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Outside of Academia: Q&A — Jim Weber, Management


According to Jim Weber, president and founder of the Marshfield, Wis.-based PreventionGenetics — a genetic testing, DNA banking, and genomics research service provider — science informs his business. Having spent nearly 30 years in research — as an investigator at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research and the Marshfield Medical Research Foundation, among other institutes, and as a director of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute's Mammalian Genotyping Service — before founding his company in 2002, Weber says that when it comes to biotech entrepreneurship, scientific expertise should come first. GenomeWeb Careers' Tracy Vence recently spoke with Weber to learn more about his career trajectory. What follows are edited excerpts of that conversation.

GenomeWeb Careers: How would you describe PreventionGenetics to someone hearing about your company for the first time?
Jim Weber: PreventionGenetics is part of the healthcare industry. We provide expert DNA testing and DNA banking services to hospitals and clinics throughout North America and the rest of the world. PreventionGenetics specializes in gene sequencing. … We do not provide any direct-to-consumer DNA testing.

GWC: Your list of research and leadership experiences, from your postdoc at Wisconsin to your time at NHLBI, is extensive. What motivated you to found Prevention Genetics? Had you always aspired to take on an entrepreneurial endeavor away from the bench?
JW: Though I've always had a strong interest in clinical genetics, I didn't start to think seriously about forming my own company until 2001. [At that time,] my goals … included: speeding the introduction of genetics into routine health care, provide economic development for our local community and for Wisconsin, and gaining more independence and freedom of action.

GWC: To what extent do you maintain your own research program as an adjunct scientist at Marshfield?
JW: I don't have much time for basic research these days. I was recently appointed to the Foundation's board of trustees. I am also chair of the scientific advisory board of the Wisconsin Genomics Initiative.

GWC: How, if at all, have your experiences at the bench prepared you for your present role?
JW: I use my scientific background in nearly everything that I do as head of PreventionGenetics. Good science is at the very heart of our company; I consider the business side of my job a relatively minor role.

GWC: What do you find most rewarding about your current position?
JW: I enjoy the freedom of being president of my own company. I delight in employing talented, hard working people. I also receive great satisfaction from being able to directly help patients. Intellectually, research scientists know that their work will eventually improve health care, but [most] researchers don't get immediate feedback from patients.

GWC: … And most challenging?
JW: Getting the company going initially was very difficult — I took significant risks. More generally, CEOs of course carry a great deal of responsibility; a good amount of stress accompanies that.

GWC: Do you have any advice for graduate students and postdocs interested in starting up a biotech or breaking into life science industry management? How might they best prepare themselves to do so?
JW: Some training or courses in business might be helpful, but I think most of the business side is just common sense and can be learned fairly quickly. I think it is more important for the students and postdocs to acquire a deep understanding of their scientific fields.

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