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Dominique's Desk: The players in your entrepreneurial orbit

Dominique Pahud

The diverse ecosystem of entrepreneurship is exciting. But it can also be overwhelming, given the many stakeholders an early-stage entrepreneur interacts with during the first few years alone. Let's walk in the shoes of Claudia, a fictitious early-stage entrepreneur, to give us a sense of the players an entrepreneur is likely to encounter.

Claudia is finishing her post-doc work at a prestigious institution. She faces a number of options in choosing her next step. Claudia has been offered an assistant professor role at her current institution, as well as an opportunity to work for industry. Instead, she decides to start a business around the science she worked on with her mentor. But because of the uncertainty around the entrepreneurial path -- from long, irregular hours to unsteady pay to the possibility of failure -- Claudia's first discussion is with her spouse. Tension is likely for an entrepreneur who doesn't get buy-in from her family.

With her spouse's blessing, Claudia works to further develop her science, which is a new medicine for Alzheimer's disease. She's working in the lab of a senior professor and the two agree to start the company together. But questions abound. Is this faculty sponsor the right mentor in terms of the science? What kind of role will he take on? Will he be a co-founder, a mentor, or an adviser? What kind of equity position does he want? What are his expectations? Can he help Claudia negotiate with the tech transfer office? (Licensing the IP from the university will be one of Claudia's first steps -- and she'll revisit IP later as her company grows.)

The next step for Claudia is building her team. Who will be her cofounder(s) and who will make up those key first hires? What are the skill sets she needs to further develop her science? For Claudia, these players could be a chemist, a pharmacologist, a clinician, or even a businessperson. Once the company scores a few early wins, likely around proof of concept, it's time for a founders' agreement. That brings another player into the fold: a lawyer. He'll help with issues like equity splits, incorporation, and plans for founder exits.

At the same time, Claudia needs to cultivate relationships with mentors around the science she's working on. Who are the key opinion leaders in Alzheimer's? Who has insight in an area where Claudia isn't quite as strong? By bringing these players together, Claudia is developing her advisory board. Around this time, Claudia also needs to develop her company's board. Usually made up of about three to five people, the board includes the entrepreneur, key investors, and independent advisers who understand the complexities of launching Claudia's company.

After seeking early-stage funding from government and disease foundation grants, Claudia has since shifted her efforts to angels. Some of these early investors will be the advisers she consulted as her business grew. With proof of concept, Claudia has the leverage to reach out for more capital from venture capital firms and strategics, industry players that put funds together to invest in early-stage companies. (These investments may represent in-licensing opportunities or acquisition opportunities although this is not always the case.)

And finally, it's on to another lawyer, this one specializing in intellectual property. With a few more successes around her science, it's time for Claudia to seek out an IP lawyer with an in-depth knowledge of the space, someone who understands the competitive landscape.

The players in Claudia's orbit are important to her company's success. Coming soon on eMed, we'll address each of these players, offering tips and ideas for early-stage life science and digital health entrepreneurs.

Dominique


Dominique Pahud

Director of Innovation and Networks

Kauffman Foundation

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