To a life scientist who has emerged from a struggle to master a recalcitrant compound, an elusive ion flux, or an important gene sequence, launching a company might seem not just simple, but also natural. Think up a catchy name, take the CEO title, and shepherd a discovery from the laboratory to the market where profits lie. After all, don't thousands of folks—even those who think mass spectrometry may be a technical point in football—run companies and make millions from other people's ideas?

Actually, the business side of science is much more complicated than it might appear, according to biotechnology experts. Tension between a faculty member who comes up with an idea and the institution that owns it complicates the future of companies born in universities. "It's not easy anywhere," Jonathan Kaufman says. "Starting a company is a lot of work." A former academic researcher, Kaufman is now science director...

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