Women in Business Q&A: Molly Schmid, Vice President, Life Science Group, ieCrowd

Molly Schmid serves as the Vice President of the Life Science Business Group for Innovation Economy Corporation (ieCrowd). A passionate entrepreneur with close to two decades of experience successfully transforming scientific discoveries into stakeholder value.

In her role as Vice President of the Life Science Business Group, Molly leads the businesses that are founded on biological technologies. Her experiences in startups motivate her to foster scientific excellence focused on creatively identifying solutions to important market needs.

Molly's entrepreneurial roles have centered on the transformation of basic science discoveries into solutions and applications that become valuable assets. Molly began her career as an Assistant Professor in Princeton University's Department of Molecular Biology, where she recognized that certain basic research findings from her laboratory might have value in the discovery of new drugs. She was recruited to the startup company, Microcide Pharmaceuticals in Mountain View CA, where she and others expanded those ideas for improving drug discovery. Importantly, she was also an integral part of the business teams that successfully financed the commercial development of those ideas through venture investments, corporate partnerships, and an initial public offering on NASDAQ (MCDE).

Her biotech experiences at the startup companies Microcide Pharmaceuticals and Affinium Pharmaceuticals (Toronto) and at Genencor International include two NASDAQ IPO's, two novel molecules that entered human clinical trials, numerous industrial enzyme products that are important in food and feed, personal care, textiles and detergents, and two Chapter 11 filings.

Molly received her bachelor's degree in Biology from State University of New York at Albany, and Ph.D degree in Biology from University of Utah. She is a Damon Runyon-Walter Winchell Fellow, a Searle Scholar, and a member of the American Academy of Microbiology. She is sought after as a guest lecturer in technology commercialization, entrepreneurial financial options, and the interface between academic and commercial ventures.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
When I played team sports as a kid our coach would challenge us to do something - for example run further than anyone ever had - and then we learned by taking the first steps, and not giving up, that we could accomplish what we didn't think we could do. It takes a good coach to put the challenge out there, and then to convince you to try wholeheartedly. I think this is an important aspect of leading teams of people into daring to succeed where others have failed. Often people put limits on what they'll try, because they don't think they can succeed. But it's also really important as a leader to have a solid grip on the reality of what might be possible. If the goal is set too high and isn't accomplished, it becomes demotivating.

How have your previous employment experiences aided your tenure at ieCrowd?
I've been part of teams that have accomplished amazing things - more, better, faster than anyone ever thought we could. Taking those risks and succeeding created the confidence to do it again. In the past, it took hard work, a talented team, and then starting - wholeheartedly, step-by-step - to achieve the goals. And then celebrating the small wins, the creative leaps, and the lucky breaks that are often part of the process.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at ieCrowd?
There are amazingly talented people working at ieCrowd, and it's a real delight to work with a group of hardworking and dedicated folks to commercialize university technologies. The technologies are disruptive with the potential to change the world. Collectively at ieCrowd, it's our job to use our experiences and creativity to convert the potential of the technologies into commercial realities. The challenge is that it's hard - really hard - to efficiently commercialize a technology, and to create a new product that the market adores.

What advice can you offer to women who want a career in technology?
When I was starting graduate school, I received some great advice. A senior researcher told me "If you don't say anything, people will believe you have nothing to say." I was a bit shy but had plenty of ideas, and certainly didn't want to give people the impression I didn't have anything to say. It helped me to overcome any shyness about speaking up in a group, it made me stand out among my peers, and also gave me practice in thinking quickly through a problem. The feedback I got when my ideas became a discussion point was also quite valuable in the learning process, whether the ideas were solid or off base.

What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?
When leading projects with big goals, it is important to focus the team's efforts and to demonstrate significant forward progress. It's often tempting to tackle too much - because "it's there - but it's almost always a mistake. Find a way to run a pilot program, or break things down to get somewhere faster. If you take on too much the forward progress will be slower and you'll have a harder time building momentum. With big ambitious projects, it's important to prioritize, learn lessons, and create positive momentum before tackling it all.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
This won't work for everyone but to some extent, I view work-life-balance in the long run - the balance doesn't need to be there for me every day, or even every week or every month. There are times when work is clearly "winning" and a debt accumulates in life. I try to find ways to catch up on life when work slows down, before new challenges emerge.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
The subtle aspects of discrimination. Bosses, and those who can promote or stall your career, are still predominantly men. Especially early in your career, you need to figure out ways to impress those who can positively impact your career. Men will often affiliate with junior men because they see themselves when they were younger. I think it's harder for senior men to view a junior women as "just like me when I was young."

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
At several points in my career, people whom I somehow impressed have gone out of their way to provide opportunities - writing or speaking engagements, or job opportunities. I will also admit that at other key times, there seemed to be no one around who was an obvious mentor but there were often good friends who provided sound advice and perspective.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
When I was very young, I read a biography of Marie Curie. Reading that allowed me to imagine that a woman could become a world-class scientist. It was eye-opening in the world I grew up in, which did not include real-life adult scientists, male or female. In graduate school, there were some incredibly strong female geneticist role models - Barbara McClintock, Beth Jones and Carol Gross immediately come to mind. They were important to give reality to the dream I was building about my career. Today, like many other women, I admire the toughness and savvy of Hillary Clinton, and am curious about the history and experiences of Mary Barra, the new CEO of General Motors.

What do you want to accomplish at ieCrowd in the next year?
Meet the challenging business and technical goals we've established, and then celebrate with the team!