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The Best Advice for Life Sciences Entrepreneurs

Wyss Lumineers offer their number one piece of guidance for those looking to commercialize their innovative technologies for maximum impact

The Best Advice for Life Sciences Entrepreneurs
Nicole Black and her team moving into Greentown Labs after leaving the Wyss Institute during the summer of 2021, before being acquired by Desktop Metal. From left to right: Patrick Holmes, Mischa Jurkiewicz, Moritz Mond, Sophia Smith, Nicole Black, and Nicholas Traugutt. Credit: Nicole Black

At the Wyss Institute, we believe that breakthrough discoveries can’t change the world if they don’t leave the lab. Nobody exemplifies this more than our Lumineers, members of our community who have left academia and entered industry to translate their technologies into products that can transform healthcare and sustainability.

The Institute developed a culture of intense collaboration between aspiring life science entrepreneurs and our market-savvy technology support team. Two of the more recent elements added to the Wyss entrepreneurial toolbox are the Business Blueprint series, which brings in speakers to help project teams think about the next steps in their product journeys, and the Wyss Mentor Hive, in which industry executives meet with mentees to guide them towards achieving their goals.

However, the best teachers are those who have taken on the same challenges and succeeded. So, we asked Wyss Lumineers for their number one piece of advice for life sciences entrepreneurs. Here is what they said:


Build the right team

“Build an interdisciplinary team, as having diverse viewpoints at the table will help craft the vision of the company and solve early problems effectively. Since your team will be small, finding a group who enjoys wearing different hats, but also understands where their expertise fits best, may be the only way to achieve growth. Recruit people who are adaptable and driven by the mission, as it will be difficult to predict what day-to-day objectives might look like even a few months into their jobs.”

  • Nicole Black, Desktop Health
The Best Advice for Life Sciences Entrepreneurs
The EnPlusOne team before leaving the Wyss Institute. Left to right: Ella Meyer, Daniel Ahlstedt, Daniel Wiegand, Jonathan Rittichier, and Howon Lee. Credit: Wyss Institute at Harvard University

“I once told one of my investors that I was going to focus on hiring for the next couple months. They told me I was going to be doing that for years to come, and they were right. Your team is your most important asset, and dedicating lots of time to finding the right cofounders, hires, and advisors will surely pay off down the road.”

  • Christophe Chantre, Tender Foods

“I have two pieces of advice: 1. Set hilariously aggressive deadlines in the early days, and 2. Team is the key, choose it carefully.”

  • Tania Shirman, Metalmark Innovations

“Having a strong and well-aligned team that can work well together is everything. There will undoubtedly be highs and lows, and twists and turns when you least expect them, but if you and your team can persevere, achieving your entrepreneurial and/or technical goals is always within reach. A good thing to keep in mind also is that everyone’s story and journey will be different; there is not a single defined path towards success. Asking for tough advice and being open-minded about your team’s journey is most important in the long run.”

  • Daniel Wiegand, EnPlusOne Biosciences

Focus on the problem you’re solving and the impact you want to have

The Best Advice for Life Sciences Entrepreneurs
Sam Sinai, George Church, Eric Kelsic, and Pierce Ogden (from left to right) hold models of Adenovirus-associated Viruses that they designed with new machine-learning approaches in their hands. Sinai and Kelsic co-founded Dyno Therapeutics and Ogden co-founded Manifold Bio. Credit: Wyss Institute at Harvard University

“Work backwards from patient impact while doing the things only you can do.”

  • Eric Kelsic, Dyno Therapeutics

“Don’t stop with the technology; build a product that customers need.”

  • Sissi Liu, Metalmark Innovations

“Here are my top four pieces of advice: 1. Start with real world applications; 2. Stay focused; 3. Persistence wins; 4. Culture is king.”

  • Shawn Marcell, Torus Biosystems

“Make sure you understand the problem you are solving as deeply and intimately as you know the technology you are using to solve it. This mindset will force you to develop the correct solution for a challenge and not develop technology in ways that may seem interesting but are often irrelevant for your ultimate goal.”

