February 21, 2024


in her speech At last week’s TechCrunch Early Stage event in Boston, SOSV general partner Pae Wu used a tongue-in-cheek “return to academia” to describe the founder of the firm’s IndieBio project.

It’s an apt label, as many of the program’s founders are academics whose journey from academia to the accelerator has its own growing pains, as they often have to adapt to the business world without a business degree.

While many of these early-stage startups seek to grow their C-suite outside of their founding team, Wu explained that the best approach is often simply developing skills within the existing core.

“Being at the top is like getting married,” Wu said. “These are long-term, committed relationships, and you have to be able to know how to work with the people you’re working with, get along and have incredible trust. I think it’s important for founders to lead that effort.”

So, what did the founding team do for the recovering scholar? After all, dropping everything to start a startup is the biggest risk many founders will take in their lives. It’s scary, no matter how confident you are in your core skills – it’s a far cry from the relative security of an academic role. One can certainly understand why these founders sometimes try to gain a foothold in each world. “This is a very … difficult problem,” Wu said.

In many cases, professors who work with students to develop breakthrough technologies choose to stay at their universities and take only C-level titles. It can and has been successfully achieved, but it is not without its challenges.