March 9, 2022
Different Roads to Translation
From left to right: Robin Rasor, Matthew Becker, PhD, Arif kamal, MD, MBA, Howard Levinson, MD, Stefan Roberts, PhD.
By Aliza Inbari
The Duke Office for Translation and Commercialization receives about 400 invention disclosures from Duke faculty, clinicians, and graduate students every year. A small percentage of them will become startup companies, and others will be licensed to existing companies. Therapeutics resulting from Duke research include Myozyme for Pompe disease, Uplinza for neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder, a rare disease that affects the optic nerve and spinal cord, and Rethymic for the treatment of pediatric patients with congenital athymia, a rare immune disorder.
As a part of Duke Research Week 2022, Robin Rasor, Associate VP for Translation and Commercialization, moderated a panel of Duke inventors and founders of companies to discuss their experiences bringing inventions to the market. The panel featured Matthew Becker, PhD, Hugo L. Blomquist Professor of Chemistry, founder of three start-up companies―3D BioResins, 3D BioActives, and Fortem; Arif Kamal, MD, MBA, Associate Professor of Medicine, founder and CEO of Prepped Health; Howard Levinson, MD, Associate Professor of Surgery, founder of Deep Blue Medical Advances, and Stefan Roberts, PhD, a research scientist in the Pratt School of Engineering, founding-scientist and CEO of inSomaBio.
The panel provided an overview of the various resources available at OTC and throughout Duke. The panelists shared their experiences in taking discoveries from their research lab to the market and key considerations when starting a company, including how to best leverage various resources available to Duke inventors and the importance of building a network of advisors and investing the time to build a strong team.
On the Importance of Building Your Team
Howard Levinson – “Team is everything. If you talk to a venture capitalist or professional investors, they care more about the team than the actual invention. You have to think about your interpersonal relationship. Find somebody who can speak the same language, and that you can trust. You are going to bring people on board, and it’s not done overnight. It’s done by a lot of networking.”
In their discussions, the panelists offered their perspectives on the time commitment required to fundraise and grow the company, all while navigating the dual role as a researcher/clinician.
On Fundraising and Growing the Company
Matthew Becker – “When I founded the company, I did 67 pitches on 22 different trips to New York City. I would fly on a day that I wasn’t teaching at six o’clock in the morning and would get home at 11 o’clock at night, after four or five pitches during the day.”
Stefan Robert – “You either have investors that don’t talk to you at all, which is great for a while, but it’s better to have investors that know what they’re doing and want to interact with you. That’s probably my greatest expectation.”
For all the panelists, the greatest benefit of being an entrepreneur was clear–making a real impact beyond their research labs.
Arif Kamal – “I’m not going to change the world through papers. I’m going to change the world through practical implementation and sustainability of good ideas. I see entrepreneurship as a way to do that. You can be both a scientist and a world changer at the same time.”
Watch the video