The Benefits of Taking Your Career to a
Growth Stage Biotech

Over the next few years, thousands of new positions in the biopharma and life sciences industry are expected to open up across the BioHealth Capital Region and the greater Philadelphia area known as Cellicon Valley.

Whether you are fresh out of the university or a seasoned veteran, many job seekers question whether or not they should aim for large biopharmaceutical companies, such as AstraZeneca, Pfizer or GlaxoSmithKline, or look at nimble, growth-stage companies, such as American Gene Technologies, Vita Therapeutics, or BioFactura, Inc., which is currently scaling their cGMP and Quality operations.

Both options have their advantages, but for those job seekers hoping to take more responsibility, speed up their learning curve, and be part of building something, a smaller company might be a good fit. Jeffrey Hausfeld MD, MBA, Chief Medical Officer and Chairman of the BioFactura Board of Directors, said there are multiple advantages for employees working with startups and growth-stage biotech companies.

“In a small company, you wear many hats because you don’t have as many departments as large companies do. You have to float between many roles because it’s important for these companies to preserve investor capital and promote functional cross-training,” Hausfeld said.

That’s certainly been true at Frederick, Maryland-based BioFactura, which began with four members including current President and Chief Executive Officer Darryl Sampey, who had big ideas about running an innovative company. The company develops and commercializes biodefense drugs, novel drugs, and high-value biosimilars, including its Ustekinumab Biosimilar (BFI-751) to Janssen’s Stelara, which is currently in Phase I clinical testing. Other programs under development at BioFactura include biodefense drugs against smallpox and Ebola, as well as novel medicines for cancer.

At smaller companies, employees often work directly alongside company executives. That close kind of near-constant interaction means that C-suite members and directors hear the thoughts of their employees, which is not something that often happens at large operations, Hausfeld explained.

The opportunity to wear multiple hats means workers at growth-stage companies have opportunities to cross-train in other disciplines or departments. And that can provide people with new opportunities for their career, Hausfeld said.

Because of that wider range of responsibilities, Hausfeld said many people thrive in that kind of environment. He said it provides people with a “broad swath of opportunities to learn.” Working at a smaller company can be demanding, and force you to work on overcoming big obstacles to do your job, so it will challenge you and sharpen your skills, he added.

“You have to be willing to go with the flow and roll with the punches… perseverance is the mantra of a seasoned entrepreneur!” he added.

A small company tends to be nimble, which Hausfeld said allows for innovation. And innovation can lead to significant scientific discovery, such as the biosimilar and novel products BioFactura develops.

For BioFactura, Chief Executive Officer Dr. Darryl Sampey said the company is at a “crossroads of innovation and commercialization.” And that means they have to look at the bigger picture when it comes to growth and the types of positions that will become necessary as the company scales. And that means that employees who come to BioFactura require a lot of passion and commitment to the company’s goals.

The ability to be nimble also benefits smaller companies when it’s time to expand or move to a new facility, such as what BioFactura is in the process of doing.

Additionally, Sampey said a smaller company provides more opportunities for advancement based on accomplishments and work ethic. That can be a key recruiting tool for startups and growth-stage companies. Company culture is also a powerful device for startups.

Culture is also something that employees can have a direct impact upon at smaller companies. Employees are able to offer their opinions on company processes, which can shape the future.  When individual contributors influence company growth and changes, there’s a marked level of satisfaction throughout the workforce.

In smaller companies, particularly, company culture reflects the founding vision of that organization. Culture is often cited as one of the influences for attracting and retaining talent. For prospective employees, it’s important to find a culture that not only fits with an individual’s style and goals, but also how much time they may be willing to invest in the future success of the company.

Hausfeld noted that at BioFactura, as well as at other growth-stage companies, everyone is engaged and committed to the success of the company and the focus on patients. The company’s culture is crucial to its mission.

One drawback to growth-stage companies is they can limit a strong work-life balance. Because of the multiple hats worn at smaller companies and the multi-disciplinary approach to operations, employees may spend more time at the office or in the lab, as opposed to larger companies where roles are more focused.

In contrast to a smaller company, there are benefits to working with a larger organization, such as pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline. There is less financial risk at a larger company due to the influx of revenues from commercially available products, late-stage venture funding or other forms of financing. Many roles in larger companies are narrower in their focus, or siloed, as Hausfeld called it, which some job seekers prefer.

Steven Walker, Senior Director of Global Marketing for Early Portfolio Strategy at GSK, noted that the company provides opportunities to work in multiple countries, due to its global reach. Walker said a company like GSK provides employees with the opportunity to gain a depth of subject matter expertise, as well as the opportunity to work at different locations across the world.