Incubators Offer Staffing Support for Startups

Incubators

Pictured: An illustration of scientists at work at adjacent laboratories/iStock, Golden Sikorka

A company can develop innovative technology, but unless it has the right people in the right roles, it may not make it.

A lot of early-stage, academically oriented companies struggle with hiring, Mimi Hancock, managing director of executive mentorship at QB3’s Bakar Labs incubator at the University of California, Berkeley, told BioSpace. They don’t know who they should hire or when they should hire them.

“One of the best pieces of advice we can give them is that no one person can do it all,” Hancock said. “You need a great team.” Incubators can support biotech startups in hiring and staffing through networking, tapping into readily available talent pools and helping them fill executive roles and boards of directors.

Building a Network

For the most part, startups begin to assemble the right team through talking to people about who they need or think they might need to build their company, said Hancock. “My experience has been that of the best ways to find people is to work your network.”

To help early-stage companies build their networks, some incubators hold events that let resident startups and job seekers get to know each other. “The idea is that through these events, there would be informal matching of early-stage companies with potential employees,” Glennis Mehra, site director of BioLabs@NYULangone, told BioSpace

For example, BioLabs recently hosted a panel discussion for 70 graduate students and postdoctoral fellows from Columbia University. Along with people who work within BioLabs, an incubator for life sciences startups, the founders shared their experiences and how they chose their career paths.

Panels and networking events also introduce new graduates to the idea of working for an early-stage company as a career option. They don’t often consider startups, Mehra explained; they are mostly focused on continuing in academia.

“When I came out of Columbia University, I did not think about working in biotech,” said Mehra. “We were all very much in tune with doing postdocs and becoming faculty members somewhere. Using our PhD outside of that program was not something that was top of mind.”

Incubators can also foster network building outside of these dedicated events. Joshua Lachter, a co-founder and chief business officer at Synonym, a New York City-based startup housed at BioLabs, told BioSpace. “The people you meet at happy hours or in the lunchroom are interested in biotech,” he said. “Being around people who are in it with us is really beneficial.”

Proximity to Potential Hires

The location of an incubator can benefit startups as they build their team. QB3, a life sciences and entrepreneurship hub, is located on three campuses in the UC system—Berkeley, Santa Cruz and San Francisco—so it is right beside that huge talent pool, Kaspar Mossman, managing director at QB3, told BioSpace.

About two years ago, the state of California granted UC Berkeley and other science and innovations institutes in the state $20 million , Mossman said. The university used that money to develop the QB3 Workforce Education for bioScience and bioTechnology (QWEST) internship program

The internships with companies in Bakar Labs, QB3’s newest incubator, are currently offered to students at UC Berkeley. “Last year we had 12 interns over the summer and into the fall, and four of them were offered jobs with their host companies,” said Mossman. “This summer we have 14 interns.”

Bakar Labs
QB3’s Bakar Labs

UC Berkeley has talented undergrads who already have lab skills, and these companies are interested both in getting help and in giving the students work experience, Mossman explained. “Companies enjoy having these positive, young people around, and they train them to be the kind of employee they want, and it is paid for by the state.”

Nupur Sinha, director of people operations at Mekonos, a biotech company that recently moved on from Bakar Labs, said her company was fortunate to work with an intern through the QWEST program. That intern, Nathan Pellini, is now part of the company’s systems integration team and helps to build internal prototypes. “We are happy not just with Nate’s contributions, but with how simple QWEST made it to bring him on board and for helping with some necessary training,” Sinha told BioSpace in an email.

QB3 is actively looking to expand on the QWEST model, Mossman said. “We are currently in discussion with the San Francisco Office of Economic and Workforce Development about them perhaps sponsoring some internship.”

Executive Mentorship

In addition to hands-on scientific staffers, startups need guidance as they build out their executive positions and boards. Most of QB3’s companies are founded by scientists without much business experience, Mossman said. Now they want to make themselves attractive to investors to maximize their companies’ chances of success, and to do that, they need to bring on high-level employees.

Kaspar Mossman
Kaspar Mossman

“They need board members who know their industry and can give them executive guidance,” Mossman explained.

QB3 helps in that endeavor. For example, Mimi Hancock, Bakar Lab’s director of executive mentorship, talks to companies about what they need and will make introductions with experienced biotech executives from whom these startups can learn. “We have a panel of mentors who have volunteered their time, and we will try and match mentors with companies depending on their need,” Hancock told BioSpace.

Perhaps the most important thing incubators or startups can do is get know a candidate. Small companies are like families, said Hancock. The person has to have the right skill set, of course, but also get along well with existing employees.

“If it is not a good personality fit, it can be very destructive and time consuming,” Hancock said. 

Charlotte LoBuono is a freelance science writer based in New Jersey. Reach her at lobuono2@verizon.net.

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