Subscribe to Entrepreneur for $5

4 Ways Entrepreneurs Can Break Into the Drug Industry

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

At first glance, it’s easy to assume that there isn’t much of a place for new entrepreneurs in the drug development industry. Big pharmaceutical companies are already heavily entrenched in the space, and the characteristically long development cycle in R&D seems contrary to the “fail fast, fail often” philosophy of startup culture.

But to see drug development this way would be to ignore what a complex and evolving field it really is. Nearly every step of the process offers opportunities for entrepreneurs to help researchers and to gain strong profits in return. The key is knowing where to look.

Drug development is similar to solving a puzzle, which means the general task is known, but it’s up to researchers to figure out the best way to reach the goal. Entrepreneurs in the drug-development industry can provide a complete business ecosystem. In other words, from research down to the clinical stages, they’re crucial assets.

Related: 3 Industries Entrepreneurs Can Disrupt With the 'Internet of Things'

By nature, entrepreneurs aren’t afraid to take risks to achieve amazing goals, making them a perfect fit for drug development. But how much they help shape a better business atmosphere in drug development is dependent on how well they fill their roles when new innovations or technologies emerge.

Here are four suggestions for how entrepreneurs can find their niche in the drug-development industry:

1. Look at the supply chain.

Whether it’s biomaterial or equipment parts, scientists are always in need of materials. Often, they’re too busy with research to go out and actively make the right connections to secure a supply chain. Find the most popular drugs in development, and you’ll most likely find a supply-chain opportunity.

Because clinical practice trials often require specialized materials -- anything from specific types of gauze to more substantial hardware -- there are often gaps in what’s available and what’s needed for maximum accuracy and efficiency. The industry is just waiting for an entrepreneur to come and fill these gaps.

2. Figure out what’s in demand.

A major niche for entrepreneurs in R&D is expert consultation. Find out which categories of drugs are in demand (cancer, botanic, growth factor, etc.), and develop the right expertise. This will ensure that when researchers need a consult -- and they often do -- you’ll be in the right place, waiting for them.

Startup Juno Therapeutics combines the forces of brilliant researchers to reprogram cancer patients’ T cells, converting them to cancer-fighting agents. This is a perfect example of how entrepreneurial interest can bring about groundbreaking treatments to better lives.

Related: Championing Patient-Centered Innovation

3. Go to trade shows.

Where else do you find out which industry areas are still lacking businesses to represent their interests? Trade shows are invaluable resources for both networking and information-gathering. They’re also where big companies such as Biocon go to purchase up-and-coming businesses.

4. Look at the periphery.

Direct involvement isn’t the only way to profit from the drug-development industry. Develop tools outside the industry that are useful for those inside. These can include assessment software, data management and even transmission tools. Specialized tools are vital for data collection and distribution during research and clinical trials.

Take something as deceptively simple as laboratory documentation, for example. Because of the breadth of study going on within these experiments, the capabilities for documentation are diverse and require specialization. This opens up a number of possibilities that entrepreneurs could capitalize on.

With R&D, the possibilities are almost limitless -- not just for researchers, but also for entrepreneurs. With every new drug, there are fresh, unique opportunities to take an entrepreneur’s mindset and use it to streamline the research process. What forms is a symbiotic relationship -- entrepreneurs and scientists striving toward the same goal and helping each other reach it.

The future of R&D could very well lie in the hands of intrepid entrepreneurs, and that’s a good thing.

Related: Will Synthetic Biology Evolve Into the Next Hot Field?

Entrepreneur Editors' Picks