The short answer? No. Science and research startups aren’t all that different from other businesses. While—at heart, scientists and researchers want their work to just be about the science and the data—in most respects, the same thing that is true for all other businesses is true for them: they need money to survive. If you’re a research scientist who has been thinking about striking out on his (or her!) own, here are some tips that you can use to help increase your chances of success:
1. Learn to Deal With People
Labs are wonderful and safe spaces for the introverted. If you want to attract funding, though, and you want people to pay attention to what you’re doing, you need to be prepared to step out from behind the scope and talk to people. This means attending networking events and doing some marketing. It means introducing yourself to strangers. Most importantly, it means finding a way to talk about what you’re doing in a way that the non-science-oriented will not just understand but will find exciting. If you aren’t super comfortable doing that, you need to partner up with someone who can do those things and you need to be okay with that person being the “face” of your lab.
2. Go After the Good Money
In a guest post for OnStartups.com, Ty Danco says that one of the most important things you need to understand is that there is good money and not so good money. You will be tempted to accept funding from the lowest hanging fruit you can find but resist that urge! People pay attention to the money. It is better to get a little funding from a prestigious investor than a lot of money from someone nobody cares about or, worse, that people actively disrespect. When you get money from the “good” investors, that is the equivalent of being endorsed by them. Those endorsements can lead to more grants and more respect—from outside and inside your field.
3. Save Your Ego, Start Small
It’s easy to look at your project and to be absolutely sure that you are The Next Big Thing. There is value, though, in staying small—especially as a startup. For one thing, if you try to do too much too fast you’ll burn out. Plus, many of the larger labs and biotech firms are starting to outsource their work to smaller and independent labs and firms. It’s happening all over the pharmaceutical industry. By keeping yourself small while still innovating, you attract the attention of the “big kids” who are in need to brilliance but can’t afford to hire it directly.
4. Let Yourself Grow
This is going to seem contradictory to what we just said about staying small but it’s still important. Forcing yourself to stay in your tiny cramped lab (that you might even be sharing with a couple of other startups to save money) is going to hinder a lot of your progress. There is no shame in growing and building labs of your own. And, these days, building a bigger lab doesn’t necessarily mean having to shell out for brand new equipment and starting all over. There are lab moving companies that will safely relocate your equipment to a better space. This allows you to build on what you already have instead of risking all of your grant money on new equipment costs.
As you can see the basic principles of entrepreneurship: marketing, attracting good investors, retaining independence and not being afraid to grow are the same in science as they are in other areas of business. Have you recently started up your own research lab? What tips do you have for scientists who want to strike out on their own?