Oxymorons. Jumbo-shrimp. Scientist-fundraiser.
As a scientist in the business of science, I attend two types of conferences. Those for researchers and those for industry. And I am always struck by the same thing. At an industry meeting, like the Redefining Early Stage Investment conference last month, there is a significant focus on networking. Not just meeting new people who you may have an interest in working with now, but those who you may want to know in the future. At a scientific meeting, if there is a networking event, people create clusters of folks they already know. On the occasion when I am somewhere that includes both groups, as happened recently at a Boston Biotech conference I can pick out the scientific founders or those who trained as scientists easily by looking for who is standing near a wall, alone.
As a scientist/ INTJ (according to my Myers-Briggs 20 years ago) I understand. Ask my husband. His business school friends recommended he break up with me because I was “too quiet” (his words). Introverts can be great scientists. But it is harder for them to be great evangelists. And that is what you need to be to get your start-up funded. This requires networking skills. It requires that you put on your extrovert hat, if only for parts of a day or week or month. And it requires getting comfortable with rejection and continuing to persevere.
Of all of these, the scientific entrepreneur is very familiar with rejection. Mostly though, as a scientist you have already been through this kind of hazing through writing grants, giving presentations, and publishing research. You have learned to reframe, rebutt, regroup and resubmit. But how do you get comfortable networking as a introvert? First, remove the word comfortable. Don’t expect it to feel natural. Just practice it anyway. And know that up to 50% of the people in the room are introverts who feel the same way.