February 22, 2018

Share Press Releases OTC Blog Start-ups

Meet the Director of Duke New Ventures

Last year, Duke’s Office for Translation & Commercialization (OTC) set a record by helping to form 11 new companies around Duke technology. And just within the first six months of this year, OTC has already helped develop 11 start-ups.

So, what’s changed? What’s the reason for this sudden surge of new ventures coming out of Duke?

New Ventures LogoRob Hallford, the recently appointed Director of Duke New Ventures, explains, “The entrepreneurial ecosystem has grown by leaps and bounds over the last five years.  The programs at Duke focused on translating research to the market—CTSI, Coulter Foundation Grants, MedX, MedBlue, and the I&E initiative to name a few—have multiplied, providing faculty with guidance in addition to funding. This ecosystem allows for ideas to get refined more inside Duke, and sets inventors up for success when it’s time to spin out.”

Hallford, a former Associate Director in OTC, is no greenhorn when it comes to getting companies off the ground. He has more than 23 years’ experience working in the life science and pharmaceutical venture capital industries for companies such as Pappas Ventures, CoLucid Pharmaceuticals, Lilly Ventures, and Eli Lilly & Co.

“For me, it’s about finding what’s exciting about a faculty member’s research and helping them put that in the best possible light.  So much of what we do at Duke is at the vanguard of science and medicine—our challenge is crafting a story that captures the excitement around innovation and frames it in the context of what customers need.”

OTC Executive Director, Robin Rasor, chats with President Price at last year’s Invented at Duke Celebration. Photo by Jared Lazarus/Duke Photography

Over the past 18-months, working with OTC’s new Executive Director, Robin Rasor, Hallford has established a Mentors-in-Residence (MIR)program and successfully piloted a New Ventures Fellows (NVF) program using MBA students from Duke’s Fuqua School of Business.

Executive Director Rasor came here with her own vision for improving and expanding OTC’s licensing and entrepreneurship activities. “Rob has molded and added to this vision making the New Ventures group truly an initiative that fits with Duke’s strengths and our local and national community,” she said. “Now the challenge is to not only create more new spinouts but ensure that they are high quality, investible companies that can make it to an exit.”


With four MIRs joining the New Ventures team since August, these seasoned entrepreneurs bring their insights, experiences, and numerous connections to nascent companies currently coming together inside of Duke.

Based on their experience and expertise, each MIR is focused on a particular field. These areas of expertise include pharmaceuticals, medical devices, software/technology, materials, and sensors, among others. Duke MIRs have founded companies, navigated FDA approval for devices and pharmaceuticals, and led companies from initial start-up all the way through acquisition and exit.

Duke start-up, InnAVasc’s President and CEO, Joe Knight, chats with OTC Mentor-in-Resident Fred Kornahrens and OTC New Venture’s Dir. Rob Hallford. Photo by Jared Lazarus/Duke Photography
Duke start-up, InnAVasc’s President and CEO, Joe Knight, chats with OTC Mentor-in-Resident Fred Kornahrens and Duke New Ventures Director Rob Hallford. Photo by Jared Lazarus/Duke Photography

As the backbone of the Duke New Ventures group, MIRs are well-placed to promote community evolvement and technology translation through face-to-face engagement, early-stage technology evaluation, and ultimately, the transformation of Duke’s promising technologies and fledgling companies into business ventures.

Carlos Dedesma, an MIR that has worked with emerging healthcare companies focused on developing next-generation pharmaceuticals, research tools, and medical diagnostics, said, “Much of what we do is cultural. Everyone knows that Duke faculty are on the cutting edge of innovation. We help the entrepreneurs understand the commitment needed to catapult discovery into commercialization.”

New Venture Fellows

In September last year, Hallford launched the NVF program in partnership with students Olivia Klupar and Carter Prince from the Health Sector Management (HSM) Program as well as Ben Thomasson from the Mentored Study Program at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business.

Having lived in the Triangle since he finished his MBA from Fuqua, Hallford said, “I’ve engaged with numerous Mentored Study interns over the years all to great success. Our pitch to the students is an opportunity to work with ‘live ammunition’—exciting technologies with top-notch faculty founders that, with the right support, will turn into real companies.”

Duke New Venture Director Rob Hallford moderating the Fuqua’s Health Sector Management and Duke Clinical & Translational Science Institute discussion panel on “Innovation in the Life Sciences” with panelist Nader Halim, Michael Dombeck, and Karen LeVert. Photo courtesy of Timothy Yoon.

Starting with three Fellows as a pilot last Fall, Hallford has grown the program to 15 this Spring. The Fellows work alongside the MIRs to move promising companies forward by working on projects around corporate strategy and value proposition development, market research, investor pitch deck creation, and much more.

These New Venture Fellows gain hands-on experience as they foster a network of innovators and leaders across the Duke and local venture startup community.

What’s your great idea?

Launching a new enterprise—whether it’s a tech start-up, a small medical device business, or a company focused on therapeutics—can be a confusing journey. How do you write a business plan, pitch your idea to investors, hire the right CEO, and introduce your product or therapy to the market?

Navigating these questions early on can make or break a new venture. Hallford has assembled an experienced and knowledgeable team to guide you through the initial evaluation of your start-up potential to advice on where to go for funding, and how to move forward.

So, what’s your great idea?