Entrepreneurism: How to Turn a Need into a Business Idea

Back in high school, I knew I wanted to be a scientist. I did not know why, I simply knew. Because I had a passion for Biology, I pursued undergraduate studies in biochemistry, and graduate studies in Cellular and Molecular Biology in Paris, France. Luckily enough, when I actually started working in a lab during my graduate studies, I still felt that was the right thing for me to do...I loved it! Enthusiastically I completed my training in the field and obtained my Ph.D.

Despite following this classic pathway in science and my love for research, I found that the more research I was doing, the more doubts I had in the future awaiting a young scientist. For the past 10 years, while I was progressing in my studies, a crazy idea developed in the back of my mind: I wanted to run my own company, I wanted to be my own boss. I started desiring that kind of lifestyle and independence. Maybe the idea came from my brothers who had started their own businesses. Or maybe it was because I started picturing myself less and less in the well-established system of academic science. In fact, I have always been resistant to any kind of rigid structure.

I decided I would have my own lab, performing the best research in my field, etc. Every scientist's dream! But then I realized how hard it was to keep a lab running, to get money almost every year in order to pursue the research. I became aware of grants! How often have you heard the story of a great scientist who did not get his/her grant and then suddenly the doors start closing. I heard that story a lot! No grant, no money, no research...no lab!

I just did not feel like working hard and not getting any money because of so many reasons...so many scientists competing for the same grants, so much politics! Maybe my fears were founded, maybe they were not. I still do not know! The result was that I did not feel like doing this my entire life, no matter how much I loved research.

So here was the discrepancy: how could I think about starting a company when I was afraid of not getting enough grants for my hypothetical research lab? After all, you also need money to run a company. Well, I was probably naïve enough to stick with the idea of being my own boss, believing that when you run a company and work hard, you will get results: customers and money.

Several years ago I had the opportunity to come to Canada. I loved everything I saw in Toronto: the life style, the attitude of people at work and outside work. I felt like I had finally found the place I was looking for. It felt right. Before going back to France, I made my decision: after my Ph.D. I would move to Canada, and consider starting a company there! Before leaving I bought a book that was going to be my bedside book for over a year 'Starting a successful business in Canada', by Jack D. James (Self-Counsel Press). This book helped me become familiar with the business and marketing side of running a company, the legislation, and the mistakes not to fall into. It also provided me with step-to-step explanations for registering a company. Back in Paris, I applied for Canadian residency and I spent the last year and half of my research training pondering various business ideas.

It was not until I landed in Canada that an idea made my business dream come true. I was looking for a job in research, but definitely did not want to go through post-doctoral training. I was spending my days surfing the Internet and browsing many different employment sites for scientists. After a month of active searching I was tired and exasperated. Every day I was checking numerous web sites: the large job banks where an interesting position is lost among thousands of non-scientific positions, job banks specific to scientists with positions offered mainly in the U.S. and rarely in Canada, sites listing only academic, biopharmaceutical, or interim positions, and then all of the pharmaceutical companies' and research hospitals' own web sites. The list was crazy and one day it just hit me: there was definitely a lack of a good online resource for job seekers and employers in Life Sciences in Canada. I decided to stop looking for a job and create my own job instead: SciDocs, Inc. was born. The goal was, and still is, to make it a one-stop shopping resource for job seekers and employers in life sciences, centralizing all types of job opportunities for people having some kind of background in the field.

I started doing my own market research to validate my business idea, essentially studying the competition as well as researching market information specific to Canada. For example, Industry Canada's Web site comforted my guess about biopharmaceutical companies booming in Canada, and that one of the main problem the industry is facing and will keep facing is the lack of human resources. So it made sense to create a one-stop shopping resource where skilled employees and employers could meet!

I also validated my business idea by writing a business plan, once again using a Canadian's government resource: the Interactive Business Planner. Creating a business plan was definitely worth it, as it really made me think about all aspects of starting a company, and pushed me to do my homework instead of starting out on an impulse. With my business plan in hand, I also took the opportunity of a trip back to France to talk to the president of a corporate travel agency targeted to biopharmaceutical companies. He has been running his own company for over 20 years and his opinion was very encouraging, reinforcing my idea.

After all strategies were sort of secured on paper, I officially registered the company as a corporation, registered the domain name for the web site, and asked a designer to create the logo. I also learned web design and back-end programming so that the web site could be up and running as soon as possible. I used all resources available to make my idea come true, but mainly the help of many friends with skills in web design, programming, marketing, etc. I was even able to use some of my friends who were looking for a job in the field to beta-test the web site before launching it.

The road is still long ahead of me as SciDocs is developing. We are having a very good feedback from academic people who have been successfully using our web site to find a job or an employee. It is still a challenge to break into the industrial job market, as biopharmaceutical companies seem to be slow to realize they have a wonderful resource at their fingertips to find highly qualified individuals in the field.

I have no regrets having gone solo. Creating SciDocs was definitely a challenge (especially when it is personally financed) and marketing the company still is. However I get a lot more gratification running the company than - I think - I would have running a lab: every position filled thanks to scidocs.com reminds me I am definitely on the right track. I still feel that I am contributing to research, in my own way, helping job seekers and employers find each other. Instead of finding a new drug or a new treatment I help people find a job, and it is as satisfying, and even more - you get immediate feedback for your hard work!

My hopes for the future are to increase employer's awareness of scidocs.com so that it indeed becomes the one-stop shopping resource for job seekers in the field, with the widest variety of job opportunities in Life Sciences. We are also planning to expand our services outside the Canadian market, to Europe and the US, to further support the international exchange of talent and knowledge within the research community.

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