The Business of Biotech

Biotech is more than just science... it is business.

Because biotech is creating useful products via biological systems, business is a very important part. In the post-bacc program, we have a weekly business class where we learn about the basics of business organization and management. 

Earlier in the program we completed an 8-week project where we had to create a mock company and sell a product. At the end of the 8 weeks we were expected to present our companies at a mock venture capital fair. At the fair, students from the associates program would invest in our companies based on our presentations. The products we created had to be simple enough for us to make in the lab at school. We did research and development and a production run. We also had to create a business plan for the company, with market research, a funding request, pricing schedule, etc.

My partner (her name is Kellie) and I created a company, Kellies Solutions, that made phosphate-buffered saline (PBS), a very simple solution that could be used by many different biotech companies in the Madison area. Because our product was so simple, we knew we had to come up with a good marketing scheme as well as something that would set us apart from the competition. Large biotech companies make PBS in several different forms, usually at high concentrations. We decided that we would sell our PBS in liquid form, creating custom-dilutions for our clients, essentially becoming a solution-making department for small, Madison-area biotech start-ups. In our business plan, we proposed that we would set up shop at the MG&E Innovation Center here in Madison, where a good number of small biotech start-ups are located. This would make us extremely accessible to our clients. We also decided to implement a bottle deposit program to save our clients money and waste. Our focus was green and local: both highly desirable traits in the Madison market. 

We decided that over time we would probably want to move into other solutions, different types of PBS, etc. Over the course of our R&D and production, we had to create several batch records, SOPs, as well as a labeling system. 

At the mock venture capital fair, all four groups presented our businesses and products to the associates students. Each student was given $1 million to invest in which ever company they thought would give them the most return on their investment. It was a lot more fun than I had anticipated. The room was packed, and I always get nervous when I have to speak in front of a group of people. (Over the course of this semester, I feel like I've become much more comfortable speaking in front of a crowd. In our business class, we have to present a science or business news article about every other week.) But once we started going, I felt just fine. The group was attentive and had good questions for us.

Once everyone presented, the 'investors' gave us all their money and we counted it. Kellies Solutions was able to raise $12.5 million in venture capital, the highest amount out of all four groups! We were very excited and made sure to hand out cookies as a thank you to the students. 

The entire process of building this company and creating a product/marketing scheme was not something I was really looking forward to, as I don't really think of myself as a great business person. But I have to admit, I felt a pretty awesome sense of accomplishment by the end of it. When we began, my partner, as well as our instructor, emphasized that I should try to focus on the marketing aspects of our project, as I have a photography/advertising art background. I was a little resistant. I have a difficult time selling myself, and part of my reasoning for going into science was that I wouldn't have to do so much of that anymore. But when I started working on the logo design as well as the market research, I found that I enjoyed myself quite a bit. It was exhausting work, making up that logo alone was a major project. But when it was all finished, I felt a sense of accomplishment I haven't felt in a long time. 

 

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Madison Area Technical College

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