After a brief stint as a general surgeon, and a PhD in translational cancer research from the MRC Cancer Cell Unit, University of Cambridge, UK, Bali Muralidhar changed career direction to venture capital investment.
Read more about Bali’s career transition here.
What happened after you graduated from your PhD in 2008?
Throughout my academic and medical training I had seen a few start-ups come and go, and thought that investing in them could be something I might find interesting.
So after I completed my PhD in 2008, I moved to Bain & Company, a global consulting firm, where I spent time working with healthcare companies. It gave me a wider view of business and essentially replaced an MBA. This proved to be a great introduction for venture capital investment careers.
What skills did you acquire in academia that have been useful during your career in venture capital?
It’s helpful to understand where and how the pitfalls lie in science and how to read a paper. My understanding of the scientific method and ability to analyse different data sets have also been extremely useful.
For example, I’ve been looking at a potential drug that needs to go through a clinical trial before it is approved. Part of my diligence process is to comb through all the patient data, scientific literature, clinical papers, pre-clinical papers etcetera, to work out whether the thesis to the drug makes sense. I then need to work out if the clinical trial design is sound.
What was one of the biggest challenges you faced when switching from academia to venture capital?
As a scientist, you need to do all experiments and collect all the data before making a conclusion. In venture capital, this isn’t always possible. Sometimes you cannot get the data or collecting it is going to take too long, so you need to make the best decision you can with the information that you have. This mindset isn’t easy, but it comes with time and experience.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
I find I’m in a privileged position, seeing cutting edge science and potentially patient-changing companies that you might not see if you were doing niche research in academia, where, often, you’re stuck thinking about one field.
What advice do you have for any scientists looking to work in venture capital?
I wholeheartedly recommend that you get some experience with a consulting firm. These companies give you a wider view of what’s out there. You see lots of different science, work with lots of different people and you get an insight into the commercial world.
The training and professionalism that you get is a really great addition to a PhD. In a PhD you’re used to working in a lab and just with a supervisor; you don’t understand or have much experience of management. A consulting firm gives you the opportunity to develop these skills, which are essential for working in venture capital.
Interview by Julie Gould