Discover how Martin identified a crucial need and forged his unique position, combining his PhD in biotechnology with a background in economics.
Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you realized the need for a fresh job title that better aligns with your responsibilities and skills? In this episode of PhD Career Stories, join our host Elisabeth Reithuber as she sits down with Martin Trinker, the Director of Business Development and Fundraising at the Austrian Center of Industrial Biotechnology (ACIB) to explore the intriguing journey of creating a new job position from scratch.
Martin's journey exemplifies the potential that lies in identifying gaps, embracing diverse skill sets, and creating one's own path in the professional world. Discover how Martin identified a crucial need and forged his unique position, combining his PhD in biotechnology with a background in economics. As the conversation unfolds, Martin shares valuable advice on networking, continuous learning, and adapting to new challenges.
Don't miss this episode full of inspiration and invaluable insights. Tune in to PhD Career Stories to hear Martin Trinker's incredible journey from a biotechnology PhD to a leader in business development and fundraising.
Elisabeth Reithuber: Hi and welcome to PhD Career Stories. I'm Elisabeth Reithuber and I'm the host of today's episode and I'm very happy to welcome today's guest Martin Trinker. Martin is the Director of the Business Development and Fundraising Unit at the Austrian Center of Industrial Biotechnology (ACIB). Martin holds a PhD in Biotechnology but has also a background in economics and today we will talk about how to identify a need and create your own position because this is precisely what Martin has done. He has created the position he's holding today. This is really exciting and I'm very glad Martin that you're here today, that you take your time and that you're willing to share your story with our listeners. So welcome again and I would like to directly dive into the topic and hand you the first question. How did you identify the need for the job that you're holding today?
Martin Trinker: Yeah, thank you very much for inviting me. It's really a pleasure and I'd like to share my story. So approximately ten years ago I switched from the lab bench, because I was a senior postdoc back then, into research management at ACIB. And ACIB, Austrian Center of Industrial Biotechnology, back then was kind of a fragmented unit because we had locations all over Austria and we came out of 2 predecessors and we just had to grow together. Our CEO identified the need for some high level support for our scientists, and thus created two positions for research managers and I became one of them. I have to mention that back then ACIB was organized into 6 different research areas. Each research area had one area leader and an area manager. The area manager was most of the time a scientist who really helped the area leader in all kind of operative things. The idea of our CEO was for the research manager to take over 3 areas and to bring them closer together because back then if you had the area of biocatalysis and you had a discussion with a company partner. You always offered everything you could do in biocatalysis but not something you could do in the microbiome research, not something you could do in the protein engineering research maybe, and the research manager was intended to change all that. However, it became clear that the area leaders did not want to let go of their area managers; they were kind of friends also, they were used to this kind of support and also they didn't want to have someone who talked to the company partner and offered all different kind of things, they wanted to have someone who offered only their kind of expertise.
And that was a problem and one year later our CEO also realized that he just can't have 2 research managers plus 6 area managers, it was just too expensive. And he, and that's something I really appreciate, he always was very honest and said okay guys just listen to me this doesn't work out as I've planned. But that doesn't necessarily have to be a bad thing. We can change. We can adapt. Do we have any ideas of how you think your job could be in the future? And during the first year I really learned a lot about ACIB, how ACIB worked and in my opinion there was a kind of a weak spot because the science was really excellent. It has always been, but there was no single point of contact for company partners, because if a company partner said, well ACIB is great I want to talk to them about what they could do for me. He would have to decide if you would go for the engineering team, bioprocessing unit, for the microbiome research. And that was not good because he wanted to talk about everything ACIB could do, and also to know what about the budget? If I do a project with you, how much would it cost and how does for example, some Austrian fundings, how does it work? So my idea was then to offer a kind of three branched approach. We could do business development, really approach company partners proactively for the whole of ACIB. We could also, in the fundraising, identify funding opportunities, be international ones like EU project but also national ones and also approach maybe private foundations to sponsor our research, and the third one was key account managing where I really take care of our best clients so to say of those companies who do the most research work with us, and that's something that I develop as kind of a concept and proposed to our CEO and he was really glad about that, and that was actually the point where I became business development manager. Funny story to tell, I became director of business development, I said okay, if I have more responsibility, if I do more, then I should get more salary, and he reminded me, our CEO, that we are a nonprofit research institution. But, we are flexible, we can adapt, so he didn't give me the salary but he said okay if you want to have a fancy title, go for it. And back then I wasn't sure how long I would stay at ACIB. Maybe it was just for another year, I didn't know and I thought in the Linkedin profile to have this term of director business development,it would sound really great. So that's why this title came to be.
