From Academics to Biotech: A Journey to the Supposed “Dark Side”


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who developed one of the top 20 drugs in the world.

When I envisioned life in venture capital, I wanted a challenging, fast-paced environment rife with new ideas requiring ultimate intellectual adaptability. And I found it indeed. And there is more to the story than high volume and brain-twisting challenges. Business requires soft skills—not something I personally felt I had to cultivate as a peccadillo-ridden, quirky geek. Fast and loose lab meetings with colleagues arguing the didactic issue of the day have been replaced with comparatively glacial, civilized business meetings—that is, to the untrained eye. I have begun to notice that from the nervous shuffling of papers to the ‘bad smell’ scrunching of my nose, I must work to control my ‘tells’ and harness my reactive nature. If I learn to listen and observe very carefully, there is a lot going on.

This was the very topic of my first meeting as member of Class 14 of the Kauffman Fellows program at the Kauffman Center for Venture Education. For someone as green as I am, I think of the Kauffman Fellows two-year program as immersion studies in the language of venture capital. My first, three-day intensive class session left me with a head full of new ideas – from what makes the ideal CEO to how many times per minute I blink – as well as 27 new friends across the globe, from South America to Ireland. Perhaps divulging their devious and brilliant social engineering skills, the Center for Venture Education selected 27 highly educated and extremely competitive people to study together. Far from killing each other, as one might expect, we ended up giddy as first-graders released from the bonds of nap time, committed to championing the cause of Innovation and the Entrepreneur.

You see that? I just dropped a few business-type words. I wouldn’t have used those words a year ago, and probably would have raised an eyebrow at someone who did. I guess you could track my transitions best by looking at my kitchen language. At first I asked for a “cup” of sugar. Then, as a scientist, I asked for an “aliquot” of sugar. And just last week I asked my husband to “deploy a cup of sugar, arguing a greater return on investment as regards cake sweetness.”

The upside: an entirely new world of interesting people. The downside: hosiery.

So this is my first report and I welcome new friends and new ideas (and some requisite hazing that comes with being the new kid on the block).

While my academic friends still take my calls, I must admit there is a palpable difference when I visit the laboratory. I no longer feel the compulsion to run to the lab bench, no longer compulsively dive in to the detailed intricacies of lab scientific conversations. Or perhaps I simply can’t hear them over the jangle of filthy lucre in my pocket. So far, so good and no regrets…but I’ll keep you updated.

“Welcome to the Dark Side…”

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Charlotte Hubbert is an Associate and Kauffman Fellow with Accelerator Corporation, a Seattle-based privately-held biotechnology investment and development company that is building the next generation of biotechnology companies. Follow @

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17 responses to “From Academics to Biotech: A Journey to the Supposed “Dark Side””

  1. Fernando says:

    Welcome to the dark side? No, in fact I think you just jumped to the “market side”, and the sun is allways brighter over here. Wish more weird, crazy and brilliant scientists were welcomed on this side.

  2. Jeanot says:

    The dark side sounds pretty fun, and I’d love to venture into to it one day, although the one thing I’d have a hard time adjusting to is a dress code (if they do indeed exist on the market side of things). Oh, and just so you know, your academic friends will always take your calls.

  3. Ajamete says:

    Oh come on, every academic dreams of starting their own company. All the best and brightest do! They just don’t want to give up their day jobs and the freedom they have in academia. It take real guts and creativity to meld the freedom of academic science with darwinian drive of capitalism to build something that improves peoples lives and makes VCs rich.

  4. Sarah says:

    It seems that the dichotomy between academic research and biotech research is disintegrating. We are already seeing more fluidity develop between the two camps as we come to the realization that the differences between the two are not as great as imagined. Investigators at many different stages in their careers transition between academia and industry. Academic labs are partially supported with industry sponsored projects, and companies host academic researchers on sabbatical. A culture of dialog and exchange is developing through seminars, symposia, and casual networking that allow academic and biotech investigators working in similar fields to combine knowledge and resources to the benefit of both parties. It is an exciting time to be in science and your unique experiences in both a high profile academic lab and a fast paced VC will position you to be a leader in the scientific community.

  5. Anonymouse says:

    But are you getting paid currently?

  6. Charlotte HubbertCharlotte says:

    Yes. I currently get paid.

  7. Will says:

    Hey if you ever manage to figure out how to transfer calls would you let me know? Learning to drive is easier than figuring out how to navigate those things that look like straightforward telephones but act like commodore64s on steroids. I usually resort to asking my colleagues to come over and speak to the caller on my phone.

