Why and How Innovators are Leaving Academia for Industry

Courtesy Getty Images

Courtesy Getty Images

Many researchers have found it necessary to transition from academia to industry to bring their therapeutic visions to fruition, but this change can be quite the culture shock.

Courtesy Getty Images

Many researchers have found it necessary to transition from academia to industry to bring their therapeutic visions to fruition, but this change can be quite the culture shock.

Those who make the jump should be prepared to learn skills like marketing and sales. The change can be made easier, however, by focusing on the creative, outside-the-box thinking learned in the halls of academia.

BioSpace spoke to industry leaders who made the leap from academia to industry to find out what to expect during the transition and how academia can bridge the gap.

A Disconnect between Ideas and Entrepreneurship

While great scientific ideas are born in academia, there’s often little guidance on how to bring them to fruition.

Charles Ball, co-founder of Chronomics/Hurdle, said he had to consider leaving academia to make his company’s ideas a reality.

“Academic reception to the idea of epigenetic testing for personalized health was generally positive, with many researchers recognizing the potential for this approach to revolutionize healthcare,” Ball said. “However, as with any new and innovative technology, there were also some skeptics who were cautious about the potential limitations and uncertainties of this approach.”

Ultimately, Ball and his co-founders decided a move to industry was necessary to access the resources and expertise they required.

Chronomics isn’t alone in this realization. Other biopharma leaders have expressed frustration at the lack of support for healthcare innovation in academia.

Maya Said, Sc.D., founder and CEO of Outcomes4Me, also left academia to bring advanced scientific discoveries to the market.

“What gets in the way in academia is academia, “ she said. “Success in academia is getting published, and that mindset actually gets in the way of doing something that’s reproducible.”

She agreed that academia needs to bridge the gap between idea creation and entrepreneurship.

Making The Most Of Your Academic Background

For some, it’s tempting to be frustrated with the academic world, but would-be entrepreneurs should remember that the free flow of ideas in academia is what allowed their idea to percolate in the first place.

“It is this intersection of engineering and biology…that allows cross-pollination to happen very rapidly in ways that industry sometimes does not,” Said stated. While industry can be narrowly focused, academia encourages the kind of creativity that allows for the discovery of novel ideas, she said.

Joga Gobburu, co-founder and CEO of Pumas-AI and past director, division of pharmacometrics, Office of Clinical Pharmacology, went a step further. He said it’s possible to become an entrepreneur in academia.

As a professor with the School of Pharmacy and the School of Medicine, University of Maryland, Gobburu has one foot in both academia and industry.

“The beauty of this alliance between an academic setting and an entrepreneurial setting is that the university gives freedom to expand your horizons and find unexplored avenues for you to innovate,” Gobburu said.

He added that the time he spent working at the FDA helped create an entrepreneurial mindset that came in handy when the time came to launch his company.

“When you work for a company, there’s a mandate for the organization and I have to adhere to that mandate. University gives you freedom in ways that are different from industry,” he said.

When you make the leap to industry, make sure you leverage all the transferable skills you’ve learned in academia to be successful.

How to Make the Move to Industry

It takes more than a great idea to succeed on the industry side. You will likely need to call on skills you never needed to use on the academic side.

“[Asking] ‘why’ isn’t enough, “ said Dr. Ken Gruber, founder of Endevica Bio, a biotech that develops therapeutic treatments for cachexia. “You have to have a solution that will make your company commercially viable.”

If you’re looking to make the switch, consider these tips to smoothen the transition:

  • Do your research.

“Before making a move from academia to industry, it’s important to research the industry and gain a good understanding of the types of companies and opportunities available,” Ball said.

She suggested attending industry conferences, networking with industry professionals and researching relevant market trends.

  • Remember that rejection can be a blessing.

During his time at the FDA, Gobburu saw many rejected pharmaceutical treatments.

“(The FDA) has a wider, broader perspective on what could go wrong and what has gone wrong with other programs,” he said. “An individual company may or may not have the same depth of experience and knowledge. The FDA usually offers feedback because they want the company and their product to be as successful as it could be.”

  • Be prepared to work with non-scientists.

Gruber was initially the sole employee at his lab, and soon had to perfect his sales pitch to potential investors.

“I learned a lot of things as I went. The money I paid to a law firm was the best money I spent. Be prepared to work by yourself, learn how to talk to people outside the scientific realm and have your elevator pitch ready.”

  • Keep those academic behaviors.

“Recognize that there are parts of what you’ve learned that you will probably need to unlearn or adapt to,” Said explained. “However, also make sure that scientific rigor and upgrading you learned in academia that you won’t learn anywhere else. You can bring that to the industry. “