Elisabeth: It does indeed actually, that's really exciting and I find it also very courageous that you proposed this, and actually identified that this is what the institution needs actually to be profitable and to be successful in the future. So you have a PhD, you have a background in life sciences. How could you master the skills set that you need for that? I mean you need key account managing, you need fundraising. There are a lot of things that come with this position. How, for example, did a PhD supported you in this?
Martin: Yeah, that's a good question. I think the PhD is really essential because at ACIB we have a lot of different kinds of projects and I have to present them in a convincing way and for that I have to understand them, and the PhD gave the opportunity to really understand the science behind, because you can't sell what you can't understand, not properly. And so for me it was really important. And the commercial background helped me, because a lot of scientists are focused on science only, and I think if you combine 2 different things, It's always of value. And for me, the commercial background was great because it gave me some kind of, maybe more self-confidence, maybe a little bit more insight about what companies might need. So I was really happy that I was able to combine it. Plus, the commercial college in Austria takes 5 years instead of a normal school, which would have taken 4 years, so I was kind of glad that the one additional year was not wasted, because back then I often thought commercial stuff is not something for me, I want to go into the natural science area, but then to combine those 2 was quite for me.
Elisabeth: Okay, so you briefly touched on that, you've been to a commercial college, so you got the commercial background in school. But now for our listeners that hold only a PhD, let's say, and have a natural science background. How important are those skills for the position you're holding today, and would you see any way to acquire those skills in an alternative way?
Martin: Yeah, of course, so I really think you must never stop learning. You always learn something new and it's possible to just do it on the job, train on the job and you will learn it by going along. Some colleagues of mine went for an official MBA, Master of Business Administration. There you get really insight into how the commercial context is important for your kind of work in the science area, and for example later on, I just read MBA books. I did not do the official program, but it really helped to refresh what I learned back then and to get an update. But I think it's always possible to learn something and in my opinion to learn the science stuff, it's much harder than to learn the economic stuff.
Elisabeth: That's interesting and learning on the go and constantly is something anyway, we need in today's society. I was also thinking from our discussion we had previously, I know that you also have an entrepreneurial side. You've been, you've pitched your ideas and you also have this side in you. How did this help you to identify the need to actually pitch a new position to make your institution grow?
Martin: Yeah, so it was all some kind of, I don't I know how to sell, wished for not only to do also in the PhD to do excellent science, I also wanted to translate it into something, into a product or a process maybe, and I was really lucky because my PhD thesis was in combination with a company, DSM, and the project that did back then it was, luckily some kind of success, so it offered me the opportunity to capitalize on that and to go for some awards. It was really a great experience and I always thought back then how I could raise my values as an employee. And being awarded something of course looks good in the CV, as does some title do, so I always thought okay, how could it make myself more interesting? And the entrepreneurial side was also, I always had ideas, and ideas you can use for a research project. You can use it for a company product but you can also use it to found your own startup and back then had 2 ideas of how a startup could work and, interesting scientific ideas and I managed actually to get among the top 3 in 2 competitions back then, but never actually did the startup, but I worked in a startup. And now at ACIB, because the job is always evolving, actually at ACIB I can now offer a preed initiative where startups are being fostered and promoted by ACIB. That's something that I also like to bring back. I was also lucky that business developed over the years, it really developed, and of course it doesn't matter what you do, over time you get better. You get more experience. You get more contact and it really helped that ACIB could grow. Our CEO, some months ago came again to me and said, if I see a way of maybe increase the output of the business development, and I don't know if that's maybe going too far now because that's kind of second stage. How I redesigned my job, because I did again a concept of how business development could develop at ACIB and if it's okay to you I can share it?
Elisabeth: What I found really interesting is that you touched upon a very interesting topic here, the constant evolution and adaptation. So how do you actually keep this mindset of constantly evolving, adaptation to what the needs are?
Martin: Yeah, mindset this may be a good idea, I always think okay, how I want to go on with my life, and I think it's a good idea to think about how, at an old age, you look back to your life and you maybe think I wished I could have changed that. And now you're actually in a position to really change it, and I see it as that a job is not only something to make money with, it's actually a way to change the world, and I'm a very optimistic person. And I want the world to be a better place, for my children, for everyone actually. And I think I can do it through my work, because if I'm more active, if I get more research projects, then there will be more R&D in the world, more results, more new products, more environmentally friendly processes, and that's something that they really live for and I think as maybe something for the viewers, I think it's really important to identify something that you love, because if you do that, it's not really a job, It's like a hobby but you get paid for it. So always find something that you love, and also something that you're good at. If you can combine those 2, and then match it with the needs of the company, that's a win-win win. Because then the company has a very motivated employee who really likes the job and does everything to be better at it, and also learning doesn't feel like an obligation. It feels like an opportunity because I have always been interested in science. But if you know, if you do 1 research project, you know everything about this one project. Now we have at the moment 70 research projects, and I am able to know a little bit about all of them. It's much more interesting and I always love to talk about science, and the frustrating elements in the lab back then, they are gone, so I can really focus on the more interesting stuff, in reading and talking about it. And the real work is done by our scientists and really I am grateful that they are doing it and also grateful that I can talk about all this.
