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10 years of healthcare entrepreneurship

Northeastern’s Health Sciences Entrepreneurs program celebrated its 10th anniversary this fall. Housed within the Bouvé College of Health Sciences, the program focuses on educating entrepreneurs by providing them with the knowledge and tools to build successful companies in the health sciences field.

Here’s a closer look at the program, how it has made an impact in its first decade, and how to get involved.

The program’s beginnings
Chairman Joseph Fleming, PAH’70, MS’71, along with a handful of other Bouvé alumni entrepreneurs, founded the Health Sciences Entrepreneurs program in 2005, with the goal of introducing entrepreneurial business opportunities in the health sciences to students, alumni, and faculty. Academia and industry play an important role in improving the healthcare and lives of each individual, Fleming said, but doing academic research and bringing a product or service to market are two entirely different things.

“We started HSE to help young entrepreneurs bridge the gap,” he said. “In this field sometimes a single piece of advice can mean the difference between success and failure.”

What does HSE do?
The program hosts a range of entrepreneurial and networking events and in 2010 launched a mentoring program for alumni, graduate students, and faculty who are starting businesses in the health sciences. Mentors provide guidance on everything from identifying markets and seeking funding to perfecting products and building business organizations. Mentors and ventures meet on campus once every month or two. Currently, the program is mentoring 13 ventures at various stages of development.

We started HSE to help young entrepreneurs bridge the gap,”
—HSE Chairman Joseph Fleming, PAH’70, MS’71

How mentors can get involved
HSE seeks mentors with a strong professional background and experience. Mentors represent a range of experiences as founders, CEOs, chief technical officers, chief financial officers, directors, or advisors of successful companies in health sciences or other industries. “Having good listening skills and an entrepreneurial mindset is a must for a mentor,” added Chris Ford, DMSB’73, a mentor and HSE board member.

How ventures can get involved
Ventures must be based on a business idea in the health sciences field and led by a Northeastern graduate, a current faculty member, or a graduate student. Ventures apply online at northeastern.edu/hse/ and are vetted to be included into the mentoring program. Visit the HSE website to learn more about getting involved as a mentor or venture.

Meet some HSE success stories:

A plan comes into focus
AndrosRobotics LLC, an HSE venture and spinoff from the Biomedical Mechatronics Laboratory at Northeastern, is working on commercializing its device to help stroke patients relearn how to walk. The company is using its recently finished prototype—developed with a National Science Foundation grant—to close a deal with a manufacturing partner to bring the product to market. Co-founder Maciej Pietrusinski, PhD’12, said he and his team originally wanted to create a company and commercialize multiple devices out of the lab, but HSE mentors played a key role in helping the team focus on the one with the best chance of getting to market.

From technology to company
VocalID, an HSE venture founded by Northeastern professor and speech communication expert Rupal Patel, creates custom synthetic voices for people with speech impairments. She said mentors Chris Ford and Bret Siarkowski, E’87, lent key insight into how to bring a product—not just the technology—to the grand stage. “When you build a company, it’s not only about the technology,” Patel said. “It’s about the product. So what will this be? Who will this help? What is the ecosystem in which it lives?”

Making the leap
QSM Diagnostics, Inc., is a Boston-based medical device startup formed in 2014 that develops wearable sensors for infection monitoring, allowing doctors to quickly detect and treat specific types of infections. Founder Edgar Goluch, DiPetro Assistant Professor in the Department of Engineering, said a turning point came when he was chosen to participate in the National Science Foundation I-Corps program. The six-week program allowed him funding to interview doctors and patients to learn more about who this technology would best serve—work that he collaborated on with HSE mentor Craig Sockol, MS’79 . “Going through that, we really identified podiatrists, because they treat a lot of patients with chronic foot ulcers,” he said.

He added: “I’m used to coming in and telling you, ‘Here’s how this works.’ Now I go into a meeting and say, ‘Here’s what I can fix.’”

When to pivot
Eugene Khazan, E’01, founder and CEO of BraveLeaf, was selected for the HSE program in 2010. At an HSE-sponsored event earlier this year, Khazan described how he initially sought to create a business to solve his grandparents’ problem of remembering to take their medication on time. His first idea was to develop a smart pill box, but with the help of HSE, that idea evolved into BraveLeaf, an electronic care management company focused on serving assisted living communities.

“I pivoted and came up with a completely different product,” he said.

A model for mentorship
The Daniel J. McCarthy(s) Venture Mentoring Network formally launched earlier this year and is designed to match student, alumni, and faculty entrepreneurs with experienced alumni and other industry professionals. Health Sciences Entrepreneurs was one of two programs—the other being IDEA, Northeastern’s student-led venture accelerator—that gives Northeastern ventures the mentoring and education they need to be successful.

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