3 examples of what it takes to become a science entrepreneur

It is a common misconception that to become a science entrepreneur one must undertake a research pathway at university or in a commercial research laboratory, or have an academic pedigree.

It’s also rarely a linear, straight line to the finish.

As the founders of Cicada Innovation have demonstrated, successful science entrepreneurs come from all kinds of divergent backgrounds and take very unique paths to success.

We recently hosted a webinar at Cicada Innovations as part of National Science Week, exploring three unique science entrepreneurship journeys: Researcher-to-Founder, Entrepreneur-to-Founder, and Serial Entrepreneur.

Their backgrounds and experiences may differ greatly, but these three science entrepreneurs prove that deep technology can be accessed from any direction. But what you need is to be resilient, motivated, structured and, above all, determined.

Research scientist turned founder

Alison Todd PhD FTSE is the Chief Scientific Officer and co-founder of SpeeDx, a molecular diagnostic solutions company with over 85 patents to her name and over 47 products on the market.

Prior to her foray into the world of entrepreneurship, Alison was a lifelong researcher with a long career at Johnson & Johnson. This position was right in the middle of Alison’s highly scientific comfort zone.

But when the global financial crisis hit in 2009, Johnson & Johnson closed many research labs around the world and Alison found herself laid off mid-career.

This event, as she says, pushed rather than pulled her to start her own business. And the rest is history.

Interestingly, Alison’s three decades of experience in sticking to her guns and persisting in order to bring her scientific discoveries to fruition has prepared her well for the level of resilience and perseverance you need as a than an entrepreneur.

She is also adamant about inventing for a purpose. As Alison says, “When I invent something, I invent it for a specific need.” She is continually inspired by medical needs and frontline clinicians, who have become her inspiration, collaborators and early adopters.

Entrepreneur Turned Founder

Pierre Tomich

Peter Tomich, who co-founded agricultural biotech company Sustinent after more than a decade as a business leader at PWC, is learning from a mix of different experiences.

Peter’s many years in a highly structured corporate landscape have taught him that resilience and drive are great traits, but they also need structure to make massive projects happen.

As Peter says, structure provides the blueprint for how to eat an elephant. The solution is of course one bite at a time, but for Peter it means deliberately creating a structure that breaks the problem down into smaller projects that are easier (and less overwhelming!) to tackle.

Finding that big problem to solve in the first place is another separate problem, according to Peter.

His solution to this is to follow his passion which, for him, meant finding projects that create impact and legacy on all levels. Enter Sustinent, a company that leverages innovative and sustainable biotechnology to turn agricultural green waste into new resources – one elephant bite at a time.

serial entrepreneur

Liesl Yearsley

Resilience and sheer determination are hugely important according to Liesl Yearsley, CEO of human-like calendar technology provider, akin.com.

But Liesl goes even further. She believes that success as a founder of deep tech requires being driven by an almost masochistic drive to succeed.

Liesl’s advice is informed by three decades of building multiple businesses, including one that was eventually acquired by IMB.

She also believes in invoking personal experiences to find your purpose.

Growing up in abject poverty in Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe nurtured her belief in a concept she calls the ‘evaluation training model’. According to her, it is not the valuation of the company, but the value that your company gives to the world that counts. It’s about thinking big and tackling big problems, in order to build for the future.

Alison, Peter and Liesl are all living examples of how completely different expertise, life experiences and career learnings can be brought together to lead a successful life as a science entrepreneur. There is no one-size-fits-all approach.

About Shirley L. Kreger

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