May 11, 2017

Students learn to commercialize medical technologies

Du Cheng
Brooke Alexander/Provided
Du Cheng, a fourth-year M.D.-Ph.D. student at Weill Cornell Medicine, won the inaugural eLab $50,000 Biomedical Business Plan Challenge.

As an undergraduate student, Du Cheng invented a laboratory camera adapter that allowed scientists to capture images with an iPhone and view them through a microscope. Although he figured out how to manufacture his technology, Cheng, a fourth-year M.D.-Ph.D. student at Weill Cornell Medicine, needed help turning his product into a viable business.

Enter the Bench to Bedside Initiative (BBI) program, part of Weill Cornell Medicine’s Dean’s Entrepreneurship Lab (eLab) that helps medical students, doctoral candidates, clinicians and researchers who are interested in business careers launch medical technologies into startups. Intrigued by the resources offered, Cheng enrolled in the BBI program last fall and on May 10 won the inaugural eLab $50,000 Biomedical Business Plan Challenge alongside two other finalist teams. Cheng is focused on expanding his product to make it more attractive to investors.

“I had been developing my business organically, but it was a long and difficult process,” said Cheng, a 2016 Soros fellow whose company, iDu Optics, also took first prize in December 2016 at BBI’s annual Pitch Day competition. “The BBI was exactly what I needed to meet other scientists and investors, and formulate a business plan.”

The BBI program, which will be offered next fall, also prepares participants by giving them tools to commercialize a technology and helping them establish industry relationships.

Following an intensive 12-week life-sciences entrepreneurship course, participants in the BBI program wrote business pitches for medical technologies invented at Weill Cornell Medicine, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and The Rockefeller University. During Pitch Day, teams presented their business ideas to a panel of judges from top biotech, health care and venture capital funds.

iDu Optics received multiple awards, including a $15,000 voucher for legal services.

To prepare for the May 10 Business Plan Challenge, BBI teams worked with mentors in fields including biotech, marketing, finance and intellectual property. In addition to $50,000 from Weill Cornell Medicine, $35,000 in legal services will be distributed among the winners as seed capital for their new companies.

“Through the BBI, participants go from having minimal knowledge of business to writing a pitch that is convincing to investors and then a more fully developed business plan,” said Sarah Kishinevsky, director of the Dean’s Entrepreneurship Lab at Weill Cornell Medicine and founder of the BBI.

Since the BBI course was first offered in 2014, four projects have been funded by investors. While it attracted 20 attendees, on average, to lectures in its first year, 150 people joined sessions last fall. Classes are led by venture capitalists, lawyers, consultants, licensing experts and other industry leaders. Mentoring is an important component of the program.

Alyssa Bagadion, a fourth-year doctoral student in the Biochemistry, Cell and Molecular Biology Program, has twice participated in the BBI program. Her team, Sensogen, was the runner-up at Pitch Day in December.

Bagadion’s team wrote a practice business plan for a device that fits through laparoscopic ports and measures tissue oxygenation. Low oxygen levels in tissues can cause intestinal or bowel leaks, or other complications in gastrointestinal surgeries. The “intraoperative pulse oximeter” can help surgeons avoid those problems. The device was invented by Dr. Prasad Adusumilli, deputy chief of the thoracic service and laboratory head of Memorial Hospital Research Laboratories, and recently completed a clinical trial there with 114 patients.

“I decided to retake the class after my team won second place in the 2015 competition to gain additional experience with developing business plans for startups,” Bagadion said. “I eventually want to work for a biotechnology or pharma startup, and the BBI has been a valuable learning experience for me.”

Diane Hess is a freelance writer for Weill Cornell Medicine.