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Want a role with a Start Up ? Then you need to understand what Skills are required and the culture within.

There are hundreds of millions of pounds available to support UK start ups. In March 2011 the Government announced a £100m fund for science, £44m of which is for the Babraham Research Park in Cambridge, Imperial Innovations have a £140m fund to support university spin outs, corporate Medtech and Pharma Co’s have their own active in house investment funds including Covidien Ventures, Pfizer Ventures, Zimmer, SR One at GSK. New technology parks are being opened, the amount of VC investment in healthcare is increasing and Venture Valuation www.venturevaluation.com reports $345m globally of finance deals in healthcare in August 2011.


Start-up companies have challenging project milestones to ensure they can raise further funds and bring their products to market. Ian Sandison sets out in this article the types of skills start up companies require as they develop and grow.


Investors state the key things they look for in a company are a strong IP portfolio, a good management team and a large potential market for the company’s products. The initial management team of a start up is generally the founding inventors, advisors and consultants and Non Exec directors. Once they close their first serious funding round and raise some money it is likely a full time professional CEO will be appointed with the input of the investors. The founding CEO is likely to be great with the science or engineering but is more often not the right choice for the commercial challenges ahead.


The start up world is an exciting one in which to be involved but it provides very different financial and cultural challenges to that of corporate life.

There is often no sales income thus cash is king and every penny needs to be spent wisely, if spent at all. Projects will over run deadlines will be missed and very careful financial management and a resourceful approach is required.


Robert Milnes, CEO of Fertility Focus told me ‘moving from a corporate to a start up gives you exposure to every aspect of a business and provides a much broader functional stretch than the narrower corporate world where you have a departmental structure and people operate more in their own ‘box’’.


The culture of a start up is also very different to a corporate organisation in a way that many candidates I speak with do not understand. There is no support structure, no IT, HR or Admin department, you all have to just manage these things yourself and learn as you go along.


Lars Persson from the Swedish Venture Fund SEF said ‘The culture of a start up really is very different to a corporate, Moving from the large comfortable, supported environment to a flexible challenging one takes a certain tenacity   and openness. When we are looking to bring people into one of our portfolio companies we usually avoid those currently in a corporate, preferring they have made the cultural adjustment already and worked in a start up’.


The compensation will also be very different. You cannot expect a structured scheme offering car, pension, private health and regular bonuses. Be prepared to be flexible and focus on the likely earning power, in particular through equity in the business as the real rewards come once the business exits via a market listing, or trade sale.


Project management and excellence in project execution is also required. The company will have a development programme with closely costed milestones. Future funding tranches are often dependent on the achievement of these and if missed the project can slip or if cash is tight then the company could fold.


The ability to focus and take tough decisions is vital. There may be a number of products in development or there may be a platform technology with numerous applications. Investors tell me it is key to decide what is your ‘killer application’, the one where the market is largest, the IP strongest, the regulatory route simplest or the product best differentiated. Deciding this may be personally challenging if the founders of a business feel the business direction being suggested is a departure from where they set out.


The management team of a start up will often change a number of times from inception to exit. There are different skills required along the way, initially its fundraising and building a team, then managing a development process, product commercialisation and eventually a market listing or trade sale. Rarely does the one team see this through.


Other key attributes are leadership, creativity, risk taking, entrepreneurial flexibility, humility team working and lots of self motivation. The journey with a start up is fast and furious. 


I will leave the final word to Rob Milnes ‘you have to be genuinely confident of being able to fly solo since you will be left alone in much of what you do’.


Ian Sandison is a Director of Remtec Search and Selection a leading European Lifescience and medtech search company. He also assists healthcare inventors start new businesses, contributes to the Cambridge University Judge Business School Entrepreneurship and MBA programmes and lectures in Strategic Marketing at Lord Ashcroft International Business School in Cambridge.