By Jo Viney, Co-founder and CSO, Pandion Therapeutics
Last summer, one of our local radio stations, WBUR, ran a feature entitled “How Boston Became 'The Best Place In The World' To Launch A Biotech Company” (WBUR, June 19th 2017). The article described the evolution of our unique infrastructure – physical, cultural and sociological – that resulted in Boston being THE place where ideas are catalyzed and made into reality. But what does it really take to be an innovator? And what characteristics are essential to becoming a successful entrepreneur?
Early in my career I had an interesting conversation with one of my mentors about innovation. I had a few years of research under my belt and had been successful in revealing some novel biology associated with immune regulation in the intestine. I felt confident in my research and organizational skills and wanted to know what it would take to truly become an innovator. Was it just thinking of new approaches? How transformative would an idea need to be to become a breakthrough? Who would be the judge? And how could I learn more about it?
This was in the early 1990s and my experience was limited to academic research in the UK. Big Pharma was the only example of the intersection between science and industry of which I was aware and, at the time, these large institutions were not attractive to me. It was during a casual conversation over beers with my mentor that I first heard about the blossoming biotech industry in the US and, more specifically, about Genentech’s postdoctoral program. I applied, interviewed, and a few short months later found myself driving along palm tree-lined roads to state-of-the-art labs that were humming with crazy smart scientists doing crazy smart science – surreal, and unlike anything I had ever imagined growing up in rural England! Although my intent was to spend only 3 years in the US, I became completely enamored with the exciting, innovative environment I found in biotech culture, and have remained a firm acolyte ever since.
It took me another twenty years of working in Big Biotech, and a move to Boston, before I could really begin to understand what is needed to become a successful entrepreneur. The local biotech microenvironment currently is rich with entrepreneurs and there is no shortage of examples of what success looks like. But there is a visible disparity in the number of men vs women in entrepreneurial leadership roles. So, what exactly are the essential characteristics that predict entrepreneurial success? This question has been the focus of a discussion I have followed for many years. A number of articles published in the past few weeks have particularly caught my attention and made me think a little harder about this topic.
- “Grey Hair In the C-Suite: Experience, Age, And IPOs In Biotech” by Bruce Booth, February 26, 2018, LifeSciVC blog;
- “Picture a Leader. Is She a Woman? Most people will draw a man. Researchers investigate the consequences” by Heather Murphy, March 16, 2018, New York Times;
- “Is the confidence gap between men and women a myth?” By Lura Guillen, March 26, 2018, Harvard Business Review;
- “Why can’t the drug industry solve its gender diversity problem? Women weigh in on what’s working—and what isn’t—in the effort to create an inclusive culture in biotech and pharma” by Lisa M. Jarvis, March 5, 2018, Chemical and Engineering News v96 (10);
I certainly don’t have all (or even many!) of the answers, but I am very much looking forward to WEST’s flagship event on April 11th where a panel of senior leaders will share their thoughts on innovation and entrepreneurship and tell us about their personal journeys to success in the fast-paced world of science and technology.
Please join us for an exhilarating evening networking with the movers and shakers from our local science and technology community whilst supporting career advancement of the next generation of women leaders in STEM!