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Early-Stage Life Sciences Business Survival Guide

20 December 2021

By Jay Freeman

Early-Stage Life Sciences Business Survival Guide

Whether you’re an up-and-coming life sciences entrepreneur, or spearheading an early-stage life sciences business, there’s never been a more exciting time to be in the industry.

Record-high investments, new technologies, and adapted ways of working have made the industry as attractive as it is challenging for those looking to make a difference.

Starting is one thing… but which skills and advice are critical to the success of early-stage life sciences business?

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Adaptability

This is a key skill across sectors for early-stage businesses and entrepreneurs, yet it is particularly pertinent in life sciences.

With changing regulations, economic changes, and budget to contend with, it’s essential that you have the capability to adapt.

The pandemic was a wake-up call in many ways, highlighting how adaptable life sciences organisations could be, and the innovative nature of the industry propelled those who evolved with the changes to significant success at a time when it seemed unlikely.

Being rigid in the early stages means that prospective clients/customers are unlikely to have their expectations met, which is why adjusting and adapting accordingly is essential.

Acknowledgement 

An early-stage life sciences company is markedly different from other entrepreneurial/start-up businesses, for a multitude of reasons.

Firstly, dealing with patients (and their confidential data), regulatory requirements, and the collaboration required are all wholly different from that of a traditional start-up in another industry.

Data protection is an integral element to many life sciences businesses and requires full attention, given the enormous costs that can be incurred when failing to do so.

This means that acknowledging the challenges and requirements of being not just an early-stage business, but an early-stage life sciences business, is essential in order to safeguard your business in its early stages to set the standards for the future.

Know the funding landscape

Whilst investment in life sciences reached record-high levels in 2020, with the third quarter of 2020 being the largest quarter on record in terms of dollars for venture investment in life sciences and corporate venture capital, securing investment is still a challenge for life sciences entrepreneurs.

In Europe, over €3.7 billion of VCF was raised for life sciences companies in 2019, but where do early-stage life sciences businesses fall in the funding landscape?

In biotech, there are generally fewer opportunities for life sciences start-ups from traditional investors.

This means that alternative forms of investment may prove more promising – corporate funding, angel investors, government agencies and patient advocacy groups – which requires a diversification of how you seek funding.

Build your brand

Purpose-driven companies grow three times faster on average than their competitors, achieving higher workforce and customer satisfaction. 

It’s important to build a brand in the beginning so that customers/clients know why your organisation exists, the problems that it solves, and who it wants to be to society at large.

This also ties with intellectual property, as trademarks and patents – protecting innovative ideas – are a way to differentiate your start-up in the market.

Trust is essential across life sciences, which is why building a trustworthy brand can forge that much-needed connection with collaborators, clients, and customers.

The most successful brands can reach a wider audience, gain access to top talent, and be considered thought leaders.

Create a streamlined team

Bringing new people on board in the early stages of a life science business can be daunting, but it’s also a necessary step in order to innovate and grow.

This means considering the skills that your start-up requires, particularly if you have minimum competency in the specialist area of your company – entrepreneurs tend to need the skills that are relating more towards the ability to scale and soft skills (e.g., leadership, ambition).

For many start-ups, it will be a question of choosing a research-driven team or an academic team, with the intention to move towards software development and more commercially-focused hires in the future.

Depending on your needs and the niche, utilising an academic network might be beneficial.

Recruiting in this manner can be useful for an early-stage company because many university courses will relate to the areas that the company has a niche in, making the process more streamlined.

Additionally, with the rise of remote working in the industry, it might be worth considering remote roles during recruitment efforts as it can increase the available talent pool considerably.

Embed CSR into your company

Many companies have realised the value in, and demand for, corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts when they are already established, making the process more arduous and complicated. 

Embedding CSR into your company in the early stages avoids these headaches, and means that sustainability, diversity and inclusion, and ethical practice can all be implemented and grown alongside the company.

For example, sustainability efforts may include circularity (reduce, reuse, recycle), independent audits to measure sustainability efforts, and regulatory standards on measuring and reporting carbon emissions.

(You can read more about the benefits of sustainability for life sciences companies here.)

These efforts can result in greater adaptability, increased employee satisfaction and retention, and a competitive advantage with recruitment of top talent.

The bottom line

The key to survival for early-stages life science companies is adaptability, as the industry and the way it operates are constantly changing and innovating.

Keeping agile will mean that your company can match customer and investor interests, which is critical to success in the early stages and as you begin to scale.

Laying down the groundwork for good practice with areas such as confidential data and regulatory standards will pay off considerably in the long-term, rather than incurring hefty costs.

Much of the longevity of a life sciences company rests on the ability to move with the changes rather than against them, including the changing landscape of the workforce – remote and hybrid working are on the rise – which informs the way in which companies build up their teams.

The workforce and customer demands apply to CSR more than ever, with a significant necessity for companies to consider their impact on society and the ethical changes they can make.

Starting a life sciences company is no small task, but if you keep the above in mind, you’ll be on track to continued and maintained success in an industry that continues to innovate!

Get in touch with the Panda team today for expert advice around life sciences recruitment.


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