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Bridging the gap between science and business

“Do I need a business degree if I want to work in a company?”

I have spoken many starters, students and PhDs who wanted to pursue a career in “business” or the “industry”. Despite being all different people with different backgrounds and levels of education. They had one thing in common. They all asked this question…

There is no straightforward answer. Depending on the position and level of education,you might not need a business degree. In some cases, your analytical skills or scientific knowledge is the reason you get the job. However, I would strongly recommend getting familiar with the various aspects of companies and business.
There are several ways that can bring you to a point where you have gathered enough skills or knowledge to start. I would recommend following some courses, programs and read a lot of books. I have done this and can say with confidence that it helped me a lot.

Business courses

To make the transition, you should get familiar with the important factors in business life. In this way, you are able to focus on the important actions during your job. For example, if you have a list of activities and deadlines, focus on the ones that helps the company maintain speed and generate revenue. This seems very straightforward, but very often I see starters/ interns focussing on the details of their work in such a way that it results in unnecessary delay.
I wanted to work on the business side in the life sciences. Instead of just finishing my study and looking for opportunities afterwards, I tried to expand my network and knowledge in this area. I started with the BioBusiness Summer School, a one-week programme which addresses all the important aspects such as: intellectual property, management, finance, personnel. This is a crash course and gives you enough knowledge to determine if and which part of the “industry or business” is interesting.

Hereafter, I enrolled for the master Science Based Business at Leiden. This is a business administration master, tailored to the life sciences. Since a few years, these kinds of studies have become very popular. In Amsterdam, Utrecht and Leiden there are such programmes, and they surely help you to “bridge the gap between science and business”.
When I noticed that I like this direction, I wanted to create a very steep learning curve. By following special courses (the business developers programme & global scale-up programme), I expanded my network and learned more and more on how the “life science ecosystem” works. I often re-adjust my company’s strategy and use the things that I learned to make realistic plans and timelines. Especially for grant applications & investments, this “ecosystem” knowledge is important.

Reading and networking

Courses give you valuable insight and information but don’t provide any framework for your day-to-day work. You learn the most by doing it. It is logic and normal that this process makes you feel uncertain and it is difficult to know exactly what to do every day. You keep learning every day!
A good method to facilitate this is by reading “business and management” books and talk to a lot of people. I often go to meetings or conferences and talk to people how they approach certain issues. I highly recommend this, especially if someone senior can give you periodic advice.
Furthermore, I read a lot. A good friend paves the way, telling me what to read on certain subjects. Here is a shortlist list i recommend to start with:

  • Start with why
  • Zero to one
  • Getting to yes
  • From alchemy to IPO

Especially “Start with why” has been very useful. I often make marketing material, write grant applications or have to create convincing documents. The framework provided in this book helps you to organize the flow of information. “Start with why” describes the process of convincing your audience or readers. Using his framework, the reader directly knows WHY you want to achieve some things, followed by the process (HOW) and ending with the result (WHAT) of your actions. This framework is applicable for a lot of marketing and sales activities.


At last, in my opinion you don’t NEED a business degree to make the transition, but it HELPS a lot. Imagine that you are on the other side of the table, would you favour someone with passion and some experience or nothing at all? To have the best chance on a successful career in the life science business, try to get some experience by internships, courses, trainings etc. Good luck!

By Lars Ottevanger
Lars is founder and business development manager at SurGuide B.V. He is also part of the BCF Insights Editorial Board; and he will write more about his journey as entrepreneur and business developer.

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