The Affinity Column: The Business of Biotechnology – Leadership, Investments, and High School Teachers

UW Applied Biotechnology Program Team October 7, 2020
The Affinity Column: The Business of Biotechnology – Leadership, Investments, and High School Teachers

Biotechnology companies aren’t just entities that discover and produce solutions to tackle the world’s most pressing problems; they are also businesses with leaders, employees, and investors. Many are beholden to shareholders to be profitable and meet milestones.

Biotechnology research can be expensive and slow to produce results, making it challenging to achieve success. Often, significant investments from outside sources—such as venture capital or government grant programs—need to be made in order for startup biotechnology companies to grow and reach their goals.

This month’s Affinity Column focuses on the business side of biotechnology, including its leadership, global impacts, and capital investments.

What I’m listening to…

Pathways to leadership within a biotechnology company vary considerably. In Episode 74 of The Long Run podcast, Abe Ceesay, CEO of Tiburio Therapeutics, details his unconventional journey as a bi-racial child raised by a single mom to becoming CEO. Listening to Ceesay’s account, what stood out was the positive influence high school teachers and coaches made on his life. Teachers and coaches: keep doing the good work you do shaping our future biotechnologists.

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What I’m watching…

Yearning for the time before COVID-19, I came across a panel discussion from HubWeek Fall Festival 2019 featuring President and Co-Founder of Ginkgo Bioworks, Reshma Shetty, and Managing Director of Bain Double Impact Fund, Greg Shell. The pair discusses the challenges that come with biotechnology innovation in creating an impact unicorn—a billion-dollar valuation or a billion lives impacted. Today, biotechnology companies are expected to do more than just be profitable; they are now held to a triple bottom line: people, planet, and profit.

What I’m reading…

Although Bill Gates is known for starting Microsoft, perhaps he is better known for his humanitarian contributions through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. When Bill Gates invests in something on a large scale, people take notice. The Forbes article “Why Bill Gates is Betting Millions on Synthetic Biology” explains why the synthetic biology sector is skyrocketing, raising more than $12 billion over the last decade.

The biotechnology field is positioned to continue growing at an exponential rate. COVID-19 has challenged the biotechnology industry’s capacity to create vaccines and treatments within a short time frame. Climate change has highlighted the need for new environmental solutions. A burgeoning world population will necessitate innovative ways to produce and distribute food. With long lead times to success, high failure rates, and high cost of research, the business of biotechnology isn’t for the faint of heart. Accordingly, we will need strong leadership and continued financial support of biotechnology companies long into the future. 

About the author: Dr. Melinda Verdone is the former program manager of the 100% online University of Wisconsin Master of Science in Applied Biotechnology program. She earned her M.S. in Microbiology and her Ed.D. in Higher Education and has more than 20 years of biotechnology experience working in research and development and higher education.

Learn more about the University of Wisconsin Master of Science in Applied Biotechnology program by contacting a knowledgeable enrollment adviser at 1-877-UW-LEARN (895-3276) or

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