There are as many ways of starting a chemical business as there are people starting them. Entrepreneurs range in profile from smooth talking slicksters to sober, ROI-calculating engineers. Entrepreneurs can also be rather unruly folk. It is not automatically true that business founders are inherently talented at designing and running orgainzations. In fact, they are frequently poor at it.  But, successful founders are usually highly focused and are able to attract resources.

A common motivation for starting a business is that the founder is possessed with existential certainty that he/she can operate a business venture better than, say, a former boss or rival. A business founder may be a free spirit, refractory to sensible advice, or may be a solemn Harvard MBA operating by the book. It is not uncommon for a founder to have had several previous failed ventures prior to a successful one.

And make no mistake, the sense of power that a founder feels in the execution of a business plan can be as addictive as heroin or crack. Once a person has had the experience of successfully gathering resources and then allocating them to leverage progress to a goal, they are forever changed. Whether or not they continue the role of managing funds or personnel, their eyes have been opened to the real meaning of power.

Power is the ability to allocate resources.

No matter what kind of chemical business one wishes to start, it is crucial to understand that it will require the accumulation of some kind of resource that you can apply to a problem. That resource can range from your technical reputation, 30 days net of commercial credit, VC monies, or a chemical processing plant. It is all a form of leverage toward the greater goal converting streams of goods and services into streams of cash.

Try to get cash flowing from sales as early as possible. Choosing a Market-Pull activity is the best way to do this.

A chemist starting up a business is able to choose several kinds of general business activities.  If you want to be a consultant, you must determine the boundaries of your knowledge and then find demand for that expertise.  If you are truly an expert in a field, then more likely than not you know who might buy your services.

If you choose a Technology-Push approach, try to target customers who are willing to be early adopters.

A chemist may be well situated to start an operation offering analytical services. In that case, the enterprising analyst needs to know about underserved demand out in the marketplace. You need to offer a service that prompts people to send a purchase order to you.

If your startup is a one-act pony, it is critical that the pony actually be able to jump through the flaming hoop as advertised. Try to avoid one-act pony business plans.  Find Market-Pull products to pay the bills while your Technology-Push products are under development.

A chemist is in a great position to get into formulations.  While this might not be strictly a “chemistry’ activity, the walking-around-knowledge chemical that a chemist might have probably well exceeds the basic chemistry knowledge of many “experts” in the formulations business. However, a chemists general knowledge may not be applicable to direct application to formulations.  The level of infrastructure for doing formulations can be dramatically less stringent than chemicals manufacturing as well, requiring less startup capital.  Again, to be a formulator you need to know what is in demand.

Remember-Sometimes it is dumb to be too smart about things. Be customer oriented. Be honest about strengths and weaknesses.  Learn the difference between smart and cagey. Dick was a cagey businessman. Don’t be a Dick.

Fine chemicals manufacture has many success stories.  Alfred Bader started his Aldrich empire making what we now call Diazald. Bader was was extremely customer service oriented and I believe this is the key to his success. He visited laboratories asked workers what they needed. If the request was reasonable, he would put the material in the catalog collection. If the chemist-entrepreneur desires to start a catalog fine chemical company to sell reagent chemicals and widgets, then I would advise making a study of that business arena.

Most advisors to entrepreneurs will say that the prospective business person is well advised to put down a written plan. This is important on many levels. The act of writing a business plan is useful to the entrepreneur in several ways.  It causes the writer to focus his/her ideas and energy as well as to clarify the goal and how to track towards it. A well written business plan is critical if you need to attract funds to get the operation started. Investors and bankers need a document to study and to bring before others for analysis and buy-in. Just gotta have it.

Starting a drug company is going to be quite difficult for a few isolated chemists to do. It is a complex and insanely expensive and risky business that requires a wide diversity of players to be on board and committed. Somewhere you have to get an MD or MD/PhD, finance people, former pharma executives, regulatory affairs peoples, etc.,  on the board to add gravitas to your plan. A whole circus of expensive prima donnas. Sounds like a nightmare to me.

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