From Lab to business: Transforming research prowess into entrepreneurial gold

Swapping lab gear for a business hat. This blog post explores the possible shift when research turns into a wild ride of entrepreneurial possibilities beyond the lab's rules.
From Lab to business: Transforming research prowess into entrepreneurial gold


Over the past two decades, I've been knee-deep in immunology, molecular, and cellular biology. From the excitement of fundamental discoveries to the nitty-gritty of clinical trials, my journey took a turn when I started juggling roles as a researcher and program manager. Suddenly, a whole new world opened up—one where the stuff we cook up in the lab could make a real impact out there. As things started falling into place, a lightbulb moment hit: You know that itch to do more, to steer the ship of scientific progress by your "own rules," not just following some organization's agenda. Yes, that hit me too... it clicked that this goldmine of potential is waiting to be unleashed, and it has to be expressed in a way that feels right for me.

And here's the thing—they don't teach us this in the lab or in our curriculum at the university. No one hands you a manual on how to turn your groundbreaking research into a full-blown entrepreneurial venture. It's like, "Here's your pipette, and good luck figuring out the business side of things." Navigating the world of entrepreneurship as a scientist? That's a skill you have to learn on the fly.

Suddenly, you're not just wearing the lab coat, planning experiments and managing scientific projects or programs; you're like an explorer in a brand-new world. You have the science expertise to make things happen and that go-getter entrepreneurial vibe to ride the highs and lows. It's a bit of a crazy ride, but no one promised that changing the whole game would be a walk in the park.

Right then, with the help of mentors, great minds who have this self-taught business background, the whole entrepreneurship thing started brewing. The plan was crystal clear—carve out a path where my research wasn't controlled by an institutional rule book but fueled by a genuine passion for making an impact, no strings attached. It isn't just about teaming up with anyone; it was about throwing open the collaboration doors to different fields, saying goodbye to the handcuffs of institutional bureaucracy, and putting all that brainpower into projects that really spoke to me. The goal? Paint a picture where my research and data solutions for scientists don't just fill up textbooks but spark some real change out there.

Entrepreneurship for Researchers

Jumping from the lab to starting your own thing isn't some blind leap of faith. It's more like a purposeful journey that turns our nerdy research skills into business savvy. As researchers, we are curious and familiar with uncertainty. Research is all about dealing with the unknown, testing hypotheses, and adapting to unexpected results. In the entrepreneurial landscape, where change is constant and challenges are inevitable, this adaptability is priceless. It's not just about surviving; it's about thriving in an environment that constantly evolves.

Entrepreneurship for researchers isn't just about creating startups; it's about translating innovation into impact. We're not just building businesses; we're shaping industries and pushing the boundaries of what's possible. It's a journey where the meticulousness of a researcher meets the audacity of a business owners.

The Myth: Entrepreneurship is just for industry and not for researchers in academia

So, there's this myth floating around like an urban legend that entrepreneurship is strictly for the suit-and-tie industry folks, not for the brainy lab-based scientists like us. Why should the industry folks have all the entrepreneurial fun? We've got the brains, the curiosity, and the passion to shake things up. It's not about leaving the lab behind; it's about expanding the lab's impact into the real world. And you know what? The best part is that we're not just talking the talk; there are real researchers out there; they walk the walk. It's not about pitching ideas in fancy boardrooms; it's about getting your hands dirty, designing new projects and tools for researchers, crunching data, and pushing the boundaries of what's possible.

So, when researchers step into the entrepreneurial arena, it's not with a flashy presentation and empty promises. It's with a track record of being doers—of translating ideas into groundbreaking research and tangible outcomes. The entrepreneurial journey becomes an extension of what researchers do best—taking action, solving problems, and making a real impact, not just adding to the noise.

So, if anyone tries to tell you that entrepreneurship is off-limits for lab avengers, flash that knowing smile and say, "Watch me." Because, my friend, the entrepreneurial stage is not reserved for the big shots; it's open for us—the innovators, the researchers, the ones who are ready to turn lab brilliance into business success.

