by Lauren and Juliane
Lauren Celano founded her own business, Propel careers, and advices postdocs at BU about possible careers. In this post she describes how it all started.
Question: You got a BS in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from Gettysburg College. Did you ever consider about doing a PhD or master’s in science?
LC answer: I was very interested in medical school and initially planned on pursuing this career path following college. In my senior year of college though, I learned about other career paths, such as roles in biotech and pharma companies. I decided to pursue this instead (at least initially) to learn more about this area. In 2000 after receiving my bachelor I started working and only began studying towards the MBA part time in 2007, so I had about 7 years of work experience before starting the program.
Q: After receiving your MBA from BU you worked for several biotechnology companies for more than 10 years. When and why did you decide to start your own business?
LC answer: I enrolled in a part-time MBA program at BU in Sept of 2007. My goal in pursuing my MBA was to learn about business fundamentals since all of my formal education was science based, up to this point. I felt that I needed to learn finance, economics, marketing, etc in order to grow my career. I had not thought about entrepreneurship before starting my MBA. During the MBA, I started to do business plans and competitive landscape assessments for biotech and medical device technologies. During my 10 years of work experience, most of my experience focused on developing plans to take a drug from efficacy to phase 1 and 2 clinical trials so I found thmy previous science experience very useful to the business strategy for the technologies I was working on. The MBA program gave me confidence that my skill set (scientific knowledge and my industry network) was useful and showed me that I enjoyed entrepreneurial activities. During February of 2009, the idea for Propel came up when I met my co-founder through networking. We both saw that a need existed to connect graduate students with entrepreneurial companies to help foster their career growth. I had wanted to do something entrepreneurial and I really enjoy helping people and making connections, so when the concept of Propel was thought out, I decided to start the company with Omar Amirana.
Q: You gave up your job to start your own company, was it intimidating? How did you support yourself in the beginning?
LC answer: I initially left my job in December of 2008 to finish my MBA full time. Two months later, I found myself starting Propel. Everything happened really fast. It was intimidating to leave my job and start something new, but I enjoyed the challenge. I supported myself initially on some savings and credit cards. It took a while for Propel to have revenue, therefore for the first two years, I lived mostly on savings and credit cards and cut a lot out of my normal routine to save money. Unfortunately I did not apply for start-up loans or kickstarter money. In hindsight, it would have been good to get some cash from an outside source to make the startup process a little less stressful
Q: You are one of two founders of Propel careers. How did you meet your partner? And why did the two of you decide to start a business together?
LC:I met Omar through a person called Marc Cote who I met networking at a MassBio event. I met Marc in the late fall of 2008 at a MassBio Investors meeting – a meeting where a lot of VC’s (venture capitalist), angel investors and CEO’s attended. I attended the meeting to network since I wanted to learn more about the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Boston. Marc introduced me to Omar and the rest is history. When Omar and I met, we both saw a need to cultivate the careers of the emerging leaders (Ph.D.’s, postdocs, MD students, grad students, etc) through connections to well run entrepreneurial companies. By doing so, we get to actively develop the careers of our future leaders.
Q: At the beginning, were you ever afraid that your company would fail?
LC: Sure. I think every entrepreneurial has some fear that their company could fail. Most entrepreneurs try to build something new and innovative so by default, this means that the company could fail, since it is not a proven model yet. When a company starts, it is important to listen to customer feedback and pivot (if needed) to be able to seize opportunity and grow.
Q: What is the mission of your company?
LC: Our mission is to develop the careers of individuals through coaching, mentoring, networking and placement and by doing so, strengthening the life sciences companies we work with.
Q: Who do you see as your primary clients? Employers or job seekers?
LC: Our clients are both – we are unique as a career development and recruiting firm since we work actively with both job seekers and employers. The coaching work that Propel does, which includes resume and cover letter coaching, LinkedIn development, interview prep and networking guidance, has grown steadily over the last 4 years. We see a large need to provide advice to talent looking for roles. Sometimes we place people who we have coached, but in most cases, this is separate from the placement activity of Propel. The recruitment work that we perform provides us with a unique insight that we can provide to talent looking for roles. With respect to companies, we actively work with numerous companies to identify talent to join their firms. The level of talent ranges from recent Ph.D. graduates to director level.
Q: There are a lot of recruiting firms in the greater Boston area, that do similar work to Propel, what makes you special?
Our focus on entrepreneurial companies (i.e. 5-50 ish person firms) is a differentiator. We focus mainly on the emerging leader (the current student/ recent grad up to about 15 years of work experience). This is a strong differentiator since many other firms are focused on more senior level talent (CEO, CSO, COO). The coaching work that we do is unique among recruitment firms – this allows us the opportunity to really get to know people and help them even if we do not have a role that is the perfect fit for them right now.