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UMass Chan eClub developing scientists’ entrepreneurial know-how and contacts

  Steering committee chair Huayan Sun (left) and Regino Mercado-Lubo, MD, are members of the UMMS eClub.

Steering committee chair Huayan Sun (left) and Regino Mercado-Lubo, MD, are members of the UMMS eClub.

UMass Medical School’s Entrepreneurship Club will put scientific business ideas to the test when it hosts a Shark Tank-style Investors Roundtable with venture capitalists on Wednesday, Oct. 14. Styled after the reality TV show in which aspiring entrepreneurs present their business ideas to a panel of investors in hopes of being funded, the event is the next in the fall seminar series hosted by eClub, which offers the UMass Medical School community opportunities to learn more about the business of science.

“Because academic positions are limited and there is so much competition for those, it’s good for us to think about other career possibilities,” said Huayan Sun, chair of the eClub steering committee and a fourth-year student in the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences (GSBS). “I had never been exposed to industry, having always been in school. I’m curious about opportunities outside of academia and what else we can do with our research, so I joined the eClub.”

The group is a central component of the Massachusetts Therapeutic and Entrepreneurial Realization Initiative (MassTERI, pronounced “mastery”). Launched by faculty in 2014, MassTERI fosters entrepreneurship among UMMS students, postdocs, faculty and staff, and facilitates translation of UMMS discoveries into drugs, products, technologies and companies in order  to create a more robust on-campus community of scientific entrepreneurs. In particular, MassTERI builds upon existing efforts at the UMass Center for Clinical and Translational Science (CCTS) and other university organizations to support scientists who are interested in advancing development of small molecule drugs and in commercializing their innovations.

Seminars and workshops are held twice a month, with each eClub meeting followed by a networking reception.

“We encourage people to stay after events to discuss their entrepreneurial ideas and build their network by talking to speakers and their peers,” said Sun. “The long-term goal of eClub is to develop a community of UMMS scientists that are interested in entrepreneurship and to foster and further develop a culture of entrepreneurship at UMMS.”

For member Regino Mercado-Lubo, MD, eClub has been opening doors he didn’t even know existed.

“I need to apply what I do,” said Dr. Mercado-Lubo, a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Beth McCormick, PhD, professor of microbiology & physiologic systems. Mercado-Lubo is also pursuing a master of science in clinical investigation from the Department of Quantitative Health Sciences while conducting his postdoctoral research into whether host-targeting proteins produced by the pathogenic bacteria S. typhimurium could be used to overcome drug resistance in cancer patients.

“I am very interested in translational research, which is reflected in the evolution of my education and project,” said Mercado-Lubo. “I am trying to take a discovery we made here to the next step.”

Participation in eClub has prepared Mercado-Lubo for the pitch “The Development of a Novel Adjuvant Chemotherapy Targeted to Multidrug Resistant Tumors” that he will make at the roundtable to investors Tripp Peake, managing partner at Long River Ventures, and Steven Weinstein, managing director of the Novartis Venture Fund.

“The way you have to present to investors is very different from the way we are used to presenting as scientists. It’s a lot of market analysis, and not that much science. You also have to pitch the team that will support you,” said Mercado-Lubo. “We also have the opportunity to go to different networking events other than our own. It’s important to bring lots of business cards and be ready to answer lots of questions.”

MassTERi is a joint collaboration of the Office of Innovation and Business Development and CCTS. It was initiated by faculty co-founders Melissa J. Moore, PhD, Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, the Eleanor Eustis Farrington Chair in Cancer Research and professor of biochemistry & molecular pharmacology; Anastasia Khvorova, PhD, professor of molecular medicine and biochemistry & molecular pharmacology; and Celia A. Schiffer, PhD, professor of biochemistry & molecular pharmacology and co-founder of the Institute for Drug Resistance. The eClub continues to be a student/postdoc led initiative with support from MassTERI.

“We’re excited about the opportunity to build upon MassTERI’s strong foundation and we plan to use it as the central platform for education, mentoring and support for the entire innovation ecosystem at UMMS,” said Brendan O'Leary, PhD, executive vice chancellor for innovation & business development. “The eClub is a very important part of this ecosystem and we hope to provide its members with many opportunities to participate in entrepreneurial projects on campus.”

eClub is also supported by the GSBS Center for Biomedical Career Development and the UMMS Office of Research, along with numerous faculty who have industry connections and entrepreneurial experience.

“Three-quarters of GSBS students and postdocs are strongly considering a career in industry—a world quite distinct from academic research,” said Cynthia Fuhrmann, PhD, assistant professor of biochemistry & molecular pharmacology and GSBS assistant dean for career and professional development. “eClub has brought them together as a community, helped them form professional connections with scientists in industry and developed knowledge of how to translate scientific discoveries to market—critical steps in their career development.”

The eClub steering committee is always open to new membership. “Our goal is to get scientists who are concentrating on their studies to think more about the future,” Sun emphasized. “We hope to play an inspirational and educational role and serve as part of unified platform for identifying and supporting early innovations at UMMS.”

Related links on UMassMedNow:
New initiative to build culture of drug development entrepreneurship
New executive vice chancellor hired to lead business development initiatives
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