Profiling The Bioentrepreneur

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In arriving at a profile of the bioentrepreneur, having just gained a feel for the industry in which they operate, we must first define the broader concept of the technopreneur. The technopreneur is a breed of entrepreneur that has emerged in the last two decades as a part of the global era of knowledge economies and new technologies. Technopreneurs recognize the value of technology and invent new ways of using it to change their industries (Teague 2000). They also make much use of computers, the Internet and other modern advancements in developing the business venture and its operations. Their skill sets are therefore predominantly technical rather than business oriented. Profiles of technopreneurs illustrate certain similar attributes to traditional entrepreneurs such as innovation, opportunity identification and capture, risk-taking and perseverance. Bioentre-preneurship is essentially a subset of technopreneurship (Figure 2.1), that is, technopreneurs that have begun their ventures in the biotechnology industry.


Bioentrepreneurs as individuals seem to sit at the highest end of the educational spectrum. The vast majority of biotechnology businesses are started up by holders of science degrees, MBAs, PhDs and various other tertiary qualifications (Janeitz 2003; Spence 1997). Their ages tend to be much older at the initiation stage of the enterprise as compared with the traditional entrepreneurs. This is mainly due to the length of time spent in university, as well as the time required to develop the idea into a viable product. It also appears that the majority of these entrepreneurs begin with education directed towards the sciences and therefore have an in-depth knowledge on their very complex products. Intellectual capital and subsequently property therefore commonly resides in the very heads of bioentrepreneurs, and can be the source of a biotech firm's competitive advantage (Schneider 2002). This phenomenon is not often described in traditional entrepreneurship.

Technical skills get the bioentrepreneur established in their venture. However, technical skills alone will not offer sustainable competitiveness, as exploiting opportunities relies heavily on traditional entrepreneurial skills. So the question remains. How does the bioentrepreneur or the entrepreneurial biotech company build this knowledge base of business strategic skills? Largely it has been through experiential learning rather than through the codified knowledge developed through university courses, although the trend toward the biotech PhD, augmenting their qualifications with an MBA is becoming apparent.

One of the problems with experiential learning is that experiences by their nature are limited. Most bioentrepreneurs commence this stage of their career late, having been successful in their scientific field first and after having completed the initial PhD. Their range of business experiences is often limited to one or two companies. This limited access to distributive knowledge can be problematic to building an entrepreneurial knowledge base not only in individual biotech companies, but for the industry as a whole. Such a dilemma is exacerbated by the barriers to potential entrepreneurs, particularly those from other industries, to entering the industry in a competitive manner, given the strong requirement for technical knowledge, as well as market knowledge.

Limited experiential learning experiences do not support robust strategic judgement, particularly in an industry where change can be considered a constant rather than a variable. The extent to which this has contributed to the high (and growing) failure rate of small biotech firms or whether this is an inevitable consequence of a long, complex and very expensive R&D pipeline is almost impossible to delineate. On the positive side, failure is a critical ingredient in the experiential learning process. The more failed entrepreneurs who come back to try again, the more robust the entrepreneurial knowledge base will be come in the industry.

With regard to the bioentrepreneur's environment, Genentech provides an interesting example. In the creation of a venture that explored the uses of gene splicing, Swanson had to convince renowned scientists to join this experimental company whilst trying to acquire venture capital in a new, remote area of business. Despite the reluctance of pharmaceutical companies to provide any financial support, Swanson went on to create a speculative market boom that inspired 'confidence' in the industry. Genentech's first major success was in licensing recombinant human insulin to Eli Lilly.

However the success of the bioentrepreneur and their company cannot be assured by the possession of the correct characteristics. The entrepre-neurship must be combined with the desire and ability to innovate. Innovation and entrepreneurship go hand in glove. It remains unclear which is the hand and which is the glove.

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