  8. k says:

    Exceptional and colorful–informative and enlightening. Your article is written with the flourish of someone who is well read, articulate, educated. It also suggests a waft of honeymoon, a breathless wide-eyed excitement contained just under the subcutaneous tissue of your pen. But I can’t help wondering if the lustre of business will erode over the years. Do veterans and converts on “The Dark Side” look back over the wall and regret making good their escape? I’m not suggesting that they do, or that research for the sake of research is more pure or honorable than a fist full of yen, but you’ve gotta wonder if the grass really is greener… I look eagerly forward to your follow-ups.

  9. Jake Harrison says:

    Hi Charlotte,
    I just found this quote from Orville Wyss: “It has never been demonstrated that the cloister is in any way superior to the market place for training a man to think, or that applied science is in any way inferior to pure science as an intellectual effort.” Best of luck!

  10. AB says:

    Great article! Here are some of the things I noticed when I went from post-doc to VC:
    1) naturally, biotech has less tolerance than academia for “lateral science” – the tendency to fill in all the gaps. With cash and competition being matters of life and death for a company, the mantra is to keep pushing forward.

    2)soft skills and managing people and teams is critical to success. Most good academic PIs do this, but it’s not explicitly taught in academia and you have to face it day one in the business world.

    3) the board meetings of small R&D companies are often not unlike lab meetings in academia. Sure, the financials are discussed at some point, the bulk of the time is spent discussing data and next steps.

  11. Melanomanic says:

    Ah, Dr. Hubbert. I hope that years from now, you will not stare into the mirror of your new Tesla roadster and ask ‘What ever happened to the Little Miss Messy I once knew?’. She’s now dressed in Gucci and Manolo Blahniks. And of course hosiery.

  12. New to biotech says:

    Very enlightening article!
    I just wonder how much pressure do you have in this kind of “job”. During my post doc and PhD , I was working 7 days a week, at least 11h per day. The pressure to get data was enormous, my boss wanted everything done yesterday. I do believe in hard work, but staying in the lab for 24h doesn’t make you more efficient, actually many times its the opposite . Now working for a company I enjoy the idea of “normal” hours and being much more creative since my brain is not overloaded with information.
    So how it is in ventures? What happens if things don’t work the way it was planned? Is it 24/7 job or you can actually “have a life”?

  13. Charlotte HubbertCharlotte says:

    Dear New to Biotech,
    I’ve been contemplating how to answer your great question of pressure and time. Seeing as how it took me short of forever to answer your post, I’d say VC takes a lot of my time. I agree that 24/7 lab work had a lot of pressure, but it was also more of a solo event — were I to sleep in one day, it was between me and my cells. Now I’m responsible for meetings and physical deliverables with direct consequences.From what I have experienced so far, VC is a 24/7 event tempered with an acute sense of ‘having a life’. When VCs take the time to have a life, they do it in style. (Happy hour keg tappers replaced with Sommeliers).I keep banker’s hours, but it seems like I’m working harder now than I have before. Perhaps that’s the vertical learning curve (jumping into biotech AND business) and the need to hustle. The real time information content I digest is enormous. As for things not going as planned — there is the similarity with science. Nothing goes as planned. VC requires living in a fluid state in all axes, which generates its own pressures. And talk about your delayed gratification — creating a biotech company takes years.

  14. New to biotech says:

    Thanks for taking time to reply.

  15. almost retired says:


    Finally got around to reading your article. You are as always cleaver and fun. Do you wear the ruby red slippers with those hose?

    I grew up in Kansas City and the Kaufmann was about the only biotech industry in the city. How interesting that his legacy should champion your transition. I look forward to hearing more.

  16. TonyC says:

    The strokes of your pen are certainly filled with style, Charlotte. You’re a pleasure to read – on the side of my screen, juxtaposed to the poker hand of b-plans I’m masticating at the moment. My path to venture capital is analogous to yours – perhaps 3 base pairs of difference. I transitioned from medical school, spent time in the consulting world and returned to business school prior to entering the world of VC. A few of your readers asked whether the flame that lured us still burned as brightly, or perhaps even singed us. From my perspective, the flame has now become a constellation of brightly burning bodies that continue to excite me and that continue to forge the tools for the practice of medicine and science. A light that touches potentially everyone. I was burdened by the notion that I was abandoning clinincal pursuits and that I had abandoned the pursuits of medicine and science. I can only say with clarity now that those concerns could not be farther from the truth. The value of ALL of medicine and science is measured through application and utility, and venture investing, which enables and facilitates application and utility, is in fact the light side…not the dark side.
    You have exciting times ahead of you!

  17. Klowee says:

    cool to read this – contact me, please. i’m so glad you landed on your hosiery-clad feet