Getting into the entrepreneurial journey: Challenges and Considerations for scientists:

Getting into entrepreneurship isn't just a ticket to freedom. Embarking on entrepreneurship as a researcher brings a set of challenges. The inherent risks and uncertainties of the business landscape, coupled with the need to balance business responsibilities with a passion for research, can create a delicate equilibrium. The potential isolation from the academic community, financial instability, and longer timelines to witness substantial returns add further complexity. The high workload, stress, and the demanding nature of entrepreneurship, along with navigating market dynamics and competition, underscore that the journey isn't without its hurdles. While the entrepreneurial path opens doors to financial opportunities and real-world impact, researchers must tread carefully, recognizing and addressing these cons to ensure a successful transition into the dynamic world of entrepreneurship.

Key Considerations:

Being a double agent in research and business needs some ninja-level skills. That means doing your homework with market research, building a crew to back you up, and using the academic knowledge you already acquired to your advantage. It's like blending your inner entrepreneur with your lab coat vibes to break new ground.

Skills needed for scientists to jump into the business side

The intersection of science and business is not just about technical skills; it's about crafting a compelling narrative, reaching the right audience, and being adaptable in a fast-paced market. By incorporating additional expertise into their skill set, scientists can bring their innovations to the forefront of industry and consumer awareness. There are some examples of additional kills that we "scientists" need to work on:

Communication skills: Scientists often communicate within the scientific community using specialized language. Effective communication is key in the business world, which means translating complex ideas into terms that anyone can understand. Whether pitching an idea to investors or explaining a product to customers, the ability to communicate is essential.

Networking and relationship building: While researchers are accustomed to collaborating with peers in the lab, entrepreneurship requires expanding the network beyond academia. Building relationships with potential clients, investors, and partners is crucial. Networking opens doors, creates opportunities, and is a vital aspect of success in the business world.

Adaptability and resilience: The business landscape is unpredictable, and setbacks are inevitable. Scientists are familiar with experimentation flops and unexpected results, which gives them an edge in adapting to changes and bouncing back from failures. Flexibility and resilience are invaluable traits for entrepreneurs navigating the market's uncertainties.

Business awareness: Understanding the fundamentals of business is essential for scientists venturing into entrepreneurship. This includes knowledge of market dynamics, customer needs, financial management, and strategic planning. While scientists are experts in their fields, acquiring a basic understanding of business concepts is crucial for success in the entrepreneurial arena.

Risk management: Scientists are accustomed to calculated risks in their research endeavors. Similarly, entrepreneurs need to assess and manage risks associated with their ventures. Whether it's financial risks, market risks, or operational risks, the ability to make informed decisions in the face of uncertainty is a skill that scientists can leverage in the business world.

Leadership and team management:  Leading a research project and leading a business venture share commonalities. Scientists often work in teams, and the ability to lead, motivate, and manage a team is transferable to the entrepreneurial space. Leadership skills are crucial for steering a startup toward its goals and fostering a collaborative and innovative workspace.

Market awareness: Scientists possess a deep understanding of their research domain, and this analytical mindset can be applied to understanding market trends. Developing an awareness of the market, identifying opportunities, and staying informed about industry developments are essential for making informed business decisions.

Content creation: Scientists entering the business realm should embrace the power of content creation. Whether it's writing compelling blog posts, crafting engaging social media content or developing informative videos, the ability to create content that resonates with a broader audience is a valuable skill. Content creation is a way to communicate ideas and a powerful tool for building brand presence and connecting with customers.

Marketing Know-How: Scientists may not be accustomed to traditional marketing, but understanding the basics is crucial for success in the business world. This includes grasping digital marketing strategies, branding, and the art of storytelling. Effective marketing is the bridge that connects a brilliant scientific concept with the needs and desires of the target market.

Agile mindset: The agile mindset, often associated with software development, is becoming increasingly relevant in various industries. For scientists turned entrepreneurs, embracing agility means being adaptable, responsive to change, and iterative. It involves a willingness to experiment, learn from feedback, and pivot when necessary—a mindset that aligns well with the iterative nature of scientific research.

Video creation: In the age of digital content, video is a powerful medium for communication. Scientists can leverage their expertise to create informative, engaging videos that showcase their products or explain complex concepts. Video content is highly shareable and can be a potent tool for marketing and educational purposes. Whether it's tutorials, product demonstrations, or storytelling, video creation adds a dynamic dimension to the entrepreneur's toolkit.

