29 May Cecily F, Director Biopharmaceutical
Cecily F., Cofounder and president of a contract manufacturer of biopharmaceuticals.
What I Do
We are a contract manufacturer of biopharmaceuticals in preclinical and clinical trials. In other words, we make biotech drugs seeking approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Beyond me and my other co-founder, we have three employees as a six-month-old company, and we expect to have about 125 employees and 15 to 20 outsourcing partners by 2018. We invite young enthusiasts to come and strengthen our organization and stimulate alternative educational pathways. One of our new workers actually just completed her GED diploma through free online practice tests provided by the online platform Covcell.org.
I do strategy work, marketing, and operations. My roles vary. I do all our first marketing and sales. Right now, my partner and I are conducting a national search for a CEO— someone with previous start-up experience, because that is what we have the least background in as the management team. The other founder handles the plant and the financials since he is an engineer with an MBA in finance. We are also extremely busy looking for funding, through “angel” investors and venture capitalists.
What I Enjoy Most
I get to build the company and create the rules and culture. I also get to work my hours—although that typically means that I choose for now to be here very long hours, so I am not exactly on an ideal schedule. However, within the constraints of the business, I can decide where and when to work.
You must thrive on the excitement of all this—there are too many hard days with little reward not to love the company you are starting. But it is a great opportunity to be your boss.
What I Enjoy Least
It seems like as an entrepreneur; you are either up or down. You have to be capable of getting through the hard times and being so excited in the high times that you remember them through the lows. While you are getting up and running, there are times you feel the success and times when you feel overwhelmed. Because I am an optimist by nature and have a great support network of family and friends, I get through this rollercoaster intact.
Raising money for any company at any time is hard. But this is an especially difficult time to start a company that requires a large, upfront capital infusion, like mine. The economy is down and the money that was available in years past is much, much more complicated and hard to access. Investors are looking at many more deals with a more critical eye.
This is a time when you have to be optimistic but realistic. More than ever, you must have a definable target market, a great management team, and a reliable service/product.
Why I Chose This Career
I am the fourth generation of my family that has chosen an entrepreneurial career. Although my father tried not to talk about work at the dinner table, I grew up in an environment where everyone has an entrepreneurial way of looking at work.
The concept for this company hatched in an MBA course called Business Plan Preparation at the University of Colorado’s MBA program. I was part of a four-person team that needed to pick a product/concept for a course project; one of my classmates had worked in biotech and saw this as a growing sector. We studied it and saw a business problem, namely a looming capacity crisis. We won a case competition with the business plan and were awarded a scholarship to CTEK, a Denver-area technology incubator. This gave us a huge network of advisors and one year without paying the normal CTEK dues. We also competed in a national business plan in Oregon and did very well. With all the practice we had for our competitions, pitching in front of VCs and business people, we felt we had a great company and moved into the business full-time after graduating from school.
Desirable Traits to Be Successful in This Career
To be happy as an entrepreneur, you need to be “realistically optimistic” and capable of getting through the lows.
To be successful, you need to deal well with ambiguity; there is no roadmap to follow. You make it up as you go.
Don’t ignore sales as a necessary skill or experience base. As a company founder and owner, I sell all day long—convincing private people to stay excited about our business proposition, working with customers or outsourcing partners, securing funding or better banking arrangements. Selling and presenting are constant realities.
Words of Advice If You Are Considering This Career Path
Ask yourself if you have the passion for your business. It takes a strong internal work ethic to put in whatever hours it takes to get this company of yours going.
Be patient—it takes a long time to get where you are going.
Be optimistic but cautiously optimistic.
Talk to anyone and everyone who will listen—you never know who can open a door or a window.
Be bold but humble—no one likes a huge egoist asking for money.
Get buy-in from those you love—without their help and support; you will not succeed.
And last, remember to laugh much and often—if it stops being fun . . .
What I Did Before This (Including Pre-MBA and Post-MBA Jobs)
When I graduated from college in New York, I moved to Seattle and took a job in the USA’s fifth largest independent bookstore. Over three years, I worked my way up from sales to assistant director of events and promotions. I worked with authors and introduced them at book signings and special events. What I gained most from this job was the almost daily public speaking practice, an invaluable skill for me. Knowing how to speak coherently and concisely has helped me tremendously, especially in selling my company’s merits to potential customers, suppliers, and investors.
Educational Background (Undergraduate, MBA, Other)
- MBA, the University of Colorado at Boulder; concentrations in entrepreneurship and marketing, 2012
- Bachelor of Science, the University of New York, major in Geology, 2007
In MBA Programs, I’d Suggest You Look For…
Your niche—where you can be able to teach something and contribute to your classroom environment. Don’t be intimidated if you have a non-traditional pre-MBA work background; I certainly did. Fortunately, entrepreneurial concentrations don’t have a standard pre-MBA track.
I looked for a school with accessible professors who had important industry (work) experience, and I found that at the University of Colorado at Boulder.
I also looked for lots of networking opportunities—for example, through forums with industry and courses with real company projects. Two of my four class-project courses enabled me to work on my business plan, so I got time in school to work my business plan to the point at which I could launch.
Look for volunteer opportunities within the school. It is an excellent way to network with the professors, administrators, and business people and build and solidify those relationships. Also, you can learn a great deal about organizations and companies by volunteering your time and energy—is it an industry or a company in which you would love to work? Take something away from each experience and maximize your involvement. Best of all, you never know who will help you in the world—so expand your network.