Working in life science start-ups

I have just attended The Crick Startup Career Fair run by the Crick Science Entrepreneur Network. I spoke to many people, asking for advice on how to find a job in a start-up. I also listened to John Bethell’s excellent talk on careers in start-ups.

Here are 5 pieces of advice that kept coming up throughout the afternoon.

  1. Understand which stage the start-up is at. A start-up at the pre-seed stage does not have any investors so people will be working hard, often without any financial benefits. Working in an early stage company might suit people that have the time and resource to offer their time without compensation. This can help to build a network and showcase your skills and attitude. Later stage companies offer relatively more security and compensation. Think about the stage that would work for you.

2. Know what the start-up does and understand their values! Start-ups are interested in people that understand their work and mission. Speak to their people at career fairs and events, read their social media feeds, look at their website etc. What excites you about their work and how do your values align with theirs?

3. Start-ups want people that can work without much management, are happy to role up their sleeves, are able to tackle a variety of jobs and are passionate about the work of the team. Think carefully about all your skills beyond the technical. A mindset that means you are happy to do laboratory work one month and design a marketing strategy the next is important. Flexibility and a can-do attitude are essential!

4. Research and target start-ups as part of your job hunting strategy. Set up an excel spreadsheet of your target start-ups. Find companies at career and trade fairs on Eventbrite, at science parks/accelerators, on biotech databases (e.g. Biopharmguy), on Crunchbase, Pitchbook, LinkedIn and set google alerts for start-ups. Find ways to engage with people in start-ups to find out more about their work and mission. People are more likely to remember you if you they meet you face to face.

5. When considering the possibility of working in a start-up, ask the following questions. What is the financial runway i.e. how long can the start-up remain in business until the cash runs out? Do they have credible advisors and investors? What is the commercialisation and business exit strategy? And finally, ask to see their non-confidential pitch deck to find out more about them.

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