Self-made Life Science entrepreneur

Starting a company may not be the most obvious career path for life scientists, but for some it offers the ultimate career fulfilment. In this article, Matthew Heberling (PhD in biotechnology and former tax accountant) shares his plunge into entrepreneurship and how he feels about becoming an entrepreneur. This article is not a checklist on how to become an entrepreneur.
The goal is to inspire life scientists to realise their innate potential as an entrepreneur.

Every day, I wake-up and go to bed with a smile. Honestly. Aside from the normal anxieties that haunt co-founders, a smile always prevails. And my start-up is not even funded yet! So how can I smile so much? And why do I claim to be 'self-made'?! I love what I do. This simple fact makes me feel wealthier than the tax accountant I used to be. Everyday feels like Christmas morning as I craft development ideas with the founder, Kamil Tamiola. We are building our company from scratch. I am in a position to potentially transform protein biotechnology alongside a natural entrepreneur.

I was always fascinated with entrepreneurs, but wasn't sure how I could become one. The big idea never surfaced until the day Kamil called with his vision to simplify protein research through machine learning. Since then, everything fell into place. I now realise why I was so fascinated with entrepreneurs: I have what it takes to be one. It just took time to realise this, until all the contributing pieces in my past came together: academic research, vision, network, inspiration and keeping in touch with a friend. As random as the factors may seem, I will share why these helped my transition to become a co-founder. Hopefully, I can inspire the inner entrepreneur in you to come out.

Academic research

Pursuing a PhD puts the 'icing on the cake' for aspiring co-founders. As competitive as academia is, it's easy to lose sight of the amazing skills PhD researchers gain. Countless presentations and the peer-reviewed ecosystem drastically enhanced my communication skills. This is fundamental for seeking investors and clients. Helicopter-views on research feed into my vision as a cofounder. Also, problem solving and creativity are the core qualities that profoundly impact my co-founder experience.

Vision

As a young competitive runner, vision allowed me to break records, win races, overcome injuries, and advance to the state championships. Achieving a career transition from accountant to biochemist elevated my vision to a whole new level. As a co-founder now, vision is everything. Without it, the path to success would be even tougher because the mission and core values of the company rely on it. I encourage you to reflect on the past to instill your confidence as a visionary.

Network

Having a solid network is the lifeline for a cofounder. I built one through conferences and courses during my doctoral research. Actually, I think of myself as a conference nerd. I may have set the record for most conferences attended at my prior research group. I love to learn about other research and meet as many people as possible. A key networking event for me was the EuroScience Open Forum (ESOF) and BioBusiness Summer School (BBSS). Inspiration is important since this drives your ambition to succeed. My first major inspiration came during the ESOF conference when I met Daniel Hulme (Satalia). As a rising entrepreneur in machine learning, he was on a panel discussing the acceleration of innovation. I met him soon afterwards and felt empowered to pursue the co-founder route. Attending the BBSS was another major inspiration where I heard various success stories of biotech startups. I also met a friend, Jackie Johnson, who soon afterwards started her own company. These stories captivated me. I wanted my own story, but I didn't yet have 'the idea' to move forward.

Kept in touch with a friend

Kamil (the founder) and I shared an office during our doctorate research. We had many good talks about life and science. After leaving the research group, he became a successful photographer. Yet, he always had a burning desire to solve protein science problems through machine learning. From the mutual trust and respect we had built, I was the first person he reached out to in search of a cofounder. This flattered me considering that we had only loosely stayed in touch as our lives briefly went in different directions.

Key message: keep in touch with those who positively impact your life. Most likely you impact them in the same way. Mutual inspiration, trust, and respect have allowed us to build our start-up in the most pragmatic way.

By Matthew Heberling, Peptone

If you would like to learn about Matt's company, Peptone, please visit: www.peptone.io

 

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