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Leadership

How to teach an entrepreneur to let go

Published 20 November 2023 in Leadership • 5 min read

Biotech entrepreneur Juana Lucia FloresCandia explains that technology has changed the way to mentor chief executives. Here are her three ways to get entrepreneurs to focus

The job of a biotech entrepreneur is thrilling. It’s hard to think of something more exciting than to sit at the forefront of technology and business. But to execute an exciting vision, with the greatest impact, demands a full-time commitment. When you are in executionmode and always on the move, it’s easy to forget to allow enough time for self-care and your family.

There are constant distractions and decisions to be made, too. Disruptive technologies are growing exponentially and changing the way we manage, and deliver, our products and services. The challenge is not only which choices to make, but also when to make them. Entrepreneurs have to ask themselves how they can transform those challenges into opportunities, without causing distress in focused teams and while managing demanding shareholders.

And then there is the decision on when to let go. When startups are ready to move onto the next significant stage of growth, their chief executives and founders are confronted with the need to cede authority and responsibility. In many cases, successful entrepreneurs abandon the same blueprint that helped them to build the company when resources were restricted.

This is why entrepreneurs need a mentor. They need someone to help them to navigate these decisions, to talk through the impact of new technology, and to keep them and their businesses on track.

How to connect

After I had started my first biotech company in Lima in the 1990s – to transform native Peruvian raw materials into high-added-value products of pharmaceutical and industrial applications 

– I was hired by international companies to drive transformational change.  Crucial to excelling in this area was not only my technical know-how, but also my ability to build trust and empathize with others.  

I recall having to build a global-transformation program to turn around a household brand.  

It meant launching 20 projects in more than 20 countries and addressing every stage of the value chain, from R&D to distribution and sales.

While my responsibility then was to connect local with global, and channel resources and know-how in the best possible way, it was everybody’s commitment and engagement that allowed us to go beyond incremental improvement to transformational impact, achieving sustainable double-digit growth.

This experience of scaling projects within companies has proven invaluable in the next stage of my career: helping entrepreneurs hone the skills and define the strategy to take their business to the next level.

Questions for entrepreneurs 

Entrepreneurs also need help because the biotech and healthcare industries have changed so rapidly. They have become more and more tech-affected and tech-focused, lowering the barriers to entry for tech giants. . This has changed the competitive landscape profoundly. 

To give just a couple of examples, China’s Tencent has invested in numerous medical startups since 2017 and, a year later, Amazon entered the health sector after it acquired PillPack, an online pharmacy, now Amazon Pharmacy. One of its biggest deals last year was the acquisition of the primary-care organization One Medical.

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With all of these changes, here are the questions that I ask biotech entrepreneurs to get them to focus:

What makes your business unique?

When building a strategy with companies, I focus on the distinctive power of that company, the platform, or the offering at hand. I am currently working with a fantastic company in the field of drug discovery, for example, which is approaching drug targets in a novel manner.

The main questions I ask chief executives are: what makes your offering unique? Will it have a lasting positive difference, either to patients’ lives and/or to the industry? Has the solution/offering been validated and how? How resilient is it? Does it have a strong and highly committed team to make it excel?

How are you using your connections?

Next, I work at strengthening that uniqueness, either organically or via strategic partnerships, in ways that are going to be hard for competitors to copy.  

Then, I help chief executives build their platform and expand their network, both within the industry and in adjacent segments, which sets them up for future growth.

How is this helping?

I find staying focused is the hardest habit for chief executives to maintain, even though it is critical to achieving goals. Established companies generally have well-ingrained processes in place to keep them on track; however, too much internal attention may prevent large corporations from realizing what is happening around them and the risks it may bring to the execution of their own strategy.

Traditionally, startups are more often distracted by their curiosity about new technologies, scientific breakthroughs, and business opportunities, as well as what they see as the bold strategic moves of their competitors.  

While I try to understand what it is that drives entrepreneurs, I almost always have to pose the same question: how is this helping you to achieve your goal? Depressingly, the answer is almost always either “it isn’t” or “minimally”.

The demands on entrepreneurs are significant. They need to have utter focus on a variety of complex matters, such as value proposition, market validation, customer intimacy, business models, team and culture, operational excellence, and risk monitoring. They can’t be distracted by pretty baubles that don’t help their company move forward.

Ultimately, there is no single recipe for success. So, I adapt and adjust myself to what the companies I work with want to achieve. 

Authors

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Juana Lucia Flores-Candia

Biotech entrepreneur and Board Member

Juana Lucia FloresCandia began her career as an entrepreneur in biotech and landed in new business development, corporate strategy, and AI/ML application in healthcare . The author of more than 30 scientific articles and holder of many patents, she sits on numerous boards, mentoring and inspiring high-performance teams. She completed her EMBA from IMD in 2013. 

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