Start-up advice for biotech SMEs

Small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the biotechnology industry must use scientific and corporate boards strategically if they are to become truly international companies. That’s the message from Canadian researchers in the current issue of the International Journal of Technoentrepreneurship.

Sophie Veilleux and Marie-Josée Roy of the Faculty of Business Administration, at Université Laval, in Quebec, explain how such companies are faced with many complex decisions to make in their start-up phase. Internationalisation and alliances are essential to development given the nature of the products such firms generate. The team has surveyed 22 biotech SMEs to evaluate their attitudes and behaviour with regard to developing and accessing complementary skills through corporate and scientific boards.

The team found that the companies studied do use boards to gain knowledge and expertise to which they would not otherwise have access if they were “going it alone”. The members of such boards are recruited for a diversity of skills in functional, executive, international, and scientific areas. And, there is some, albeit limited, gender equity with almost two-thirds of the companies having at least one female board member; as opposed to a little over half of companies in general.

However, there is a downside. Some respondents to the survey point out that some board members are too passive, the venture capital representatives, in particular. Moreover, maintaining a directorial board and a scientific advisory board is quite onerous and if the company is using the SAB in particular as a cosmetic enhancement, they may well be losing out to competitors who tap a putatively rich seam of knowledge available to them.

Companies need to address the issues around boards carefully and recognise the potential trade-offs and consequences associated with decisions regarding both the managerial and the scientific advisory board, the team says. “Establishing a shared vision and understanding of these responsibilities is critical to manage expectations and ensure constructive relationships,” they suggest.

Veilleux, S. and Roy, M-J. (2015) ‘Strategic use of corporate and scientific boards in the internationalisation of biotech firms’, Int. J. Technoentrepreneurship, Vol. 3, No. 1, pp.67–93.

Author: David Bradley

Award-winning, freelance science writer based in Cambridge, England.