What were your motivations behind founding Propel Careers?
The main motivation was to be able to help people with advanced degrees learn more about possible career paths and to help make the transition from academia to industry easier and more seamless. By doing this, we would also positively impact the life science companies we work with as well as the industry as a whole.
How did you translate previous experience (work/school) into Propel Careers ?
Before Propel, I worked in the life sciences industry for about 10 years. I worked with contract research organizations that worked with biotech and pharma companies all over the world, performing studies to help move their drugs from early animal efficacy into the clinic. I learned a tremendous amount about preclinical and clinical research as well as many other activities needed in order to discover and develop therapeutics. This experience has been invaluable for Propel. It provided me with a strong foundation in the industry including knowing the industry terminology, a wonderful network, and a lot of knowledge about the various functional areas (i.e. career paths) that people take as they develop their career in industry.
What has been the biggest obstacle (s) when you first started Propel Careers and how did you overcome the obstacle?
The biggest obstacle was focus. Initially our focus was all over the place – helping people move into the biotech, cleantech, healthcare IT, and other areas. While we could do this, we found that focusing on a sector first, biotech, allowed us to refine our processes, providing us the opportunity to grow into the other as we advanced.
Time management was also a big obstacle, and probably something that all entrepreneurs struggle with. Anyone starting a company needs to focus on the key activities to be done – this usually includes fundraising and/or identifying a revenue strategy, hiring/delegating to people, developing your brand and core mission and clearly articulating this, listening to market feedback and pivoting as needed.
It’s also important not to burn yourself out. Early stage entrepreneurs work very hard, usually many many many hours/days. Try to find a little time each week to enjoy yourself and do something other than work, otherwise work will become all encompassing.
What other professions would you like to attempt if given the chance?
I had thought about project management and alliance management since I enjoy working with people in different disciplines and different fields. I like seeing the big picture and moving projects forward, but I can also dive into details when needed. This skillset is useful in these types of roles.
What do you think are the most important skills/qualities that an entrepreneur should possess?
- You really need to be excited about whatever you are building. Otherwise, you probably won’t be able to keep going when things get tough. If you do not have passion, you may have a hard time recruiting others.
- You need to be creative about how you are going to get the resources needed to build your business. Money is not always the rate limiting step – resourcefulness is when it comes to building successful businesses.
- Relationship building. You need to be able to build meaningful relationships with your future employees, clients/potential clients, partners, service providers, etc. These are critical for success.
- Entrepreneurs work hard. You need to be able to dedicate time to your endeavor. Be focused on your goals and work to achieve them.
What are your thoughts on current career opportunities for grad students and how does it compare to before?
I think this is a very good time for career opportunities for graduate students. Many companies now, as compared to 10 years ago, realize that Ph.D. trained people have so many more skills than just their lab skills. Firms ranging from data science, to marketing, consulting, finance and non-profits, all realize that Ph.D’s are valuable. The companies developing technologies (biotech, pharma, medtech, engineering, IT firms, etc) also have many more roles for Ph.D. in research and non-research related roles. The prospects seem bright for a Ph.D. looking into career areas.
Three pieces of advice which you would like to give to grad students or your younger self.
1. Network – it is never too early to start building relationships. Networking happens everywhere. In class, at the coffee shop, at conferences, etc. When you attend your industry conference, meet people at posters, panels, the exhibit hall. When external speakers come to your school to talk about their research, introduce yourself to them. Find other ways to connect with people – the effort will be very fruitful as your career continues to develop.
2. Involve yourself in your community. Become active in your grad student association, club on campus, charity that you are passionate about, etc. All organizations want to hire people who care about others and who try to make things better around them. This is invaluable experience.
3. Develop your Communication skills. Find opportunities to present to technical audiences (i.e. at your annual scientific conference) and non-technical audiences (i.e. a patient advocacy group or elementary school class). Find opportunities to write technical and non-technical documents – grants, press releases, a blog, etc. The ability to communicate clearly to different audiences is a critical skill for career success.