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Building the Startup Dream Team


Pharmaceutical Executive

Pharmaceutical ExecutivePharmaceutical Executive-06-01-2019
Volume 39
Issue 6

Key staffing strategies for emerging biopharma entrepreneurs in attracting the talent to bring their visions and ideas to life.

Investors like to put their money behind people as much as ideas, so building the right team at the right time is ultimately the most critical factor in determining the success or failure of a new venture. And it is crucial for startup companies in the life sciences. The question is, who should emerging biopharma entrepreneurs be targeting to give their missions the greatest chance of success, and how should they go about attracting the talent?

The light-bulb moment

Anyone can have a great idea, but it’s how that idea is executed that makes the difference. Successful evolution relies on brilliant people. One person alone is unlikely to secure an entrepreneur the investment they need in order to make a success of their venture. Put simply, if you don’t add scale to your team, you won’t add scale to your idea.


Build a board

Before seeking out series A funding, entrepreneurs should build their own personal advisory board. There is no substitute for experience when it comes to giving a startup the best chance of success. These board members should have experience in scaling up products and teams from concept through to commercialization. If you can present to investors an ex-CEO who has been through all the challenges, who understands the full product lifecycle and all the regulatory hurdles, then your business proposition becomes significantly more attractive.

The benefits of building a team early aren’t restricted to investors, either. The sooner you have access to quality advice and decision-making, the greater your chances of a fast route to successful launch.

Assembling your roster

So you have your idea, your advisors, and your plan to build a team. Now the hard work really begins: How do you attract top talent to a startup? Many industry veterans can be tempted to take a risk if they believe they’ll be a part of something really big. That doesn’t simply mean persuading them of the superiority of your product or drug candidate-it’s about empowering them to see how their experience and gravitas will be crucial to securing the company’s future.

It is also important to treat each position in a fledgling business as a specialist role. Allotting more than one area of responsibility is a typical approach to help save costs, but this can make it difficult for people to focus, causing burnout and ultimately, it can dilute your resources of expertise.

And, while building a great culture will future-proof your business, don’t fall into the trap of hiring a “type.” The most successful businesses are usually those who bring diversity of background, ideas, and working approaches to the table.

The hiring process

At interview time, pitch the company vision first. If a candidate is not excited about this, you’ll know straight away that they are not going to be right for you. Passion-and a shared vision-is absolutely critical to success.

It can be a mental hurdle for many, but don’t be afraid to hire someone with more experience, who is more renowned or better paid. Don’t lose sight of the fact that you are building the dream team who can bring your vision to life. It’s also important not to dismiss candidates who may have previously worked for a startup that failed. It doesn’t mean the failure was their fault; moreover, they may know what mistakes to avoid.

Great candidates are a precious commodity. If you have a candidate on hold, don’t assume there is a better one-you just might risk losing the perfect new addition to your board. Experienced C-suite professionals in fields like medtech and biotech always have lots of options, so speed is essential. If you leave a candidate hanging, it could detrimentally affect your reputation as an employer.

When it comes to salary, it is important to remain open-minded yet realistic. Don’t pass on an interview with a potential candidate just because of their salary. Salary is rarely a candidate’s only consideration when deciding whether or not to accept an offer. Neither is equity. Factors such as work-life balance and internal culture are increasingly important to today’s executives.


It is easy for biotech entrepreneurs to fall into the trap of devoting all of their attention to their big idea, thereby failing to focus on the human component of success. The initial investment in human capital may create nervousness, but if there’s inherent belief in the company’s vision, then the risk will undoubtedly be worth it. 


Chris Coe is EVP, Executive Search, at Talentmark


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