Career area: Business development – EMBL Fellows' Career Service

EMBL Careers

A life science careers blog for early career researchers

This blog aims to inspire early career researchers exploring different career options. We provide interview-based profiles of life scientists working in diverse science-related careers and articles on a broad range of career-related topics, with new content added on a regular basis.

Career area: Business development

Business development involves developing external relationships that provide valuable information or may lead to future business deals or mutually beneficial partnerships. 

The biotechnology and pharma sector, instrumentation and other (life science) companies employ business development professionals as technology scouts, to gain market insights and to build and maintain relationships with key opinion leaders, decision-makers and potential future cooperation partners.  These roles focus on information exchange and long-term partnerships, rather than generating immediate revenue through selling products. For example, big pharma employs business development professionals to develop new relationships with potential R&D partners at other companies and the academia sector, and to maintain ongoing partnerships. 

In the academic setting, business-development-like roles also exist under a variety of job titles like “Industry Relations” or “Industry Liaison” – particularly within the technology transfer offices of universities and research institutes.

In some roles, for example in ‘contract research companies’, business developers are focused on advising both current and potential clients on the choice and set-up possibilities for complex scientific services offered by the company; these roles have some overlap with technical sales positions. 

Roles and responsibilities

The job titles and the tasks associated with business development positions vary greatly. Possible tasks may include a subset of the following activities:

  • attending in-person and virtual networking (e.g. at national / international (business development) conferences and local biotech cluster  events) as well as offline communication (email, phone calls) with existing and potential future partners,
  • attending (and in some cases organizing) meetings with current or potential future stakeholders; summarizing these discussions,
  • collecting, organizing and evaluating information, including keeping up to date on industry news and trends and research developments to identify opportunities (e.g. potential partners, new technologies, possible acquisition targets, competitors etc), 
  • working closely with legal / IP / admin teams to coordinate the establishment of partnerships and licensing deals,
  • where applicable, passing on any potential sales leads to the sales / marketing teams,
  • advising clients/partners on potential projects, and reviewing outcomes of the completed projects.

Knowledge and skills

Business development professionals need to be able to quickly build effective relationships with people, requiring good people and communication skills. An ability to understand the technology / science relevant to the role is important, as well as being able to extrapolate from that and clearly see which opportunities may be of interest to the company. Finally, organization is key to keep track of all the different connections (both people and information).

In our careers & skills survey, 6 business development professionals told us about the competencies they used most often. The most commonly selected competencies were:

  • Networking (selected by 83% of respondents)
  • Effective communication (selected by 83% of the respondents)
  • Deep knowledge of a technology (50%)
  • Providing broader impact (50%)
  • Broad scientific knowledge (50%)

Career entry and progression

Some junior business development roles in start-ups or tech transfer offices can be accessed directly from the PhD or postdoc. For roles in larger companies, it may be difficult to enter directly into a business development role without previous industry experience – in our experience, it seems that PhD-holders in these roles have often (but not always) acquired experience in another industry role first (e.g. sales, R&D, project management, management consulting). 

Example job titles 

  • Business development officer / manager / specialist
  • Strategic alliance manager
  • Strategy and operations manager
  • Industry liaison
  • Industry relations manager
  • Licensing associate / officer / manager
  • Partnerships officer

Why consider this career area?

In our careers and skills survey, scientists working in business development told us that they appreciate that their work:

  • has high task variety
  • is intellectually stimulating

Want to learn more?

Additional resources on this blog

Interview-based career profiles for this career area

Kinga Bercsenyi, Associate Director Business Development Translational Oncology Solutions at Champions Oncology Erminia Rubino, Head of Industrial Partnerships, Institut Imagine

Sources / further information

Further internal resources

For EMBL fellows

Within EMBL, further internal resources (e.g. recorded career seminars) can be found on our career exploration intranet pages.

Informational interviews

For all career areas, we highly recommend first learning more about the careers using the resources above, then conducting informational interviews to gain further insights directly from former PhDs working in career areas that interest you.

Last update: April 2024

EU flag and text, co-funded by the European Union
The EMBL Fellows' Career Service incorporates the EMBL Interdisciplinary Postdoc (EIPOD) career development programme. EI3POD and EIPOD4 have received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreements 664726 (2015-2020) and 847543 (2019-present) respectively.