You could pass her off as a young, aspiring entrepreneur trying to learn the ropes at a top business school. Young, she definitely is. But she’s gone way past the ‘aspiring’ stage.
Sila Toksoz already had a Master of Science (M.Sc.) degree in Materials Science & Nanotechnology and a Bachelors degree in Molecular Biology & Genetics when she launched her Biotech startup (Biyonesil Biological Products) in Turkey.
Her entrepreneurial journey started after winning a business plan competition while she was still studying. Now she’s planning to take it all to the next level.
Why to do an MBA if you are from the biotechnology field – A view from a developing* country
According to the annual Worldview Bio-Innovation Score Card produced by Scientific American and issued by the Biotechnology Industry Organization, Turkey is ranked in the bottom quartile of 48 assessed countries and referred as having missed “the biotech train”. The political decision-makers are well aware of the problem, but until now no efficient solutions have been reached. They support research projects and give grants to young entrepreneurs, nonetheless most of the companies established are closed down after one or two years due to financial and managerial problems. This is the problem of many developing countries.
The financial problems stem from the low ROI, where the investors do not know the sector and therefore are unwilling to invest in projects. At the same time, there are managerial problems since the entrepreneurs have a background in science but are unaware of business administration. Therefore, the project grants given do not solve the problem, just defer it until bankruptcy.
There is definitely need for people with a holistic comprehension of the biotech sector with all its aspects including IP (intellectual property), and a future vision. A solid management education would provide one with (hopefully) all the necessary skills, abilities and knowledge to be successful in the sector.
So, for the sake of my company, as a young entrepreneur from Turkey I decided to get educated in business and here comes my story:
During my senior year at university, I attended a nationwide business competition with a team of friends. Winning the first place in two different categories in the competition and given the chance to start our own company, I decided to use this chance to learn more about business. This opportunity, along with national grants, allowed us to establish our company and laboratory. We have been running our own biotechnology projects since then; I have been learning a great deal about science, business and human relations, being aware of how much more there are to learn.
To accelerate the learning process (and not to repeat the mistakes already done by others), I looked to suitable MBA programs. I did not desire to attend a school in my city as all programs are filled with recent graduates who have no or little business experience. I wanted a global program, preferably with a focus in biotechnology. I was lucky to find the MBM (Master in Biotechnology Management) Program at IE (Instituto de Empresa) Business School.
The students (I speak for my year’s intake) are all over from the world, ranging from North America to Latin America to Europe with various professions from accountancy to medicine. Not only biotechnology professionals, but also engineers and consultants – who want to have career changes – attend the program. There are 25 students in the course, each group consisting of 5 people (which probably changes according to each year’s intake). Group reports weigh more than individual reports.
The program lasts for 13 months and does not cost as much as other comparable** programs (two good reasons to choose the program) but not everything is that perfect of course. First semester, there are 9 courses, and second semester 10 courses – you might imagine how busy it would make you if it were a classroom-based program; with online structure (where your job continues as well), it makes you even busier!
The program is defined as “blended”, where you meet you peers and instructors three times during the program – twice in Madrid and once in Boston. To meet the classmates for two weeks in the beginning of the program enables the students to know each other and feel like being a real class during the course. Case method is applied to all courses (as in other business schools) – the student reads the cases beforehand and prepares the questions, then attends the forum where the instructors post some questions and students answer and discuss them throughout the four days that the forum is open. First come, first serve – if you are late to the forum, you encounter at least a few dozen messages waiting to be read. Then, you need to spend many hours to find novel things to write.
For my case, I have rather flexible work hours so I can usually attend the forum early and be one of the first contributors; however, when this is not the case, welcome(!) sleepless nights – to note, you can not get rid of sleepless nights by being an early contributor, just lower the number of such nights. It is also essential to check the forums every few hours as it is constantly evolving with each new contribution. In the classroom, you would spend 2 hours for the lesson and maybe a few hours for preparation; not 15-20 hours. Another drawback of online programs is that in classroom-based programs, you have physical access to instructors which reminds them about grading the assignments and giving feedback, which might unfortunately not be the case with online programs so you might get late feedback.
All in all, since the two months that the program started, I have learned a great deal and am still learning. The chance to resume my job is another plus. I would like to share more of my experiences as the program proceeds in the next months.
*It is difficult to classify Turkey as a developing or developed country. It rather stands somewhere between. It is an interesting contrast that it is one of the most grant-giving countries yet with low business success in the biotechnology field.
** It is important of course how you determine which programs are comparable. IE Business School ranks in the top ten, for the comparable category I looked to top MBA schools.
So there you have it, a unique option, with its unique pros and cons. We wish Sila good luck with her sabbatical and hope she is able to make a bigger mark in the field of biotechnology once she completes her MBM program.