Elisabeth: Now that sounds really lovely and yeah, also beautiful to hear how excited you are about your job and how you described learning to be an opportunity to constantly evolve and adapt and stay relevant in today's world. So that's really really beautiful, thanks a lot. Maybe now that we had such a beautiful, positive statement. Is there anything that you would have wished to do differently maybe, that you say “this would have been something that I would have liked to know earlier”, in this process, you had this perspective to you know, looking back, when you're old. Is there something you're looking back to now that you say that this would have been something I would like to have known earlier?
Martin: Maybe two things. The one thing is regarding mindset. I often think if things are in the past, it doesn't matter worrying about them, because they happened, and maybe it's great that they happened as they did even though they might have turned out in a negative way because after all, they shaped you. You became what you are because of all the things in the past, and I rather try not to think what I could've done better because you know that's the feeling of a past and you can't change it anyway. So I rather like to think about the future. However, if the question goes into that direction of what someone else in that field would like to know maybe, then I think the first thing is to be really proactive. Some in my position have the feeling, okay like you are selling something to someone who doesn't really need it, and who might be bothered by that. I think it's a different way. I'm working for a great research center and the opportunity to do great research is super. I mean it's really great and if you go to a company and offer them what you can do, it's like you offer them an advantage. If you go in there with the mindset of, well I just want to have your money, it doesn't work. But if you think, if you really believe you are giving them a benefit of doing research with you, that's a good thing. You should be convinced of yourself before you convince someone else. And the other thing is, sometimes you just need persistence. If you talk to a company partner, you always have to think, maybe he has a lot on his plate right now, and he receives a lot of emails, he has a lot of projects to take care of and he might be interested but he might not have the time to answer. But just go back to him in a nice way after two weeks, always have a reminder, ask again “hey we had this discussion, what about it now? Did you have time to think about it, would you like to have more input?”, and that's not the only thing I remind, I usually have 3 to 4 reminders and after the fourth reminder, if he still does not respond. Okay, that's fine. But I'm not on a personal level, that's nothing bad. Okay, he has a lot of things to do, that's fine. You should never think about having a professional rejection to have something to do with you personally, it's just that at that time, it didn't work out but it could maybe 1 year from now, and it's really important to build long-term relationships. Sometimes we had the case that we talked to a company and the first project business company was seven years later and you also have to have a kind of frustration tolerance. Because if you talk to a lot of companies, a lot of companies said it's interesting, but they're not actually willing to give money yet at that stage, so you have to talk to 10 or 20 companies to get 1 maybe a little project at the beginning and once the trust has been built, you can move on from there. You have a larger project, proof of concept, visibility and maybe then a long-term relationship, but it takes time so, be prepared that you get some frustrating elements along the way but it will work out to be fine.
Elisabeth: I guess as PhD we are used to frustration. I mean 7 years is a quite long stretch, would you say that this PhD skill helped you in that, or what actually gave you this long breath to keep those relationships going to work further?
Martin: As I mentioned earlier I think it's kind of the mindset, if I talk to someone I really want to help this person, I want to help this company and if for example, there's nothing that we could do as a researcher at the moment, maybe someone else could help it. Maybe someone else could fill their needs or help them with their challenges. And our stretch recommends someone else. Maybe just the funding that they could do on their own, something to make it interesting, and it's not only something to build a relationship. If he or she is willing to spend some time with me I want to make it worthwhile, help them along. And over time, there are some networking events and you meet the same persons over and over and if you continue to talk to them, they will be more forthcoming, more honest and more open minded over time. It can happen that also initially there was not really a project but it could come seven years later. And also, you should never give up. I once received an email from a student of the French island of La Réunion, asking for a project, and I thought well a student of that island would never turn out to be a project but I really wanted to help them. And over a few months we developed something we could really do, and he then brought in his professor and 2 projects, smaller projects but nevertheless about I think 20 to 40000 euros came out of it, so it helped myself to know that even some kind of lucky shot is possible, and you know, people are willing to do a lot for even lesser chances. So there's always a chance you have to believe in it, because if you don't do it the chances are zero, as long as you try there is still a possibility.
Elisabeth: That is really beautiful. Thanks a lot Martin for sharing your story and your insights and for this inspiring talk. Thanks also to you listeners for tuning in again and stay connected with us, via our social media channels, we are on Facebook, Linkedin and Instagram, and stay tuned because there are some exciting podcasts and episodes coming up. Thank you very much.
Martin: Thank you, bye.