Is your next career move to lead a small company?

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Over 17 years in medical device recruitment, Remtec have developed the ability to advise both candidates and companies on their next career move or senior hire.
I recently attended two conferences; the Fierce Biotech Summit at the Royal Society of Medicine and the Hume Brophy Healthcare Investor Conference at Simmons and Simmons.

Over very nice tea and biscuits and later on wine and canapés I became engaged in two common discussions. Candidates asking me 'How can I work for a start up?' and start ups saying, ' I struggle to find senior candidates'. Given that there seems to be a supply and demand challenge it got me thinking about why the problem remains. Here is one proposition.

'A corporate career may not prepare you well to work in a start up'

Why do I say this ?

At Remtec we meet many experienced candidates who feel their next career move is to leave their corporate career and explore opportunities in smaller companies. What they often do not appreciate is their skills may not be right, and they have not spent enough time getting to know the needs of the start up sector.

Often smaller start up companies hire experienced corporate execs, but again there can also be a mismatch here.

It helps if the smaller company/start up market can be broadly split into two categories

1. Sales and marketing business that are either country based offices of larger corporate companies or local country based distributors of a range of products.

2. Product development start up companies who are developing a new technology and likely to be funded by an external source that may include grants, angel or Venture Capital (VC) funds.

The skills required to lead these types of companies have some similarities. However they do have some quite distinct differences. Let's explain this further.

Broadly the first category of companies include the following departments; sales, marketing, customer services and distribution. A candidate seeking to lead this type of business would require these skills and which may have been gained from a number of career routes,  including working for a large corporate organisation in a senior commercial role.

The second category of company will also have these functions as they launch the products they are developing, but initially the main functions a CEO will manage will be overseeing a product development process, a clinical trial programme, raising finance, managing a board including external investors and at some point taking a company through an exit.

During my 12 years in corporate medtech companies leading commercial teams, I gained experience in all of the category one functions and none of the category two, except a small amount of inputting into an R&D process from a sales and marketing viewpoint.
When an experienced sales and marketing professional with a corporate background says to me, 'I'd like to be an MD/CEO of a start up' I guide them through the above scenario, get them to reflect and they often guide themselves towards the sales and marketing company. Besides the usual cultural challenges of moving from a large to a small company, their skills aren't a best fit for the product development start up.

Given candidates are unlikely to gain all the skills required to lead the product development company in a corporate role,  then where can they get closer to these needs?

There are many options, however I see very few corporate managers taking them.

Networking is the key one, not with other large companies at ABHI events or Medica, but at events that attract the smaller product development start ups looking for money and senior executive input and these would include events organised by:
One Nucleus
Oxford Bioscience Network
ARU Medtech Campus
Health Tech Innovation labs
The numerous medtech events on the 'Meet up' or Eventbrite platforms.

You should be registered for the the newsletters of these organisations as well as the following:
Knowledge Transfer Network
Kent Surrey and Sussex AHSN
West Midlands AHSN
Venture Valuation

There are at least 2 or three free events a week in London for healthcare companies.
Attending these will bring you into contact with smaller product development companies. You will hear about their challenges that are mainly around managing cash, raising finance, hiring people, clinical trial hurdles, product development problems, managing investor expectations, as well as the eventual commercialisation piece.
You will get the chance to network with small company CEO's, develop relationships, possibly become an advisor or Non Exec Director. You will hear VC funds and grant providers discuss what they look for in a new business and it’s management team and you will learn that cash absolutely is king and its management critical.
All this insight into the small company world will enhance your prospects of working for or managing one.

Remtec will be attending the following events in the Autumn.

November 11th One Nucleus - The Future of London Lifesciences 

November 12th Vascular Society 

November 18th One Nucleus - Tech Transfer and Academia

November 30th HTI - Journeys to Innovation Product to Market

December 9th One Nucleus - Smart Technologies Innovation

December 15th HTI - Journeys to innovation Product to Market 

Ian Sandison is Commercial Director for Remtec Search and Selection. His other business interests include raising finance for companies, consulting with start ups and contributing to various Entrepreneurship programmes at Cambridge University. 

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