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tPA+ Therapeutics I-corps@Ohio Team

Four Ohio University teams to move from research to commercialization through I-Corp@Ohio

Austin Ambrose
November 7, 2016

Four Ohio University research and entrepreneurship teams completed a seven-week intensive training program as participants in the I-Corps@Ohio 2016 cohort. The teams were competitively selected last spring to each receive $15,000 to assist their startups, and were required to partake in this program to learn about business modeling, commercial opportunities and product development.

I-Corps@Ohio is modeled after the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) I-Corps program, with a mission to expand opportunities for faculty and graduate students from Ohio universities and colleges to validate the potential for their inventions and provide support to begin their startups.

Activities in the seven-week program included learning the key concepts of a business model, interviewing numerous stakeholders in the invention to gather an in-depth understanding of the market, and networking with mentors from relevant fields.

Each team comprised of a principal investigator (PI), entrepreneurial lead and an executive mentor from the industry. The four Ohio University teams had an array of different ventures, but similar experiences during the program.

Dr. Steven Bergmeier, professor and chair of chemistry and biochemistry, and Dr. Xiao-Zhuo Chen, associate professor of biomedical sciences, were co-PIs for their team. They worked on developing a new cancer therapy that attacks and kills the malignant cells. The targeted therapy works on only certain cancer types, but 80 percent of all cancers have the feature that make it susceptible to the therapy.

The team included Emily Trzeciak, a sophomore studying biological sciences in the Honors Tutorial College. She was invited to join the team because of her work at the Edison Biotechnology Institute under Dr. Chen. One of the team’s two entrepreneurial leads, Trzeciak is the only undergrad student on an Ohio University team, and possibly the only undergrad in the program. She began by sitting in on conference calls and taking notes, but began to take on more responsibilities through the process.

Bergmeier said his team spent a lot of time on customer discovery, interviewing various market participants of their invention, and Trzeciak was a big component of those interviews. She scheduled and conducted a large portion of the interviews with doctors and patients, along with pharmaceutical and insurance companies. He also said that the program was a lot of work but gave them a better understanding of the process.

“It gave everyone a new perspective on what it would take to move this invention to the point where it could be the basis for a company or license for a company,” Bergmeier said. His team is still working on research for the project and is seeking more funding to continue pushing forward.

At the final presentation for the program, Trzeciak presented with the team to investors, corporate representatives, the National Institute of Health, and others. Trzeciak and the team discussed the problems and solutions throughout the process and their future trajectory. Although it was an experience for all members, it was particularly rewarding for Trzeciak.

“It was one of the most intensive activities I’ve done in my life,” Trzeciak said. “It was a critical experience for me to learn about drug development, since I want to be a doctor. I would have never gotten this opportunity unless I had been a part of the program.”

A second team was led by Dr. Brian Clark, professor of physiology and neuroscience. His team worked to commercialize a technology that could identify the composition of the outer shell of bones. Throughout the program, the team identified and refined their customer segment to create a strong business plan.

During the process, the team realized it had a second customer segment — clinical bone researchers — which greatly influenced their business model. They also learned the basics about starting up a venture. As a follow-up to the program, Clark’s team recently formed a small business and are in the process of commercializing the technology.

The third team, led by Dr. Frank Kraft, professor of mechanical engineering, worked to create a precision, thin-wall, multichannel copper heat exchanger tube. This product would be used in industries that needed more efficient heat at a low cost and small size. Through the program, the team learned to assess the process of taking new technologies or products to the market and gained a better understanding of their potential market and customers.

“We were very impressed and appreciative with the high level of instruction, professionalism, and commitment that all of the I-Corps@Ohio staff provided in this program,” Kraft said.

He explained that even after the completion of the program, they still received support from some of the professionals, such as TechGROWTH Ohio’s Lee Groeschl, executive-in-residence. Kraft and his team were one of seven to be invited to present at the 2016 Ohio Collegiate Venture Showcase on Oct. 21 at The Boat House at Confluence Park. Their hope in the future is to begin a startup company in southeast Ohio.

A fourth and final team from Ohio University was led by professor Yang Li, professor of biomedical sciences. On his team were Nabanita Talukdar, master of public administration candidate, was the entrepreneurial lead for the team. Bruce Halpryn, former head of Proctor and Gamble’s Pharmaceutical Division in Cincinnati, acted as the executive mentor for the team. Talkudar is a MPA student at the Voinovich School and a TechGROWTH Ohio intern. Halpryn worked as the head of Proctor and Gamble’s Pharmaceutical Division in Cincinnati, Ohio.