By Brian Shott
BCS began its journey in 2014 as the Singapore chapter of BCS/Oxbridge Roundtable, a global biotech and entrepreneurship network, before it rebranded itself as Biotech Connection. The group aims to promote entrepreneurship in life sciences and serves as an engagement platform for a network of academics, entrepreneurs, industry professionals, and government agencies. BCS activities center around educational events, consulting services, and communications.
Former BCS President Dr. Sau Yin Chin sat down with ImagenScience to chat about her journey with this dynamic and evolving organization.
A beginning in consulting
Sau Yin first started volunteering with BCS as a technical consultant. Technical consultants are usually PhD students or post-docs selected based on the relevance of their domain knowledge and expertise. Most of the consulting activities at BCS involve technical due diligence for early stage investments; the rest concerns market and competitor analysis for their vendors.
For an early-stage investment in a startup, BCS volunteers assess the company’s product, the abilities of its founders, and its commercial potential. This is where mentorship from the lead consultant becomes essential—lab work alone does not typically prepare a scientist to uncover or assess relevant business data. At the end of the project the team assembles a presentation for the client with all the material they’ve scouted. Even this is a new skill, as business presentations differ markedly from scientific ones.
Sau Yin soon became a consulting lead, coordinating projects with support from a team of four or five technical consultants. Each BCS project lasts about three to six weeks.
Ten committee members run BCS, with a two-year maximum term for any one role.
Taking the helm
In 2017, Sau Yin became president of BCS. She determined that BCS needed to promote its consulting service more vigorously. “We weren’t pushing it as aggressively as we could have been,” she says. She did that through more assertive marketing and networking with potential clients about the service , and by creating a database of 200 technical consultants so that members’ skill sets could quickly be matched to projects and consulting teams assembled.
Project flow doubled and new clients came in.
For scientists seeking alt-science careers, being part of a BCS consultant team gives a taste of consultancy and business, provides free mentorship, strengthens one’s CV, and comes in handy should the scientist need to speak to an industrial collaborator. It can also deepen volunteer’s interest and knowledge in business, leading to other roles in the business side of biotech, such as investing.
Increasing visibility and diversifying membership
Sau Yin made other changes to BCS, such as assembling a marketing team to improve the group’s visibility. Through digital marketing efforts via social media, the team grew BCS’s LinkedIn following from 800 to more than 2,400 in one year (the total exceeds 3,800 today). Sau Yin also focused on promoting BCS events, making sure the BCS logo was visible during the gatherings and publicizing them after the fact through photography and media. Write-ups after events, sent out to the BCS mailing list, create a track record of events and help boost sign-ups for future events.
“Our events are really relevant to the community, and they’re well attended,” Sau Yin says.
In early 2019, when she noticed that many BCS members were seeking new career opportunities, Sau Yin introduced a separate mailing list for members interested in information on opportunities in Singapore’s biotech sector.
People join BCS for various reasons, Sau Yin says, and the result is a dynamic community network. Investors join to learn about new technologies and startups in Singapore; scientists who plan to stay in academia attend BCS events to find potential collaborators. In 2019, by changing the focus and topics of some BCS events, she brought more investors and clinicians into the membership. Often, Sau Yin says, researchers develop their technologies in isolation and don’t know the specific challenges clinicians face that might be addressed by new products.
Furthermore, Sau Yin says, PhDs sometimes arrive in the BCS network with ideas about industry or investing that may not be accurate. But frequently, she says, they find a rewarding, if sometimes unexpected, path better suited to their skills and desires.
BCS is “a good learning platform, to find out what you really want to do,” Sau Yin says.
What were the challenges?
Sau Yin juggled her presidency at BCS with a full-time research job in a molecular engineering lab. What are her main challenges? Time, people, and money, she says.
When we spoke to her, she said she was devoting many hours each week to BCS, where she met with key committee members and contacts who got in touch with her through the BCS platform. The week we interviewed her, she was preparing to meet with a chamber of commerce member who reached out to her via LinkedIn. “This would never have happened if not for the ‘President of BCS’ name card I carry,” she said. For a person who calls herself an introvert, Sau Yin has extended her professional network, made important connections, and improved her networking skills. She says she enjoys BCS activities tremendously and wishes she could devote even more attention to them.
“The experience is what you make of it,” she said.
In her role as president, Sau Yin said she learned how to manage different types of people who make up the team, alongside the different activities—it takes an open mind and willingness to listen to others, she said.
Sau Yin is fiercely protective of her teammates. As she reflects on some of the past mistakes and lessons on this journey, she said she has learned to be a stronger leader and not let her team be taken advantage of—after all, she said, everyone on the BCS team volunteers their time and effort.
Since we first sat down with Sau Yin she reached her maximum 2-year term as president. Since June 2020, she has taken on the role of director of research operations at a seed-funded biotech startup.
More than half of the committee members from 2017-19 have moved on to new careers after volunteering at BCS (ranging from joining industry/startups to funds that invest in biotech).
Sau Yin remains an advisor for the BCS committee and is succeeded by Natasha Ng, who has responded to the challenges of running the organization during the coronavirus pandemic by creating a wide range of webinar topics and by finding new partners and new ways to run virtual events.
You may connect with Sau Yin at: https://www.linkedin.com/in/sau-yin-chin-ph-d-712b98136/
Chai Lean Teoh provided research assistance for this article.