Internship at a Healthcare Angel Group - Learning from Within to Succeed in Healthcare Entrepreneurship

By: Eric Liu, PHD/MD student at the University of Oxford

Editor's Note: Eric Liu is a DPhil student in Medical Oncology at the University of Oxford. Last year he served an internship at ACA member Life Science Angels, where he had a front seat in medical entrepreneurship and also provided valuable work for the angel group. Since his angel internship he has taken an internship with the Head of Global Strategy and Regulation of Bayer Healthcare. He highly recommends internships for young healthcare entrepreneurs, as you can see from his enthusiastic story.

Entrepreneurs that successfully utilize innovations shape much of our society today, making our lives a better place in an ever more challenging environment. With an aging population and skyrocketing healthcare bills globally, many healthcare entrepreneurs are using their brilliant minds to help address some of the most unmet medical needs.

But if you are in your late 20s or early 30s, finishing your PhD/MD, you will face an even bigger challenge to become a successful healthcare entrepreneur, in stark contrast to entrepreneurs in technology. Some even claim healthcare is an old man’s game. So what is stopping young buds succeeding in old man’s territory of healthcare entrepreneurship? One crucial reason is the healthcare industry, particularly biotech is one of the most tightly regulated industries. This means entrepreneurs often need lots of experience and expertise before they are entrepreneurs.

Young healthcare entrepreneurs are tackling this situation with mainly theoretical solutions, such as healthcare-focused student clubs, consultancy projects, entrepreneurship competitions, mentoring amongst other things. Many universities have courses on general and/or biotech entrepreneurship with some universities even having Master’s Degree in Biotech Entrepreneurship. However any successful entrepreneur would tell you real life and daily operations of a startup is more than any textbook can teach you.

So what additional steps can we take? In 2013, I was most fortunate to go on an internship for three months with the Life Science Angels, the pre-eminent life sciences and healthcare focused angel group on the West Coast. This experience was so extraordinary and life changing that I want to share my experiences with my fellow entrepreneurs and encourage you to also seek such opportunities.

To start with, this was not your mundane low-skilled internship - the expertise I built on startups, both from a strategic angle as well as operation considerations, was enormous. I was mentored not only by a board member, Dr. Faz Bashi, who was my principal mentor and the Chair of Medical Device Committee, but also the entire angel group. The culture of knowledge sharing combined with constant feedback provides the basis for a steep learning curve. Very soon, I was handed with responsibility and trust as a valued partner where I shared the same level of tasks as the Chair and Co-Chair of the Biotech/Medical Device Committees. During this period, I received significant training in deal flow, deal selection, term sheet and valuation negotiations as well as portfolio management. I had the personal satisfaction of guiding two companies, out of the multiple dozens I screened, from start to end of the funding process, which eventually led to investment of those two companies.

I was also able to build a solid network, from scientists to investors, from lawyers to doctors. These people are my prospective funders, partners, mentors, team members, and most importantly, potential customers in the future. We all know every successful startup had a champion and an A team. An opportunity like this internship presents you the chance to locate yours. Some of the VCs I engaged with spent many years monitoring a startup to build up relationships with the founders and establish mutual trust.

Lastly, but equally importantly, by working hard and displaying entrepreneurial mindset and qualities, I quickly established a reputation in this community of entrepreneurs and entrepreneur enablers. A good reputation is one of the most valuable assets I believe one can have. Putting out a reputable name in a seemingly large yet actually quite closely connected community is extremely treasured, as people will think of you when opportunities arise. This reputation can truly make or break your start-up as you form or seek to form your early alliances.

Hopefully I convinced you such an experience is absolutely fantastic and valuable if you want to be a healthcare entrepreneur. So how do you find such an opportunity? Actually there are plenty of opportunities out there. There are hundreds of angel groups in US and more globally. If you are next to a university, there are bound to be angel groups associated with or are close by, because this is where basic research is translated into real products. Of course they have varying degree of expertise in the healthcare sector, but they are well connected to each other so use them to reach out. One really awesome thing is after you are in one group, you don’t just learn from that one but are given the opportunity to learn from all of them. For example during my time with the Life Science Angels, I was syndicating with various groups across the U.S. Most of the angel groups take on interns or fellows in one form or another, with varying backgrounds. These range from senior undergraduates, to graduate students, to MBAs and even post-docs, all adding different values to the group.

So if you are a bright young entrepreneur wanting to take things out of the laboratory, translating them into clinical benefits that address our unmet medical needs, I highly recommend the pursue of such an experience. Treasure this opportunity as it can pave a pathway to success in your entrepreneurial venture. My concluding advice for my fellow entrepreneurs is: be prepared and be proactive in taking justified risks for opportunities and the market will reward you.


Thanks for sharing such information.
Stevenlash San Diego  9 years ago