Fast Times in the Valley of Death: What Leaving My Career for a Start-Up Taught Me About Research and Life
Abstract: Interest in translating basic science into commercial reality has never been greater within US universities. While a good idea on paper, the work of commercialization requires different approaches, priorities, and thinking than traditional research efforts. Deep uncertainty abounds. Assumptions about the significance of one’s work will be tested mightily and publicly in the marketplace. Price tags may be orders of magnitude greater than for typical scholarly work, and entirely new sources of capital – some inaccessible from within a university – will likely be required. Careers may be advanced, or harmed. In this presentation, I’ll highlight some smart and some not-so-smart moments during my mid-career evolution from academic researcher to company founder and most recently to a scientist leading a team that identifies, evaluates, incubates, and funds new biotechnologies.
Speaker Bio: Prior to launching his first start-up, John was the Associate Chair for Research in the Department of Emergency Medicine at the University of Michigan. After 20 years as a physician scientist, he closed his practice and his laboratory in 2015 to found Akadeum Life Sciences, a venture-backed company that makes a buoyant alternative to magnetic microparticles for cell and molecular isolation. When his wife’s career brought John and his family to Philadelphia in 2019, he was recruited to be in charge of University City Science Center’s commercialization programs. In that capacity he oversees over a million dollars in annual grants and contracts to regional universities, the incubation of over 50 start-up companies, an early stage investment portfolio, and a growing service line providing business and technical analytics to companies pursuing acquisition of life science technologies. In addition to his work at the Science Center, John currently serves on the National Advisory Council at NIGMS, the third largest institute within the NIH.
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