Part time or contract work for scientists  


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February 27, 2019 7:21 pm  

I'm in the process of founding a company of my own, and I underestimated how long the process of actually getting started would take.  Securing the IP and additional issues are taking a long time, and there's not a whole lot that I can do to speed it up.  The other founders of the company, who work in clinical development or commercial or BD, are able to take full time positions and work on a startup on the side; they have been in the open about that and employers have had no problem with it.  However, this is not really an option for a scientist from what I've seen, and so I've just been waiting.  And, unfortunately, I don't have a trust fund at my disposal, and a salary would be quite nice!

I've managed to do a handful of consulting gigs, but consulting for preclinical or discovery work is hard to come by, and this has been spotty at best.

I've been talking to VC firms to at least make initial contact to get funding for my endeavor, and I think I could be a great VC analyst while I start my own company (and I think this is quite common), but these jobs are not materializing for me.

So, any ideas for someone who has significant industry experience, can be useful to someone while I work on a new company at the same time, or even just until that new company is up and running?  I've considered Uber, so I'm really OK with anything.

Dave Jensen
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February 28, 2019 12:51 am  

Hi Ken,

Thanks for being here, and that's a great question. As you know from talking to other entrepreneurs, this is likely to be one of the toughest things you've ever done. I hope Dr. Dick Woodward, one of our advisors, sees this post and comes in to comment. He's started several companies and is doing exactly what you're doing -- starting another one -- right now. 

Everyone needs to have a steam of income, not many of us have trust funds. I admire your courage. There's got to be something in your background and experience which would be "marketable" as a service you provide to others. Your skills at the VC, for example -- yes, you may be able to take the first pass on all proposals they get in your area of expertise and offer them some valuable feedback on the viability factor. Or, offering your services to other firms of the sort you used to work for before setting off to be an entrepreneur. Do you have a special niche you were always really good at -- something that could be "de-bundled" from the R&D process and outsourced to you, as a consultant? Perhaps you were really good at working with statistics and data. If that's the case, than that skill would be useful in other areas. Insurance companies, larger consulting firms, and so on . . . I don't know if these "expert" websites work -- where you register as an expert on a given topic and they send you hourly work when they are contracted in that niche. But I know some people make at least a little bit of income from those streams.

I hope others will put some ideas in here. Thanks Ken for participating. 


Dave Jensen, Founder and Moderator
Bio Careers Forum

Dick Woodward
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February 28, 2019 4:24 pm  


Dave has given you some pretty good advice. The VC advisor role is an interesting one, but perhaps not that simple to find. Certainly it is worth an inquiry as you look for the early-stage funding for your company. Consulting is also a good possibility - especially if you can find a niche where you are very good and the work can be outsourced to you. Please understand, however, that marketing your consulting skills is a full-time job.

I am a bit curious about your co-founders - what are their roles in the company, and how is it that they are able to maintain full-time jobs when you (apparently) were unable to do so? I would have thought that the BD person would be an asset in raising funds.

Dave mentioned the "expert" networks - I have been a member of a couple of these, but they tend to offer one-off telephone consultations generally lasting about an hour. These are nice sources of extra spending money, but not a steady income. An additional issue is that there appears to be a "race to the bottom" in terms of compensation. An example - there is one network that, when I signed up, I suggested a rate well above my usual consulting rate and they told me to increase it by half. That worked well for a while, but now they are suggesting that my rate should be 1/2 to 1/3 of the original rate that I suggested.

Contract work tends to be through the temp agencies, and is usually for 8-hour days for a significant period of time. Part-time work is not all that common; however, at one of the start-ups I was involved in, I think that we had a part-time chemist - he may have been pursuing a side project that was not our direct thrust. You may wish to do a little networking to see if you can find such an opportunity. An additional advantage of this approach is that it lets you have an inside view into the issues that start-up companies face. Just don't work for one that will compete with the company that you are trying to form - you will be asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement, and quite possibly a non-compete as well. It may be to your advantage to explain to the company that you are starting a company, but a) that it does not compete with theirs and b) that you will promise them some reasonable amount of time that you will work there. If they are satisfied with your work, they might even provide introductions to a funding source.

Finally, when dealing with VCs, it is always best to have an introduction from someone that they know and trust - this will give your information a better chance of being reviewed.

I hope that this is helpful - I wish you the best of luck.


Dave Jensen liked
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March 4, 2019 4:34 pm  

Thanks for the advice.  To clarify, we aren't even in the VC fundraising part yet.  Still in contracting to get the company started, and as such, the VC firms aren't really taking us seriously yet.  So, I'm currently trying to make ends meet for months while we are even getting going before I know how fundraising is going to go.  Everyone involved is confident that we will be fine in the long run, but no one knows what "long" means here.  If I knew there was a date I had to make it to, I'd probably be fine.

There seems to be a distinct difference between being in directly involved in the science vs every other role; in one case, I was brought in to interview for a research role at the very company that one of the other founders is currently working full time (with the blessing of the company to work on this on the side), but this dual role was a non-starter for someone in research.  We never got any further than that in the discussion. And, in the meantime I've been turning down full time roles that a few years ago would have been dream jobs for me.

I guess I understand that bringing a researcher on board and getting them to be usefully involved in projects is a longer lead time than, say, commercial folks and therefore more of a long term investment that a company might not be willing to take on if they think you'd be leaving in a year.

I'm not looking to recapitulate my full time salary, just trying to extend my runway to getting started!  I'm comfortable with losing money more slowly than I currently am!  I tried the "expert" websites, but as noted, it's just not worth it.  The amounts being offered are less than half of my usual consulting fee, and too sporadic to be of much use.

I'd hate to abandon what I genuinely believe to be a life saving therapeutic platform because I can't make ends meet, but that's the reality.

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March 19, 2019 2:18 pm  

While being in between salary checks in one of my start up situations I did some IP work for a research group in one of the larger universities around here. This was intended to be a short term project and the timing was good for me as well. I got that assignement through my network that were aware of the situation.

Having said that I am not sure what is taking so long. Actually starting a Company shouldnt take that long assuming that you have starting funds or whatever might be needed. A legal agreement between founders about ownership, responsibilities, roles in the Company etc should also be relatively quick.  That leaves the IP agreement that transfer the IP rights to the Company in return for something (usually shares in the company) and I can see that requiring some discussions but it is also something that has been done lots of times before and with some focus it shouldnt take weeks/months.

Make sure that you dont get stuck in the trap that you are the only one fully commited to the company while everybody else has it as their side business. I know that you might not need everyone fill time all the time but in this phase my guess would be that if anything you need BD full time. While putting an effort into getting the agreements in place you should be networking with potential investors, preparing presentations and other demo material, building or working your network of ley opinion leaders that can help you sell the idea to investors initially and customers in the long run etc.