My name is Tiago Botelho and I currently work at the Innovation Department of IRB Barcelona, Spain as a senior business development manager. I studied Applied Chemistry – Biotechnology in Lisbon, Portugal and since then I have worked in many different scientific areas. Although I love science and technology, I always felt that my future was not in academic research. Therefore, I made a career shift towards business to feed my interest in entrepreneurship.
A typical day might see me…
There is no such thing as a typical day at a technology transfer office (or at least on ours). We are responsible for many different activities, and we work with several projects at the same time. I enjoy it very much as this variety translates into not having two days alike. We do our best to drive scientific results to market and, with this we aim, to improve the quality of life of patients. The revenues that we generate from transferring our technologies to industry we inject back into research, to generate more scientific results – and basically, this is what we call the technology transfer cycle.
My primary role is…
Within this technology transfer cycle, I am responsible for managing the interactions with people from the pharma/biotech industry, as they are our main external clients. This implies that I have to ‘translate’ the message between academic scientists and industry people, who often do not speak the same language. This means understanding the needs and interests of both parties and trying to find possible overlapping opportunities.
Another key area of my work is to detect those scientific results that might have potential to be transferred to industry, evaluate them, and take the pertinent actions to protect them before they become public (for instance, in a presentation at a scientific meeting, in a publication, etc.). For me this is very interesting as it allows me to be around top science in many different areas. For each new project that I scout, I need to have a frequent dialogue with research teams and read a lot on the state of the art to understand the value proposition. As an example, if I spot some results that could be interesting to treat Alzheimer’s disease, I have to read about all possible competitors and understand what the key advantages of our product over such possible competitors are. This is key to convince industry to invest in our project instead of others.
Another task that I like a lot is to help researchers prepare project applications for proof-of-concept calls. We are responsible for explaining how these projects will create impact in society and to define the roadmap to make such potential impact, a reality.
Sometimes, the best way to drive scientific results to society is to create a spin-off company from the researcher’s institution. When this is the chosen pathway, we try to give all the support needed to the entrepreneurs. This includes diverse task such as advising on the development plan and accompanying entrepreneurs in preparing pitches and meeting investors.
On the other hand, we have to valuate (to determine the value and put a “price tag” on it) the technology to prepare a fair license deal. This should be profitable to the institution but also be flexible enough to allow the company to grow by exploiting this technology.
My role also involves training our research community in both hard and soft skills related to entrepreneurship and some mentoring, as many PhD students who feel like pursuing careers out of academia come to us for some tips.
My workspace is normally…
My workspace varies from my desk at the office to any place with my laptop. I go to several meetings and trade fairs at various locations, which means that I can do my job remotely. This was quite an advantage during the pandemic, as I was quite used to work from other places than the office.
The challenges of my role are…
Like any other professional role, it has downsides. Sometimes it can be hard when you strongly believe that you have a potential game-changing technology in your hands and it is very difficult to transfer it to the market. You are never sure if it was you who did not translate the right message or, for instance, it simply has no market. It is also sad when you see start-ups failing by not getting enough resources to bring their products to the market.
The skills I need at work…
I find that the skills and experience I draw from most in this role are the close contact with top science in different areas, creativity in finding possible marketable applications for scientific results, and the frequent communication with people with very different backgrounds and interests.
Sometimes people ask me if I miss life in the lab. The answer is a clear no. I was lucky because my degree gave me the opportunity to be close to the “other side of science” and discover that there are many different roles that one can play outside academia.
My advice to early-career researchers…
If you are interested in pursuing careers outside academia: try it! Speak with people who have taken this step out of the comfort zone and moved to the other side and ask for advice on the different areas out there. I remember that some of my previous mentees were very surprised when they discovered that most of the skills they developed during their PhD are the same as those requested on many job profiles outside academia, and are just named differently.
Most of all, my advice is to not be afraid of failing and starting over. At least in my perspective, it is better to regret having done something than regret not trying it!