Meet the Next Generation of Great Entrepreneurs, A Visit with MIT Postdocs

MIT Postdocs Hear from Company Builders About Entrepreneurship

By Paulina Hill, Senior Associate (aka the apprentice)

My Alma mater MIT and Polaris Partners, where I’m transitioning from bench researcher to venture capitalist, recently hosted the first MIT Postdoctoral Entrepreneurship Symposium. The event was truly the first of its kind at MIT (I wish had been exposed to such an event when I was a postdoc).  The symposium’s goal was to educate postdocs about company building and working in industry, and to help them form connections with entrepreneurial leaders.

MIT’s Bob Langer discusses becoming an entrepreneur with Polaris partner and MIT alumnus Alan Spoon

Over 100 postdocs attended the symposium and participated in a dynamic conversation with Polaris partners and members of our extended family, including several MIT company building all-stars.

Having recently transitioned out of a postdoc position in Bob Langer’s lab in the Chemical Engineering department at MIT, I appreciated the questions posed to the panelists by the familiar faces in the crowd — my recent, former colleagues.

Can you still publish at a small company?

How do you go about finding a job in a startup?

How did you start your first company?

And the million dollar question: Can you ever go back to academia after crossing over to the “dark side” of industry?

Postdocs pay close attention to panelists

Indeed, I’m still learning the answers to some of the questions myself now that I’ve been thrown into the deep-end of the pool to learn how to support company building. Fortunately, I have great mentors to rely on who are guiding me through the venture capital apprentice process.

Over the course of the event, especially during the one-on-one cocktail discussions, more personal questions were raised:

What the heck do you do all day at a small “company” of 2-3 people with no access to lab space?

Don’t you have to know something about business to work in a company? 

What if you have a PhD in a field that has nothing to do with what the startup is doing?

Reception gave postdocs opportunity to ask individual questions

It became clear that our next generation of entrepreneurs, as brilliant as they are, have a plethora of unanswered questions about startups. Unfortunately, in the academic setting, postdocs are prepared for very little other than…academia.  Finding different perspectives away from the lab bench can be challenging.

Former MIT postdoc Peter Hecht, CEO of Ironwood Pharmaceuticals, discusses careers in industry

Fortunately, postdocs don’t need to build a new network, they just need to tap into an already existing one. MIT, Polaris, and the extended Polaris community can offer postdocs many great mentors, making the process of identifying career choices exciting and less isolated.  And what I have experienced from this welcoming network of great entrepreneurs is that there is an eagerness to share experiences, offer guidance, and make connections.

I look forward to sharing more posts as my apprenticeship continues.

Categories: Polaris


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