Entrepreneurship in Biotechnology, and the Creative Process

David Sable
3 min readAug 21

--

The lab is one of many settings for innovation: Class Pre-Read

Pianist Priya Mayadas
Priya Mayadas

1. Creativity begets creativity. My favorite definition of entrepreneurship? Creativity in a business setting. The creative process is not limited to those who (can) express themselves with a piano, easel, or verse. Successful biotechnology companies are grounded not only in science but in imagination, thoughtfulness, and an ability to successfully plant seeds in the most unlikely of fields. Artists travel a similar path. We can learn a lot from them.

2. Fearlessness. To toil in high-risk fields like biotechnology or the creative arts means being a novice over and over again. None of us likes to screw up, and as we get older we gravitate to activities in which we have at least some level of competence. But with each new idea, each new experiment, each new painting or composition, we start from scratch and have to stumble like toddlers through new skills that we don’t know that we don’t have.

Chopin would never have written his transcendent Nocturnes and Preludes had he not first composed two fairly pedestrian concertos, a good thing to remember when a preclinical program blows up.

3. Failure. Sure, you can cheer yourself up after a setback by reading about how Steve Jobs saved Apple Computer, but the ability to bounce back transcends the business world. I keep an image close by — a picture of the original manuscript for Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, with a big X crossed through it. Apparently, Beethoven did not think quite so highly of his most popular symphony while he was composing it. For every creative masterpiece, there are mis-starts, ”what was I thinking?” moments, and only-the-artist-will-remember embarrassments.

4. Humility. My musician friends tell me that there are nights when you have it and there are nights when you don’t. Ambitious entrepreneurship is the antithesis of a step-by-step, check-list driven, color-by-numbers, draw between the lines and you’ll be fine activity. In these circumstances, our performance can’t consistently match our expectations.

When I meet really successful people, I’m always struck by their humility, which they invariably attribute to having already screwed up in every way possible, multiple times, and in many uniquely humiliating settings. Our creative artists bravely do this in public as a source of inspiration for us. Entrepreneurs in biotechnology are wise to take note.

5. Inspiration. Biotech is still a new discipline, with rapidly evolving tools, vocabularies, and processes to master. There are many “everything I know is wrong” moments. It’s almost too easy to get disillusioned and discouraged as the degree of the incline gets higher and the distance to the peak is farther and farther away.

After a difficult day, step away, put on a good pair of headphones, and immerse yourself in the Brahms D minor piano concerto, or Suite: Judy Blue Eyes, or Kind of Blue.

The lab is not the only place to be creative.
#entrepreneurship #biotechnology

--

--

David Sable

bio fund manager, Columbia prof, ex-reproductive endocrinologist, roadie for @PriyaMayadas. I post first drafts.