This is my first blog post for Bio Careers, so I’m going to tell you about myself, my influences, and where I want to go with this blog. However, I’m not going to give you my CV (I’m on LinkedIn, and you can see all the gory details there).
I’m a scientist, an entrepreneur, and a teacher who loves learning about all things science. I’m a voracious and omnivorous reader. I’m working on my craft as a writer to communicate ideas better. I believe scientists must communicate their results, not only to one another, but also to the general public, who fund most research. I’m a leader and an innovator. I get excited about new technologies. If you show me a new gadget or instrument, I want to know how it works, but I also want to know how I can use it to answer questions. I am always learning something new — I speak French, and I’m learning my second foreign language, Croatian. Many people have influenced me, and I may talk about them in later posts, but the two most influential people in my life were my dad and my major professor at my university.
My dad was an entrepreneur. Making money was easy for him. The difficulty was keeping it. It wasn’t that he would spend exorbitant amounts of money. It was that he expanded his projects faster than he should have. He grew his companies past their capital reserves and was not able to make payroll. The first entrepreneurial lesson I learned from my dad was always have enough capital. Don’t expand your company too quickly. Take your fundamental product and make it the best. Sell that product until you have established your company in the market, and it can make a profit. Then add to your portfolio. Grow in spurts, just like a child.
When I was a university student I had no idea what I wanted to do — probably like a lot of other people. I thought I wanted to go to medical school. But I had the good fortune to be an okay student at a university that allowed freshman to wallow around for the first two years of school as Open Option students. I took my prerequisite classes that every major must take with a heavy dose of the science courses of a premed student.
Everything changed for me my sophomore year. I took a developmental biology class from a great teacher, Dr. Wilson, who had a passion for teaching. His enthusiasm about biology and genetics was infectious. He is a Drosophila geneticist, and he worked his research into his lectures about development. I caught the research bug from him — it’s an infectious disease if you didn’t know. I joined his lab as an undergraduate researcher. On my first day, I was given a box of fifty tubes with hundreds of flies in each tube, and told to keep them alive, but phenotypically distinct — translation, ‘don’t mix up the tubes, newbie.’
After I showed I was competent in the lab, and didn’t mix up the flies, I was given a real project. The lab was interested in how insects become resistant to insecticides. Dr. Wilson had been studying this for years and caught, in his backyard, wild fruit flies that were highly resistant to most insecticides. Like all good scientists, he made an observation, and hypothesized that there was something in the genes of this particular strain of Drosophila that made them resistant.
Drosophila has been used as a model organism for genetics since 1910, and many different strains with different phenotypes have been bred. Dr. Wilson could use the different strains to discover the genes responsible for resistance. After many months, using a subset of thousands of different strains of fruit flies available, I found a region of the Drosophila genome that seemed to confer resistance to the insecticide that I was studying.
I was hooked! I knew I wanted to do science for the rest of my life. I joined the biology department my junior year. Dr. Wilson let me work in his lab and gave me encouragement and guidance for the next two years. He helped me choose and apply to graduate schools. Without Dr. Wilson, I would not be where I am today.
Where am I today? I’m living in Zagreb, Croatia with my Croatian wife whom I met in France, and we’re waiting for her immigration visa to be processed. What am I doing? I’m working in a lab, learning how to do mass spectrometric measurements, and I’m a private consultant to small to medium biotech startups looking to start in Croatia, the 28th and newest member state of the European Union. I help them set up their labs, obtain funding, and analyze their scientific ideas.
With this blog, I want to chronicle my experiences as an entrepreneur in an emerging economy. I want to talk about my influences, and the lessons I have learned from my various mentors — there are a lot of dad stories to come. I believe the entrepreneurial spirit is essential to all scientists, even if they don’t want to start their own companies.
The things I write about will be applicable to graduate students looking for the next step and, of course, postdoctoral fellows that are looking to make their own opportunities. I will write posts about finding mentors, making contacts, dealing with rejection, writing grants and business plans, and anything else that comes to mind. I want to be a guide to anyone that is interested in entrepreneurship. I will also add links in my posts to resources on the web that I have found particularly useful.
I hope you join me on this adventure. I am sure there will be many ups and downs.