In her presentation at last week’s TechCrunch Early Stage event in Boston, SOSV general partner Pae Wu tossed out the tongue-in-cheek phrase “recovering academic” to describe founders in the firm’s IndieBio program.
It’s a fitting label, given many founders in the program are academics, and their journey from academia to accelerator has its share of growing pains as they often have to adapt to the business world without a business degree.
While many such early-stage startups look outside of their founding team to add to their C-suite, Wu explains that the best approach is often simply developing skills within the existing core.
“Being in the C-suite is like getting married,” says Wu. “These are pretty long and committed relationships and you have to be able to know how to work together, get along and have an unbelievable amount of trust with the people you’re working with. I think it’s important for founders to lead that charge.”
What, then, does a founding team do for a recovering academic? After all, giving it all up to launch a startup is the biggest risk many founders will take in their lives. It’s scary, regardless of how confident you might be in your core technology — a dramatic departure from the relative safety of an academic role. One can certainly appreciate why such founders sometimes attempt to keep a foot in each world. “This is a very … difficult problem,” Wu says.
In many cases, professors who work with students on spinning out a breakthrough tech opt to remain at their university, only adopting a C-level title. It’s something that can, and has, been pulled off successfully, but it’s not without its challenges.