Should you take a job with a biotech startup?

Businesswoman drawing creative business sketch with lamp on brick wall background. Idea and startup concept

At first, the opportunity to join a small biotech startup sounds excellent. Smaller staff usually means less bureaucracy and being on the ground floor of a potentially financially rewarding career. But there are risks.

Leaving the comforts of a big company with a calcified infrastructure, laser-focused job roles, well-established SOPs, deeper pockets, and excellent job security for the scramble and chaos of a younger company isn’t for everyone.

Working for a biotech startup can be a great opportunity, but it comes with caveats. It’s not for the faint of heart: young companies, by their very nature, are rife with ambiguity, undefined roles, shifting goals, and developing processes; this is what makes them innovative, exciting, and, of course, high-risk.

The biggest challenge, of course, is whether the drug they have in development will get through clinical trials so the company can submit an NDA. There are a lot of variables in play here, such as the experience of the person in charge of the trials and their expertise in ensuring that there are no holes that could delay the drug and result in layoffs.

The other huge elephant in the room is money. It costs a lot of money to bring a new drug to market. You need to determine their source of funding and possible contingencies. As we’re finding out, biotech startups have no problem laying off people when setbacks arise. Most VCs insist on laying off people as a way to cut expenses during drug development setbacks, even though by laying off staff, they are inevitably hurting themselves.

Then there is the experience of the executive team. Are they well known within the industry and have deep connections, or are they hand-picked by outside funding sources to protect investments?

Finally, minor political issues arise, such as physicians working with you in trials demanding that you support one of their seminars or small projects. It’s polite blackmail, but it happens much more than you would believe.

Jobs in biotech startups usually come with a good salary and many stock options that could result in a small fortune if the company is successful. Big pharma is on a spending spree, buying small biotech companies as their products move through the pipeline. Employees usually get a payout when that happens, but they could also be absorbed into the new organization to ensure a smooth transition.

If you’re ready to make a difference and have the ability to leave the comfort of big pharma joining small biotech can be rewarding. It’s been my experience that many people love their big pharma security blankets and won’t take a chance on a new drug that could help patients because, in the end, it’s still a business.