|I assume he started young.|
Forbes recently got into the "Youngest Billionaires" game, with the 2013 list featured prominently on the website. Forbes profiled 29 individuals under 40 with net worths >$1 billion, whose life stories reveal several interesting trends.
How does one become an "Under-40" billionaire?
- Drop out of college to start a tech firm, or
- Inherit your wealth.
That's just about everyone on the list. By 'tech,' I mean computers, gadgets, or apps - nary a biologist or chemist among the ranks (there are three engineers, but they've made their fortunes on the business side of things).
Thought Experiment: What would one need in order to be a baby-faced biotech billionaire?
(For the purposes of this exercise, we'll ignore inheritance, and focus on "bootstrapping" from a standard middle-class childhood.)
For one, you'd likely need to forego college, and probably grad school. A five-year Ph.D., coupled with a 3-year postdoc shaves eight potentially game-changing years out of your 20s and 30s. Not to mention you're still paying back student loans and likely making below-market wages the entire time. Make no mistake, you'll have to start early, and perhaps look to hire your Ph.D. friends on the other side.
Next, you need what folks in the tech sector call a killer app. What does that mean for biotech? Something cheap to produce, easy to sell, relatively non-toxic and easily handled, and usable by people around the globe. A simple cancer diagnostic, perhaps, or a revolutionary photocatalyst. Maybe a new strain of fungi or bacteria for food production, or a serendipitous discovery of a new dye or drug (Hey, it worked for Perkin!)
Third, since you'll have to weigh each wild idea or ground-shaking concept you create against its future commercialization value, you'd need a fundamental shift in your view of scientific communication. Open-access journals, blogs, national meeting presentations? Not for you. Timely patent applications and I.P. guardianship will be your bread and butter, so no sense in risking inadvertent disclosures.
So, follow these easy 1-2-3 steps to biotech billions, right? Well, of course it's never that easy. Luck plays a crucial role in start-up ventures, as do connections. In this field, one's credibility might be undermined without a college degree, which might make initial fundraising tough. The barrier to entry might also be too high; tech entrepreneurs can start with a laptop, but biotech needs lab space, reagents, journal access, safety gear...the list goes on and on.
Readers, I'm sure this sounds nice and logical on paper, but I must have missed something along the way. Can you think of any high-net-worth youngsters who cut their teeth in chemistry? Why don't more young people see science entrepreneurship as a valid career direction?