An Interview with Lance Colwell, ’92: Career Pathing in Biotech

Recently the Pulsifer Career Development Office spoke with Bentley alum, Lance Colwell, on his successful career path and how Bentley helped him achieve this success in the biotech industry. Lance most recently held the position of Chief Operating Officer for Ohana Biosciences, Inc. after almost 30 years in the biotech industry.

 

Please share a brief introduction, describing your career path since graduation from Bentley. 

I entered into pharma/biotech right out of Bentley. My career path is as follows:

    • Internship with 3M Medica in Germany
    • Sales jobs with four different pharma companies:  Carter Wallace, GD Searle (now Pfizer), Bayer and Purdue
    • First marketing role (my Bentley major) at Purdue — started as Associate Product Manager and promoted multiple times to Ass. Director of Marketing
    • Biogen for 14 years and range of roles:  Director of Marketing, Sr. Director of Training and Development, Sr. Director of Global Medical Affairs, Country Head Austria, VP of Global Commercial Excellence, VP of Rare Disease Group
    • Chief Operating Officer of Ohana Biosciences

Did you know you wanted to work in the healthcare industry while at Bentley? At what point did you discover an interest in biotech? 

I made the decision to work in pharma/biotech during my senior year at Bentley.  I was drawn to the industry by the mission to treat people’s sickness/diseases.

How did your experience at Bentley help you pursue a career in the biotech field?

I’ve leveraged my Bentley experience in so many different ways during my biotech career.  Here are some examples:  The broad business education with a strong foundation in finance/economics I received, helped prepare me for a range of different roles in the biotech industry.   I utilized knowledge I gained from courses in marketing, operational management, international business, law, finance etc.  I knew that I wanted to work internationally during my career so my two years of German helped position me well for my first internship in Germany (which helped later in my career to get roles as the Head of Marketing in Biogen’s German affiliate and then as Head of the Austrian business).

Why do you enjoy working in biotech?

By far the best part is the tremendous impact you can make in the lives of people  I’ve worked in over twenty therapeutic areas with therapies that helped patients in a variety of ways.  The most profound experiences were those therapies that could completely transform someone’s life because due to the efficacy of the products.

What trends are you seeing in this industry?

The biotech job market is the hottest it has ever been. The biotech industry will continue to expand significantly in the coming years (particularly in Boston!).  There are billions and billions of dollars currently being invested into both the private and public biotech markets. This will mean continued growth in jobs across all aspects of the industry.

In the past, many small companies expected to be bought up by the larger pharma organizations, that has changed significantly in the past decade where many small biotechs now stay independent through commercialization — I expect this trend to continue.

The number of therapies for rare diseases will grow significantly as that has been an area of major R&D investment over the past several eyars.

The influence of AI will continue to expand from drug development to commercialization.

If you were in the position to hire new graduates, what qualities would you look for in candidates? 

1) Did the graduate obtain any relevant experience while at Bentley — eg internships, large projects, etc that demonstrate they have some understanding of biotech.  2) Team work/collaboration — have they shown that they can successfully work with a diverse group of people.  3) leadership – do they have a track record of taking on leadership roles throughout their college career. 4) drive for results/learning agility — in what ways have they shown strong performance (academic success is one, but how else…?); also where have they failed and translated that into better performance/results.   5) As most Bentley grads will come with a strong business background — how can they demonstrate a good foundational knowledge of science

What advice would you give an undergraduate student considering to use their business degree to work in biotech?

My response above provides some good examples of how students should think about gaining relevant experiences during their four years at Bentley.  Many of the concepts noted above need to be thought through well before the end of senior year. There are tons of job opportunities right now in the Boston market and many companies are desperate for help.  Ambitious undergrads should think about how they could get their foot in the door at a biotech early — perhaps as a part time admin or in HR operations.  Make sure you have the right atitidue and be ready to persevere over hurdles/challenges such as getting rejected for jobs — find out why you got rejected and try to learn from that for the next opportunity.

By Jennifer Graham
Jennifer Graham Associate Director, Undergraduate Career Development, Pulsifer Career Development Center Jennifer Graham