A Day in the Life of a "Sciencepreneur."

A day in the life of a "sciencepreneur" is a dynamic blend of strategic thinking and hands-on action. Much like a day in the lab, the entrepreneurial journey involves continuous experimentation, adaptation, and the thrill of discovery. It's not just a departure from the lab coat; it's a translation of scientific skills into the language of business, creating a harmonious blend of research and entrepreneurship.

The day starts with emails, engaging with new partners in the biotech field, following up with existing collaborators, etc. Unlike the solitude of a lab, communication is key—whether it's with colleagues, potential partners, or the broader scientific community.

The mid-morning break isn't just about coffee—it's a chance to recharge while staying connected. As you dive into product discovery, explore market trends, and brainstorm ways to elevate existing offerings, scientific curiosity is in action. It's like experimenting in the lab; only this time, the goal is to innovate in the market.

Lunch isn't just a meal; it's a networking opportunity. Virtual meetings with potential partners or industry experts allow an exchange of ideas and foster collaborations. The afternoon continues with a focus on staying informed about the latest scientific discoveries—a task that mirrors the literature review process in research.

Content creation becomes the sciencepreneur's way of expression, translating complex science into engaging material for blog posts, podcasts, social media, and newsletters. It's a new form of a typical lab report but equally crucial in conveying scientific concepts to a broader audience.

As the day winds down, the science entrepreneur reflects on achievements in strategic planning, weighing the pros and cons of the approach taken to communicate their ideas. Suppose the business provides solutions for scientists to use in their work. In that case, they will allocate time to collect their feedback, address any questions, and troubleshoot with them when issues arise to make their user experience as smooth as possible. 

The mindset ballet : why you should keep juggling between an academic and a business-driven mindset

The academic-business shuffle requires an agile mindset. On one side, there's the academic mindset, which involves digging deep into research and solving complex problems. Conversely, the business mindset is all about innovation, adding a dose of real-world practicality, thinking about what people need, and making things happen on a bigger scale. The real magic happens when these mindsets are blended. It's like in an atypical game; instead of picking one team, both jerseys are to be worn, and it's not about choosing sides; it's about mastering the moves, finding the sweet spot, and telling a story that clicks whether in a lab coat or a business suit.

Success Stories:

  1. Dr. Feng Zhang: Dr. Zhang is a molecular biologist who co-founded Editas Medicine, a biotech company that uses CRISPR gene-editing technology to develop treatments for genetic diseases
  2. Dr. Jennifer Doudna: Dr. Doudna is a biochemist who co-founded CRISPR Therapeutics, a biotech company that uses CRISPR gene-editing technology to develop treatments for genetic diseases
  3. Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong: Dr. Soon-Shiong is a surgeon and biotech entrepreneur who founded NantWorks, a company that develops personalized cancer treatments. He also owns the Los Angeles Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune.
  4. Dr. Robert Langer: Dr. Langer is a chemical engineer who co-founded Moderna, a biotech company that develops mRNA-based vaccines and therapies. He is also the co-founder of several other biotech companies, including Momenta Pharmaceuticals and Kala Pharmaceuticals
  5. Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett: Dr. Corbett is a viral immunologist who played a key role in developing the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. She also co-founded the biotech company HOOKIPA Pharma, which focuses on developing immunotherapies for infectious diseases and cancer.


In the dynamic world of innovation and entrepreneurship, the journey from laboratory research to a thriving business venture is a testament to the human spirit's capacity for transformation and progress.

In exploring this fascinating transition, we've witnessed how the fusion of scientific curiosity, tenacity, and strategic vision can yield unparalleled results. From the inception of an idea within the controlled environment of a laboratory, researchers and aspiring entrepreneurs embark on a path riddled with challenges, risks, and uncertainty. However, through each obstacle and setback, they emerge stronger, more resilient, and ultimately more successful.

About the author
Rym Ben Othman

Rym Ben Othman

Co-founder and Chief Scientific Officer at RAN BioLinks, Rym brings over 20 years of experience leading sizeable clinical research projects in academia and Industry

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