Dr. William Zucker Entrepreneurial Intern Fellow
How did you find the position?
I met a Wharton alum at a Health Care Management alumni networking event who put me in touch with the Philadelphia healthcare venture capital firm, Quaker BioVentures. One of the principals from the firm offered to meet with me to discuss start-up opportunities in the life sciences space. During our meeting, I learned about many start-up biotech and pharmaceutical companies, including Aegerion. I contacted Aegerion’s president and, during our conversation, outlined the ways in which I could leverage my background to add value to the company. After several calls and rounds of negotiations, he offered me an internship.
What was your motivation for working at a start-up over the summer?
Prior to Wharton, I worked for two very large pharmaceutical companies, each with well over 20,000 employees. I was eager to have a summer experience that allowed me to make an immediate impact, work in a number of functions, and sit in on meetings with upper management on a regular basis. In addition, my background focused on marketing and sales for mature products – I wanted to broaden my experience to a pre-commercial product so that I could better understand the drug development process.
What advice would you give to students interested in working at a start-up this summer?
Do it! It’s the only time you can try a job/industry/function risk-free.
About the Summer Experience
This summer, I interned at Aegerion, a biopharmaceutical firm located in Cambridge, MA. Though the company was founded in 2005, it is still very much in start-up mode. Aegerion has not recognized any revenues to date but is in the late stages of developing a drug that treats a rare genetic cholesterol disease.
Drug development is a complex process, and function expertise is especially essential to the success of the company. The CEO had recently recruited a number of industry experts to head each department, and I had the good fortune of working with and learning from each of these individuals. As the company’s sole intern and 16th hire, I got to know everyone in the office extremely well. We were all new to the organization and formed close bonds over the course of the summer.
On my first week, I learned that we were doing a follow-on round of equity financing in 10 days and asked if I could be staffed on that project first. I was able to assist with 10-K preparation and sit in on roadshow presentations and investor calls. Observing the way in which the CEO and his senior management team handled each question proved to be an incredible learning experience.
I also had the chance to help create the company’s long-term incentive program. Their strategy in recruiting and retaining top talent is to grant stock to each new hire, regardless of position. I was asked to align our current stock options outstanding (post follow-on) with our hiring forecast to ensure we were granting an appropriate number of shares to each level within the corporation. The complexity of decreasing grants with each anticipated milestone achievement, establishing appropriate ranges to allow for individual negotiations, and incorporating flexibility into our hiring timeframe made it an interesting and challenging project.
Working at a start-up proved to be not only an interesting experience but also an exciting one. We waited with bated breath for each FDA response letter, dealt with manufacturing issues and created Standard Operation Procedures as operations demanded. I enjoyed my summer so much that I have stayed on as a consultant during the school year and am working for the company for 8 hours per week. Rather than reporting to the CFO as I did during my internship, I am now reporting to the VP of Global Marketing and am working on our commercialization plan for our anticipated upcoming launch.
The fact that I jumped from finance to regulatory to clinical to marketing is a testament to the ever changing needs of start-up organizations. After having rotated through each department, I now have a clear idea of the types of positions I want to pursue post-graduation. I am thrilled with my decision to spend my summer at a start-up and would encourage anyone interested in a dynamic, surprising, and challenging experience to do so.