Expert Interview with Gilad Gershon: Selecting the right talent for your start-up

Tropic Bioscience Figure Gilad Gershon, CEO of Tropic Biosciences

The success of the UK in starting and growing biotech companies is well known, but for most people the sector is synonymous only with healthcare and new medicines. Beyond healthcare though, there are other important areas of our lives where biotechnology is making a difference. The agrifood industry is one of these areas and our portfolio company, Tropic Biosciences is one of the most exciting companies in the sector. Tropic is currently using cutting edge gene editing technologies to develop high-performing commercial varieties of tropical crops, such as bananas, which promote grower wellbeing, enhance consumer health and improve environmental practices.

We spoke to Tropic’s CEO, Gilad Gershon, and asked for his guidance to other entrepreneurs at the beginning of their biotech journeys. Firstly, we discussed his experience and how it has affected the way that he built his team. Gilad explained that he hadn’t previously been a CEO when he co-founded Tropic Biosciences, nor was he a scientist. Instead, following a 6 year period as a ship commander in the Israeli Navy, Gilad had worked as a venture capital investment professional in the food and agricultural technology sector. That experience of working with CEOs of start-ups taught him a lot about what he needed to know to make Tropic Biosciences a success. To ensure that the company had the right skills from the start he co-founded it with two colleagues, a CTO and CSO, both with a strong science education and successful track records of building and selling life sciences companies. This complimentary skill set at the start of the company’s life was a vital first step.

We asked Gilad what are the hardest decisions that a CEO has to make in building a start-up. He explained “it’s mostly decisions around people. For a small company, hiring each executive makes a big difference and if you get it wrong then it can be quite detrimental. Looking back, of the things that I now know and would have done differently, bringing on a professional HR manager earlier on would be top of my list. So many decisions that you make in the early days affect the business later on and it’s vital that you give yourself the best chance of getting each decision right, especially around people.”

Early decisions count

Explaining how he built the team, Gilad went on to say, “with my co-founders bringing technology and scientific depth to the team we also needed experienced advisors to provide support. In our case, we were lucky to have been able to attract David Lawrence who has tremendous experience in the agricultural sciences industry as a former Head of R&D at Syngenta and a member of UKI2S’ fund advisory committee. He is a highly respected figure in the biotech sector. This combination of a well-balanced founding team supported by experienced advisors has been a critical element in our success to date.”

“In terms of attracting talented people to build the company, the market is highly competitive. Our company vision and the positive impact that we want to make it attractive to a lot of people, including some with transferrable skills from other industries. Also, from a scientific perspective we’re at are the cutting edge. The skills we need are highly sought after but we’re lucky that people want to work on scientifically challenging projects of the kind that we offer. Our location in Norwich has also helped as it has a centre for plant genetics and there are many people in the area with the right skills so choosing the right location is another important point.”

People, money, business model

Gilad also spoke to us about the other most important elements that start-ups need to consider; money, the business model and strategy. His top tip for fund-raising is to remember that it’s almost a full-time job and that you must have experienced people who can spend a significant portion of their time working on it to secure essential funding from the relevant investors. The business model is also key to this and in Tropic’s case, deciding to build a product company instead of a technology platform has made it much easier to attract investors. “They like a business where you’re more in control of your own destiny rather than relying on partners. Investors will be found more easily if your strategy is focused and your objective is realistic and worthwhile. Find a big, unsolved problem, validate the need and focus your business on that goal to give your start-up the best chance of success and to attract people and funding”, concluded Gilad.




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