outside of academia.
Erika Smith, Director of the Blavatnik Fund for Innovation at Yale who helped develop the series, says: “This was conceived as a way to connect Yale students in the sciences with experts in the pharmaceutical, biotech, and investment industries—to give them insight into the many career options available to them, from starting their own companies to evaluating other startups, to consulting.”
Each month, speakers are invited to share their experiences in startup formation, finding funding, networking, patenting and other key business development issues, followed by a lively question-and-answer and networking session. Speakers have included Jason Hafler, Senior Director of Investments and Principal at Sanofi-Genzyme BioVentures; Susan Froshauer, President and CEO of Connecticut United for Research Excellence, Angela Shen, CMO of Arvinas Inc. and Manon Cox, President and CEO of Protein Sciences Corporation.
Yale students pursuing their PhDs are increasingly interested in non-traditional career paths but are not taught via their coursework the skills they need to start their own companies or how to evaluate startups. Business of Biotech allows them to develop the skills they’ll need to transition to industry—like negotiation, pitching, building a team and networking—and to ask questions.
“The opportunity to interact with industry experts from diverse fields is very valuable,” says Yale postdoctoral candidate Anand Narayanan. He was inspired by the story of speaker Milind Deshpande, CEO of Achillion, calling it “a great example of how a bench scientist can lead a pharmaceutical company.” Narayanan added that Angela Shen of Arvinas shared important insights into how to “adapt according to the challenges and demands of the field and how to maintain a work-life balance.”
The workshop series launched last year at the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute where there was high demand for the limited 50 slots. Since September, the series has used space at Alexion’s headquarters, which has allowed organizers to expand the program’s reach—with over 500 people having registered as of January 2017, many of them grad students, postdocs and faculty.
“There’s tremendous value in connecting innovative scientists to new opportunities and resources for growth,” says Elizabeth Sullivan, Senior Director, R&D Operations at Alexion.
Echoing that point, Erika Hoyos-Ramirez, a Postdoctoral Associate in Cellular Neuroscience at Yale, notes that Business of Biotech has not only been valuable in allowing her “to explore different career paths for a PhD in the biomedical sciences” but also “the opportunity for networking with prominent people in their field.”
Robert Fernandez, a Yale PhD student in the department of molecular biophysics and biochemistry, is one of the student organizers for the series along with Mary Burke, a PhD student in neurobiology. “As a graduate student interested in a career in industry, but who doesn’t have a clear path of how to get there, the Business of Biotech series has been very helpful,” Fernandez says. “Attending this lecture series has shown me that there are several routes to industry—not just one defined path.”