Whether you’ve had your PhD or MD for a short time or are already a seasoned professional in your field, you may have become enticed by the idea of a career in venture capital. There are hundreds of venture capital firms out there but many of them are fairly small and are interested in hiring only the best of the very best in their area of expertise. How do you prepare yourself to network into a venture capital firm that will find you to be the best candidate for the job?
There is no such thing as a “hot” field in which to earn your degree. You can have a degree in molecular biology, medicine, biochemistry or any number of areas in the life sciences. Venture capital firms are interested more in what you know and how well you’ll fit within the framework of their firm. If you’ve got your PhD in a field you’re passionate about, chances are good that your passion will be rewarded by a position with at least one VC firm out there.
While you may be published and well-respected in the world of academia, most VC firms are much more interested in your accomplishments in a real world setting. In some cases, it may be that you need to take the time to show your expertise at one of the larger biopharmaceutical companies before checking out the various VC firms. Your track record of outstanding accomplishments at a major BioPharma firm will be looked upon as more important than any academic accomplishments you’ve had.
One way to get your foot in the door is by applying for a Fellowship at the Kauffman Foundation (www.kauffmanfellows.org). Committed to supporting entrepreneurship, the Kauffman Foundation awards two-year fellowships to promising individuals who embrace the entrepreneurial spirit of the foundation and who have demonstrated skills in entrepreneurship and venture capital. The recipients receive paid positions for two years at various venture capital firms who agree to hire them. When the two-year time frame has expired, the VC firm has the option of hiring the candidate as a regular employee or letting the fellowship expire. Many VC firms find Kauffman Fellows very attractive because they truly represent the best in their fields and can be “hired” on a two-year trial basis without establishing a commitment that may or may not be successful.
If you happen to be young and without much industry experience, attending a business school and getting a postgraduate degree in business will help you get a feel for business and specifically for entrepreneurship. Some schools such as Stanford Business School strongly emphasize entrepreneurship while others may not be suitable for you if that’s your area of interest. As another option for those interested in a crash course in entrepreneurship, the Stanford Business School also offers the Summer Institute for Entrepreneurship, a month-long course that is similar to their longer program. The course involves input from professionals in the field and uses the formation of teams working together to solve design and implementation issues in the areas of biotechnical products or pharmaceuticals.
Besides Stanford, my alma mater, I know of several other business schools that also provide means for students to learn how to become active in the VC industry through ongoing educational programs, fellowships or competitions:
- The Harvard School of Business has, within its walls, the Arthur Rock Center for Entrepreneurship, which offers courses in starting new businesses and entrepreneurship.
- Wharton Business School offers a summer institute in business and technology-a four week program focusing on venture capital and offering site visits to companies and lectures from experts in the field.<
- Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth has a Center for Private Equity and Entrepreneurship that has limited coursework in entrepreneurship but is active in research.
- Haas Business School in Berkley offers the Lester Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation in which potential students can specialize in Entrepreneurship. It also offers summer internships and fellowships in entrepreneurship.
- UCLA contains The Harold and Pauline Price Center for Entrepreneurship, which offers coursework in entrepreneurship and holds an annual Knapp Venture Competition, which promotes new ideas to teams of students who agree to participate in the competition.
While real world experience in the industry probably carries the most weight, an MBA will also be seen as a positive. It shows you have business sense and an interest in the business side of venture capital. As mentioned above, the school you go to is fairly important. For example, if you attend a prestigious school of business, the VC firm will know that you’ve already been “pre-screened” by a school that takes the best of all candidates.
Another route to take, especially if you’re still in school, is to make use of any coursework that emphasizes entrepreneurship to its technical students. You’ll not only gather important knowledge and skills, but you’ll be able to ascertain the genuineness of your interest in innovation and design. Stanford University offers several great options for interested entrepreneurs (http://www.stanford.edu/group/biodesign/courses.html) that range from rapid prototyping to writing your own business plan. The most sought after course is the two quarter Biodesign Innovation Program. This is an immersion course where teams of students composed of graduate students in engineers, medicine, and business are taught the process of taking a concept from clinical need all the way to realization of the product. Students are lectured by entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, clinical regulatory consultants, IP attorneys and other experts in the field. Teams are designed to represent the broadest possible range of skills and interests, not unlike that found in real medical technology start-ups.
If you’re young and willing to take risks, you may wish to get your feet wet by working with a portfolio company. These are privately-owned companies in the very early stages of development. They often receive their start up money from venture capital firms. The stability and guarantees made by a portfolio are shaky, but a young person just starting out probably should consider taking the risk.
The most important thing that VC firms look at, and which should be looked at by you, is whether or not you possess a set of skills that involves the knowledge of not only the basic sciences, but of areas like regulatory issues, intellectual property, and the business side of the BioPharma industry. VC corporations want to know if you have the capability look at a concept and take it through the process of development, knowing that you’ll be doing it with a small group of people who have the collective skills to be successful in the VC industry.
Lisa Sproul Hoverman, PhD has a BS from Carlow University and a graduate degree from the University of Pittsburgh on the kinetics of Kinesin motor proteins. In her Postdoc at Penn State University, she examined the kinetics of DNA polymerases. She has since formed her own company in scientific and medical writing services. Dr. Hoverman’s largest long-term Client is the Microsoft Health Solutions Group where she serves as one of three Senior Grant and Proposal Specialists as part of the Business Desk in Sales.
Copyright Lisa Sproul Hoverman, PhD
Published with permission