How to talk like a scientist (if you are a business person)

Glienicke Bridge near Berlin.

Communication between business people on the one hand and scientists on the other hand can be almost as difficult as communication between East and West during the Cold War. Hence the image above of Glienicke Bridge near Berlin, which was famously used for the exchange of captured spies back then.

This is a problem because, in order for a company to succeed, business and R&D need to communicate and work together.

So what could we do to change this? Here I describe a few methods that good innovation analysts are using successfully.

For illustrative purposes, I will use an example from the life sciences industry, but the methods work for other industries and technologies as well.

Your challenge as a business person

Let’s say you are a business manager at a life sciences company. You just got back from an internal workshop where you discussed how various new drug discovery and testing technologies may affect your company’s business in the future. One of the new technologies you discussed was in silico. Basically, the idea behind in silico is to run biological experiments on a computer, rather than in the lab. If this works, the business case is obvious: computer is faster, cheaper, and much more scalable than lab. And in silico will probably also change your market environment. For example, you may partner and compete with new and different kinds of companies.

But does in silico work? How mature is in silico as a technology? Where and how could your company really use in silico?

Not easy for you to answer these questions because…

  • …you are an economist by training, not a biochemist or a pharmacist. So the details are hard for you to judge.
  • …you have no time. Perhaps an hour, but not a day or a week.

You could just go ask a scientist in your company to explain in silico to you. Either very generically, “does in silico work?”, or a bit more specifically. Something like, “I’ve heard that companies X, Y, and Z do in silico drug discovery and testing. Do you think that we could do this too?”

But this probably won’t work. Your question may trigger “NIH Syndrome” (= Not Invented Here Syndrome) when you mention these other companies. Also, you do not really provide your colleague with enough details when you mention a few companies. Beyond company names, they will need something more specific, such as scientific publications or patents (or perhaps clinical trials, since this is a life science topic).

The solution that our customers use

Here is how our customers use Mergeflow to address this:

  1. Identify 2-3 relevant companies and 2-3 use cases.
  2. For each of these companies and use cases, find R&D contents (scientific publications, patents, clinical trials, etc.).
  3. Ask a scientist colleague to explain the R&D contents to you.

In most cases, 2-3 companies and use cases is a good number for a first iteration. You can always go back and do more. After all, this is an exploratory task, and when you explore, several small steps are usually better than one big step.

Let’s get started.

You fire up Mergeflow and run a simple search:

Identify 2-3 companies

Mergeflow has a number of data sets that you can use for identifying companies. “Venture Fundings“, for example, is often a good place to find companies working on frontier or emerging technologies. Here are some in silico fundings from last year that Mergeflow detected in news, press releases, etc. (click on the table to enlarge):

"in silico testing" venture-backed companies identified by Mergeflow. They include X-37, VeriSIM Life, ProteinQure, GNS Healthcare, and Arrakis Therapeutics.
-> See this in Mergeflow

Now you need to find R&D contents for these companies. This could be patents they hold, research they have published, or clinical trials they are running. Mergeflow has all these data sets, so it is easy to get a full 360° view across all these data sets, for each company.

When you do such an “R&D 360° view” for VeriSIM Life, you find this patent, for example:

Systems and methods for full body circulation and drug concentration prediction

Jyotika Varshney, the inventor listed in the patent, is Founder & CEO at VeriSIM Life. So put the patent on your list of things to be discussed with your scientist colleague, and also ask them if they know Jyotika Varshney.

Another company, Arrakis Therapeutics, has this paper among its R&D contents, for example:

Novel nucleic acid binding small molecules discovered using DNA-encoded chemistry

You can ask your colleague about this paper, and you could also discuss with them the network of inventors that Mergeflow extracted from Arrakis Therapeutics’ patents (chances are that your colleague knows somebody in this network):

network of inventors, extracted by Mergeflow from patents held by Arrakis Therapeutics
Arrakis Therapeutics inventor network. -> See this in Mergeflow.

Now you already have two companies plus R&D contents. Let’s move on to use cases.

Discover 2-3 use cases

In Mergeflow, “Markets” and “Technology Blogs” are particularly good places to look for use cases.

For example, when you do your basic in silico search in Mergeflow and go to Markets, you get “nutraceuticals” and “in-vitro toxicology testing”:

Let’s zoom in on “toxicology testing”. You find a very recent paper:

Systems modeling of developmental vascular toxicity

This use case and the paper go on your list.

Let’s get one more use case and R&D content, this time from “Technology Blogs”. For example:

TAU, Harvard researchers build human ‘body-on-chips’ to better predict drug response

The underlying research paper (which you should probably discuss with your colleague, rather than the blog post) is available as well. This paper mentions “vascularized organ chips”, so you could zoom in and get some more papers on this. For example:

Quantitative prediction of human pharmacokinetic responses to drugs via fluidically coupled vascularized organ chips

Let’s recap

Here are all your findings so far:

Companies

Use case

Now you might object:

Sure, I’ve collected these papers. But honestly, I’m not even sure if I understand their content.

True, but in a sense, this is the whole point. While this means that you give up some control (you ask someone for help), our customers have made the experience that even if the R&D findings turn out to be off the mark, they always trigger an interesting thought process, and a productive conversation between business and R&D. And who knows. This exercise may even mark the beginning of a beautiful friendship between business and R&D in your company.

The movie Casablanca, 1942. Rick says, “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

Part 1 of the Incognito Series: How to talk like a business person (if you are a scientist).

Leave a Reply