Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Larry Page, Meg Whitman, Marissa Mayer, Guy Kawasaki, Jimmy Wales, Steve Balmer, Sergey Brin, Marc Andreessen, etc. What do these people have in common? If you said “None of them work in biotechnology,” you think like me.
The information technology industry undeniably creates more celebrities than other technological fields, like biotechnology. Biotechnology is a good comparator, because it shares with IT similar global market sizes and an ethos of entrepreneurship and innovation. So why does IT have more celebrities than biotech? Some initial thoughts.
1. More showboaters. Maybe IT types are just more attracted to flattering PR. This explains (in part) the prominence of maybe two or three people on my list, but certainly not everyone.
2. Consumers interact directly with a lot of internet businesses but less so with biotech products. Everyone uses the web, so they can better appreciate the accomplishments of Larry Page than of Herbert Boyer or Walter Gilbert.
3. Relatedly, the internet can turn average joes into hyper-successes much faster than biotechnology, because the internet does not (yet) have an FDA. Web sites and software do not need to go through clinical trials (and rightfully so), and so they can become successful much more quickly, while people are still interested in hearing about them and while the founders are young enough for teens through thirtysomethings to identify with.
4. Internet folks go to more conferences than biotech folks, possibly because working in front of a computer screen all day long is boring, so they need more celebrities to make speeches.
5. What have I missed?