Entrepreneurship, the passion to start and/or run a small business, is an important skill in the biotechnology field. Business skills are much needed in the biotechnology field in order to make money on biotech research and help bring new technologies and drugs to the marketplace. Biotech startup companies are popular and important as they work to develop the next drugs that pharmaceutical companies will sell. Failure rates among biotech startups tend to be high. However, the risk may be worth it, since the average annual wage for current biotech employees according to a 1999 Virginia study, topped $54,000.
Karen Giroux knows all about the success and failure rates of biotech startups. She has run several of them, including as president of EpiGenesis in Cranbury and most recently as CEO of Polymerix in South Brunswick. Karen went to Massachusetts Institute of Technology as an undergrad, where she earned the first interdisciplinary science degree because she was trained in physics, chemistry and biology. Sure, she is a scientist. But Karen decided along the way that she did not want to spend her entire career in the laboratory. Biotech CEOs not only have to have science skills, they also need to know how to raise money to grow their ideas and their businesses. Karen is a great example of someone who has never been afraid to tackle new jobs in order to get better career skills.
"One of the difficulties of equity raising (raising money from investors to support your new business) is understanding the vocabulary," explains Karen, who left Polymerix last fall. "One of the reasons I did a stint of commuting into Manhattan as a venture capitalist (someone who invests in the ownership of a new company) with a guy that wanted to start a life science fund is that I knew the only way to learn the language of finance was to be immersed in it as a participant on that side of the table. Perhaps because my parents were not business people and I had a lot of backfilling to do because I had been a scientist the first half of my career, I decided to figure out my own intensive MBA (masters of business administration) program with on-the-job training."
Karen is not the only female biotech exec and entrepreneur in New Jersey. Elizabeth Posillico is another woman to watch in this field. Elizabeth is CEO of Elusys Therapeutics in Pine Brook, a biopharmaceutical firm focused on developing antibody therapies for treating infectious diseases...like those caused by anthrax, the white powdery stuff that created such a stir after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Elusys's lead product, Anthim, has shown to be effective in fighting infections caused by anthrax up to 48 hours after people are exposed to it. Elusys is also developing drugs that target non-Hodgkins lymphomas, lupus and deep-vein thrombosis. That should keep Elizabeth busy for a while.