e@UBC's first entrepreneur-in-residence specializing in the Life Sciences
We had the chance to sit down and chat with our first Entrepreneur-In-Residence dedicated to ventures in the Life Sciences. Keep on reading for Karen’s full story.
What inspires you about working as an EIR at e@UBC?
Karen: I feel privileged to be working with entrepreneurs solving new medical problems – I want to facilitate that. I am just so excited to be near them… it’s giving me renewed energy and passion watching new entrepreneurs go about to solve their problems. My hope is that I can help them make better decisions with fewer mistakes, and watch them turn their ideas into reality.
Can you tell us about your background – what was the journey to where you are now like?
Karen: It’s always interesting to relate a journey with the benefit of hindsight. You just don’t know where you’ll end up. My journey started in biochemistry; I had the opportunity to work in a lab with a renowned biochemist involved in some incredible research, but through that experience, it told me that I wasn’t driven to be a researcher.
So, what next? I was drawn to the medical field, but something with more of a tangible short-term application. And that’s how I ended up studying pharmacy. Through my studies and encounters with a few impactful mentors and entrepreneurs, it helped set the stage of where I went next – supporting a longer-term vision of bringing innovative therapies to patients.
At this point, I began to get a grasp on what was missing. I knew I needed operational experience, so I left the startup I was working at and took the path down to become a hospital pharmacist. You truly get an understanding of the whole drug continuum there – from the initial customer (the hospital) to the end user (the patient). The time I spent there proved to be invaluable later years – reflecting in hindsight again. So I spent a couple years there, but I knew ultimately, I want to be involved in bringing new drugs to the market. I needed to work in the pharmaceutical industry – and I set my sights to find an entry point into the industry.
I had to choose an entry point that leveraged the most of my background, one that enabled me to learn as much as possible about the industry. And that was in regulatory affairs – a “New Drug Submission” can tell the complete story of a drug. A year into my tenure at Pharma, I was invited by the CEO to participate in a general management training program (he told me he liked my initiative and personal plan for Pharma, irrespective of whether it was spot on or not, I had done my homework). That allowed me to be exposed to every to functional area of a pharmaceutical company: from medical affairs, to manufacturing, to finance and administration systems, and ultimately to marketing and sales, and reimbursement (who pays matters to your success) – all contributing to building a “Target Product Profile”. Bit by bit, I started to trek away at this greater picture I had envisioned.
After a decade of bringing drugs from lab to market, my journey brought me to Vancouver. Now armed with a MBA, I ended up in the financial industry, working as a life science/biotech analyst. In essence, my role was to translate metrics in the health and medical world into economic terms for a new customer, the institutional investor. Following that, it turned out to be an opportune time to become a “consulting entrepreneur” – consulting to biotech and pharmaceutical companies that want to move their innovative products forward, and helping new life science ventures find their footing in the marketplace.
As I reflect back now, all my different experiences really shaped the journey – from starting off in an entrepreneurial setting with not that much experience, really! But along the way, I figured out that armed with a vision you are passionate about, and a plan of how to achieve it, that most assuredly is revised with each new learning and misstep – you can realize your vision, make a difference, and have fun while doing so!
Best piece of mentorship advice you have ever received?
Karen: Know your big dreams, learn to articulate them well, and don’t shy away from them. But I found that if you truly want to realize your dreams, you need to do your homework and break them down into bite-sized pieces. Don’t give up, but break them up and tackle them in smaller chunks and stay true to your course.
You are e@UBC’s first EIR specializing in the Life Sciences. What’s something new in this field that is getting you excited?
Karen: Just off the top of my mind, I am excited about the trend towards more personalized care. No longer will you need to go through 5 different drugs before finding the one that is best suited to you. With more data that is being captured everyday, we can start to analyze key patterns – making it easier to learn more about ourselves.