Q: Forming a Scientific Advisory Board

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in 2 Open for Business Stage, 3 Early Customer Stage

Q: I am in the process of forming a scientific advisory board for my startup in the healthcare / facility management space and I would welcome any insights or suggestions.

Forming a Scientific Advisory Board (Cubes and Balls by Andy Brandon)Forming a Scientific Advisory Board

Q: My hope is that forming a scientific advisory board would give us input and guidance on our methodology, introduce us to potential customers, and lend us some more credibility as we begin to approach a broader set of prospects. These individuals would likely not be business advisors or startup advisors, but individuals who are in the healthcare space.

I have helped several firms build scientific advisory boards,  as well as serving on several business advisory boards. Here are some key points to bear in mind:

  1. Doctors, scientists, nurses, and many who work in non-profits are often much less motivated by personal gain than the chance to participate in an effort that will make a significant positive contribution to a serious problem. Any approach to them should be predicated on impact, you may compensate them for their time in a variety of ways that are more indirect (e.g. a donation in their name) in addition to a direct offer of stock or an honorarium for their time.
  2. Be very specific about time and other commitments you are asking for from what are normally very busy people with multiple commitments. You will normally only have two to four meetings a year of full board, with perhaps another two to four one on one calls with each member. There can be considerable value in a group conversation if you frame the discussion and provide adequate context.
  3. Especially for a science or healthcare board be mindful of conflicts of interest they may have to navigate if you ask for introductions to prospects.
  4. The effort your team makes to prepare for a meeting or conference call is at least 1/3 of the value, and the follow up is another 1/3. These boards can be a significant source of insight but only if you do your homework in advance and follow through with updates afterward.
  5. Provide materials in advance of the meeting, don’t make it a pop quiz or you may get very little out of them. Especially if they are introverted they may prefer to read materials in advance and provide written comment than have to provide an immediate verbal reaction.
  6. Follow up in writing documenting what you heard and what actions you plan to take or not take as a result of the conversation. Follow up again once you have taken action to let them know the results or impact of their advice or insights.

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