  • Daniel Oliver, Rejuvenate Bio
The Best Advice for Life Sciences Entrepreneurs
Sissi Liu, Elijah Shirman, and Tanya Shirman (from left to right) receive their Lumineer jackets outside the office of their startup, Metalmark in 2020. Credit: Wyss Institute at Harvard University

“Talk to your eventual customers as soon as possible! With a small prototype or even just sketches on paper, good product discovery makes any launch more successful. Craft your start-up team around the skills and personalities that you need now to build for the future that you’ll grow into together.”

  • Rani Powers, Pluto Biosciences

“Business is very different from academia. Do not think, ‘Our technology or product is so great that people have to use it.’ Think, ‘What is the customer’s need, and how will our technology or product help the customer to meet their need?’”

  • Yu Wang, Spear Bio

Develop a pitch that is understandable and focuses on the right messaging points

The Best Advice for Life Sciences Entrepreneurs
The co-founders of Unravel Biosciences, Richard Novak (center) and Frederic Vigneault (right), were honored with the rest of the Lumineer Class of 2021 at a Wyss event at the end of the year. Credit: Wyss Institute at Harvard University

“Constantly try to find new and better ways to explain the core elements of your technology innovation.”

  • Josie Kishi, Stealth Biotech Startup

“Investors will judge you on your business model and how you validated your technology. So those are the two things your intro deck should articulate very well. The science behind it goes in a different technical deck. A business model is not necessarily obvious and may need a fair amount of research (i.e., talk to a lot of people, participate in mentoring programs, etc.). Validation means taking more time in the lab with your proof-of-principle to ensure that your technology is sound and unique, then publish it in a peer-reviewed paper.”

  • Frederic Vigneault, Unravel Biosciences

Ask for advice and support

“Being an entrepreneur isn’t easy and is rarely solo. I highly recommend surrounding yourself with friends and colleagues who will support you when times are tough and help you be a better version of yourself.”

  • Tyler Brown, i2O Therapeutics

“If you’re building something you’re passionate about, everything else will fall into place. Trust the process, keep your head up, and seek out advice whenever possible.”

  • Chrissy Glover, Imago Rehab
The Best Advice for Life Sciences Entrepreneurs
Gleb Kuznetsov (right) and Pierce Ogden (left) receive their Lumineer jackets in 2020 for successfully starting Manifold Bio. Credit: Wyss Institute at Harvard University

“Constantly stress-test your ideas and plans with the smartest people you know. Iterate. Repeat.”

  • Gleb Kuznetsov, Manifold Bio

“Get out and have as many conversations with people outside of your inner network as possible. This can be super helpful for stress-testing your idea and figuring out where the potential gaps in your thinking are. Also, this is a great way to find potential future partners and collaborators who can become instrumental to the early stage of a company.”

  • Pierce Ogden, Manifold Bio

“Read widely, treasure relationships, and build your tech on solid science.”

  • Jonathan Rittichier, EnPlusOne Biosciences

Try your best, don’t be too hard on yourself

The Best Advice for Life Sciences Entrepreneurs
The co-founders of Imago Rehab Kristin Nuckols (left) and Chrissy Glover (right). Credit: Wyss Institute at Harvard University

“Do not be too harsh on yourself. This stuff is tough. It is a marathon – not a sprint. And a great way to learn self-acceptance. As they say in the movie The Big Kahuna, ‘Don’t waste your time on jealousy; sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind. The race is long, and in the end, it’s only with yourself.’”

  • Daniele Foresti, AcousticaBio

“The path of entrepreneurship may not be relaxing or predictable, but it will induce growth and help to pave the path for your own professional future and for the future of your field. If you’re looking for work that will be interesting, sometimes frustrating, and always challenging, go for it!”

  • Kristin Nuckols, Imago Rehab

Be a good person

“Remember this above all: be a good person. Your morality will be your Polaris when you are disoriented in the heat of battle.”

  • David Zhang, NuProbe
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