Members of the Cornell entrepreneurial community gathered to celebrate a successful first year of the BioEntrepreneurship Initiative at the program’s culminating workshop on March 18 at Cornell’s academic space in Midtown Manhattan. In its inaugural year, the program of the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business unified MBA students and researchers to develop the next generation of life-science startup C-suite leaders and encouraged collaboration between Cornell’s Ithaca and New York campuses.
The program’s unique structure paired 13 MBA students with 16 researchers, innovators, and clinicians from across Cornell, giving teams the opportunity to immerse themselves in real-world startup creation. Kicking off in September in Ithaca, a series of six monthly, in-person practicums were held, alternating between Ithaca and New York as participants received the tools, training, and connections needed to launch a life science startup through a certificate program offered by the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management.
Each workshop highlighted various topics and featured first-hand insight from guest speakers, providing the cohort with a diverse set of perspectives to consider as they embark on their entrepreneurial journeys. Over the course of the program, participants heard from experienced entrepreneurs, health administrators, clinicians, and faculty members from Cornell’s Ithaca campus, Cornell Tech, and Weill Cornell Medicine.
The sessions varied locations to expose participants to the breadth of life science innovation at Cornell and included Weill Cornell Medicine’s BioVenture eLab , the College of Veterinary Medicine’s Schurman Hall, and the College of Engineering’s Upson Hall. The culminating practicum offered an opportunity to reflect on how many people played a part in making the BioEntrepreneurship Initiative a success and give the cohort a chance to present their progress.
“The BioEntrepreneurship Initiative is a wonderful opportunity for biomedical and bioengineering Ph.D. and MBA students to strengthen their leadership and entrepreneurship muscle,” said Loren Busby, director of the BioVenture eLab at Weill Cornell Medicine. “It connects and leverages cross-campus facilities, faculty, industry contacts, and career networks. Many of Weill Cornell’s Accelerating BioVenture Innovation students sought to continue their learnings through participation in the program’s weekend workshops and ready themselves for future leadership roles in the New York state life sciences sector.”
Before the presentations at the culminating practicum took place, the cohort engaged in a content session that prompted them to take a closer look at potential threats to their business models, including emerging technology and new players in the market who might be solving the same product with a different service. Teams presented their analysis in groups, with fellow cohort members providing feedback as an opportunity to apply their learnings from the entirety of the program. In the wake of the Silicon Valley Bank failure, students also had the chance to take part in a discussion on the implications from the fallout, including how this might impact raising capital, the risk tolerance among venture capitalists, and the future startup job market.
The formal event began with program director Gregory Ray, Ph.D. ‘14, welcoming attendees and getting the programming underway. Mark W. Nelson, the Anne and Elmer Lindseth Dean and Professor of Accounting at the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management in Cornell’s SC Johnson College of Business, provided the opening remarks.
“I am incredibly proud of the first cohort of the BioEntrepreneurship Fellows, who have exceeded our expectations and demonstrated the tremendous potential of this initiative to develop entrepreneurial leaders,” Nelson said. “Their success is a testament to the power of entrepreneurship education at the Johnson School and the immense value of bringing together diverse participants and perspectives from across Cornell’s colleges and campuses.”
The floor was then opened to the student teams comprising the cohort who, one by one, took the stage to pitch their startup to attendees. One of the teams included doctoral student Steven Park, who was paired with MBA student Christian Peitz to launch Candy Therapeutics. The company is focused on developing novel cell-based immunotherapy that targets the sugar barrier (known as glycocalyx) on cancer cells.
“The BioEntrepreneurship Initiative brings together a diverse range of inspiring speakers and entrepreneurs who cover essential business concepts such as customer discovery and segmentation, business models, value propositions, and market identification,” Park said. “Additionally, these experts offer practical knowledge from their experiences with startups, which has allowed me to develop a better understanding of how to define our target customers, secure funding for our idea, and conduct experiments to improve our project.”
The growth that Candy Therapeutics experienced over the course of the program was palpable, with Park’s research being featured by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). He plans to continue moving his work forward, as Park and Peitz will advance their project into the Nucleate Activator’s 2023 cohort. Park will be able to apply what he learned during his time in the BioEntrepreneurship Initiative to this opportunity.
“The final pitch presentation was a valuable opportunity for us to improve our pitch by going through the process of pitching in front of venture capitalists, receiving feedback on areas that required improvement, and learning from other teams,” Park said.
After the presentations, the cohort and attendees connected during a networking session over bites and beverages. This allowed the students to further elaborate on the progress they made during the program and meet key players in the Cornell entrepreneurial ecosystem that could be great resources moving forward.
With the first year of the BioEntrepreneurship Initiative completed, recruitment is underway for the 2023-24 cohort of the program. To learn more and apply, visit https://eship.cornell.edu/item/bioentrepreneurship/.