From Academia to Business – Myths & Opportunities

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At the beginning of this year we moved the focus of the Career Events for Life Scientists that we co-organise with the student representatives of the IPP toward the world of business and start-ups. You hear about business-related jobs and you think about money. Businessmen who try to make more money, sales representatives who need to sell as much as they can and get that big end-of-the-year bonus, entrepreneurs who want to earn money and work independently. But is it really all about that? Our 3 events helped us to gain a new perspective into the world of entrepreneurship and sales and showed us that money is not their gravitational center.

Venture capitalism & support to biotech start-ups
Dr Holger Reithinger joined us on 21 January to talk about how he left academia to become a venture capitalist. Always doing more than what the teachers would assign him and having broader interests than just the ones dictated by his scientific research, he realised that an academic job would have not been the right fit for him. This is why, after his PhD in Biochemistry at the Max Planck Institute he became a Product Manager in a biotech company. Currently he is working at Forbion, a venture capital firm that supports different biotech start-ups, where he has been for the past 10 years.

What is Venture Capitalism? In a nutshell, venture capitals are capitals invested into private enterprises in order to increase the company value, especially in the case of very high-risk, fast-growing (or never to become profitable) businesses. This is a way to take risks associated with the launching of a start-up off the shoulders of scientists who found such enterprises. A venture capitalist selects companies where funders providing venture capitals should be invested.

Ina venture capital firm there are usually different hierarchical levels, which entail different responsibilities and involvement in the portfolio of the firm. At the entry level, PhD or MD holders with solid scientific backgrounds act as analysts. At mid-level, if you like the job and the environment, you can stay in the company and you start investing in the same funds as the company’s investors. Top-level partners have a more active role in finding investors and make investments on their own, also outside of the company’s portfolio.  It is also possible to do an internship (paid!), to get acquainted with the working environment.

The take-home message from Dr Reithinger’s career talk teaches us that we need taking informed decisions about our career, or someone else will “choose” for us.

Entrepreneurship for scientists
An example of a scientist who decided to find solutions for common problems is Prateek Mahalwar, who had already visited us last Summer to talk about careers in consulting firms. From the PhD to consulting, from consulting to entrepreneurship; Prateek co-founded 2 start-ups that bring him to share his time between Frankfurt, Berlin and Amsterdam. When he can, Prateek also shares what he has learnt with other young scientists. On 17 February he came to Mainz to teach a group of early career researchers how to identify business customers, how to develop your start-up idea and how to pitch it to find investors to support your enterprise.



Sales positions in biotech & pharma industry
Another career path that is often seen as favourite by those with an affinity for money is the one leading toward sales positions. There are many different names for these kinds of positions, depending on the company. At New England Biolabs it is called Scientific Field Service. Andrea Fettermann has been in that position for 7 years now, and is still happy about her job. After studying in Mainz and doing a PhD in Vienna, she knew she didn’t want to be an academic but still wanted to do something that keeps her close to science and at contact with people. With her job at NEB, Andrea regularly talks to scientists about new technologies and solutions for their research, regularly reads papers and stays updated about the latest technologies. Her job is of course also customer orientated and involves talking to people and travelling 3-4 days a week. As she told us during her talk on 18 February, you can feel like “a lone wolf”, but you can always talk with your colleagues to exchange information and news. The organisational hierarchy and the career development opportunities might not be the same in all companies, but for Andrea this job is the right fit: getting to talk to people about science and offering to her customers the right solutions for their own experiments. And as for the myth of the “if you don’t reach the quote of customers and sales you don’t get the salary”, it is again highly depending on the company philosophy. Some employers, due to the solid base of loyal customers acquired and maintained thanks to their products, don’t put such kind of pressure on their “sales reps”.


Personally, after listening to the recent career talks, I still don’t think I would be the right fit for a sales position of for a job in the world of biotech business. Nevertheless, the last career events were eye opening and helped me to see differently a world that was previously mystical and exotic. I hope that the other participants could also take home a new perspective, besides useful information to choose what career path to take. My take home message is Dr Reithinger’s “If you don’t design your career, someone else will!”.

Thanks to all speakers, the participants and the Gutenberg Nachwuchs Kolleg for their financial support. See you all in the Summer semester!


Written by Chiara Galante; Edited by Radhika Menon. Featured Image: NGC/Design.
We thank the Gutenberg Nachwuchs Kolleg from Mainz University for the financial support in organizing these events.

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