Advisory boards are a core part of the founding and growth of all startups, especially research driven startups. But how do you go about designing, forming, and running your advisory board? We break down the full process for you through this guide.
Identify skill gaps. Are there functional areas that your team has limited experience in? Perhaps you are technically skilled but need commercialization support. Or perhaps you have great wet lab experience but less data experience. Look for advisors who augment your team. You should still have a core team member now or in the future dedicated to each essential part of the business, but advisors can help you hire and train that team member and provide advice in the interim and beyond.
Identify brand needs. Are you selling into prospects that care a lot about brand recognition? If so, having advisors with experience at large incumbents, especially in very senior roles, will be useful. Or do your prospects instead resonate more and focus more on growth stage companies or upstarts? If so, target people with this type of experience when identifying your advisors. Or maybe they care more about university research? If so, focus on finding advisors who are current emeritus professors. Will you work a lot with government agencies? If so, having someone onboard with public sector experience would help.
Optimize for trust. Ultimately, your advisors are your long term partners not just for a few months or a year but for many years, even a decade to come. Are you comfortable with these people being your close partners? Do you gel well together? Do you share the same fundamental values? Do you trust them? Would you feel comfortable going to them not just with the good news but also your biggest challenges? Is this someone who will work hard for you when you need their support? Get to know your potential advisors not just as professionals but also as people to better understand this alignment.
Start with your network. It certainly helps to onboard an advisor you have worked with previously. It is both easier to connect with them and easier to vet them if you have actual collaboration experience with them. Go through your past projects, labs, and classes to see who you already know and identify if any of those people would align with what you are looking for.
Ask for referrals. Even if you cannot find the right fits in your direct network, reach out to people you have worked with for introductions. The scientific community is surprisingly tight knit, and the power of your second order network should not be underestimated. Moreover, once you mention to people that you are looking to put together this board, they will also keep your request front of mind as they meet with new people or catch up with others and can send you leads as they come up.
Cold outreach. Do not be afraid of more direct, cold outreach. Are there professors who wrote papers that were pivotal to your work? Operators at companies in adjacent spaces that you really admire? If there is no way to connect with them through your own network, craft a personalized email to this person. Show your deep understanding of their work (people love to be appreciated and heard), show your “give first” attitude through sharing how you can help them, and be clear about why joining your board would help them as well.
Have clear expectations. Clearly define roles, responsibilities, and tangible outcomes. What does success look like? Be as precise and quantitative as possible. How does each advisor’s value add differ? What is the cadence at which you will interact with them? How can you get the best ROI of their time? How can you ensure the experience is meaningful for them too? Craft the role description for your advisors based on this understanding.
Name a director. Make sure there is a clear point person on your team (usually the chief scientific officer) for the advisory board. This person is in charge of the day to day operations of running the board, the execution oriented tasks, the main questions, and the achievement of the strategic goals. If there are too many point people, your advisory board will get confused, and when there are too many point people, effectively no one takes real responsibility.
Continuously reevaluate. Your advisory board does not have to be static. As your company grows, your needs will naturally evolve. Identify new opportunities and challenges. How can additional advisors support you? Go through this process at each new stage of your company.
We hope this guide was helpful for you in building your advisory board and taking your biotech startup to the next level! Get the full guide on taking your biotech startup from zero to one.