Weill Cornell Medicine has recently launched a dedicated program to foster an ecosystem of entrepreneurship and innovation throughout the institution. The program, the Dean’s Entrepreneurship Lab, provides resources and educational opportunities to students and faculty who have ideas with commercial potential that they want to translate from the lab to the patient.
This bench to bedside process is complicated, with a wide gap between what scientists typically pursue on their own — publishing research, developing a prototype and getting a patent — and later phases of development, like starting a company. The Dean’s Entrepreneurship Lab, or eLab, strives to bridge this divide, helping researchers propel their ideas forward by working with them to develop a business plan, connect with collaborators and mentors, and pitch to potential investors. It also seeks to equip students and postdoctoral associates with the skills to become leaders in the life sciences industries.
“During my PhD program, I was struck by how many talented and creative people with really, really great ideas there are here at Weill Cornell. However, as researchers and clinicians, our training focuses on the research process; in order to translate these inventions to patients, we also need to have an understanding of the commercialization process,” said eLab Director Dr. Sarah Kishinevsky PhD ’16. “Now, through the Dean’s Entrepreneurship Lab, we’re helping people write that business plan, find the right investors, create a company and ultimately, improve their chances of successfully translating their invention to the clinic.”
“Innovation is essential to solve healthcare challenges, and here at Weill Cornell Medicine, we realized that we were sitting on a goldmine of unrealized potential,” said Larry Schlossman, managing director of Weill Cornell Medicine’s Office of Biopharma Alliances and Research Collaborations, the umbrella organization that designed and launched eLab. “The eLab is just one of the ways in which we’re working proactively to help bridge the gap between the promising ideas developed by our researchers and faculty members and the biopharmaceutical industry, which can deliver these innovations to the patients who need them. We also want to grow the next generation of leaders in the life sciences industries and provide new career paths for members of our community, students and postdocs in particular.”
The eLab is part of a larger effort to develop a robust life sciences and innovation ecosystem in New York State, where public funding of research vastly exceeds venture funding relative to areas with more mature sectors, such as Massachusetts.
While the eLab officially launched less than a year ago in March 2016, hundreds of students have already taken the flagship 12-week course in entrepreneurship, called the Bench to Bedside Initiative. This course covers everything from defining a drug or device’s market to writing a business plan to securing a patent to incorporating, and culminates in a pitch day to venture capitalists. The eLab also sponsors an annual business plan competition, in which students can earn $15,000 or more in various prizes to pursue their vision.
Outside of official classes, Dr. Kishinevsky accepts appointments during her office hours to work with students, post-docs or faculty as they pursue their projects, no matter their stages in the innovation process. During these appointments, Dr. Kishinevksy could help them define what type of business they’d eventually want to form, guiding them through the business plan process, connecting them with potential physician collaborators, and finding mentors to help lead them through the clinical trials design process. “I’m trying to bring people together to propel ideas forward,” Dr. Kishinevsky said.
The eLab also offers important resources to students and faculty, providing them with information and guidance on business and legal aspects of the development process that they might not know much about. In six months, the eLab will also unveil a new makerspace, with a 3D printer and electronics station, Dr. Kishinevsky said, which will serve as a place to develop ideas and build the entrepreneurial community.
In an effort to build that community now, and to bring together people who are interested in entrepreneurship, the eLab will co-host with Cornell University a Startup Symposium, slated for 5 p.m. Jan. 26 in Uris Auditorium. The idea is to gather scientists, doctors, investors and mentors for a night of networking and conversation, with the hope that researchers who are working on a concept with commercial potential will be able to form the collaborations necessary to move it down the development pipeline. It’s also a way to showcase the exciting entrepreneurial work that’s already happening at Weill Cornell Medicine, Dr. Kishinevsky said, and illustrate how the institution is part of the thriving biotech entrepreneurship culture that’s taking off in New York City.
The event will feature a talk from Dr. Lewis Cantley, the Meyer Director of the Sandra and Edward Meyer Cancer Center and a professor of cancer biology in medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine, who co-founded two companies, most recently Petra Pharma that emanated from his work at Weill Cornell Medicine. Dr. Juan R. Cubillos-Ruiz, an assistant professor of microbiology and immunology in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, will then share his experience as a new faculty member co-founding his New York City-based startup Quentis Therapeutics, which is focused on developing the next generation of cancer immunotherapies. Afterwards, six companies that are in different stages of the startup and development process will also present and share their experiences.
After these presentations, the event will feature a poster session and offer networking opportunities for students to interact with investors and startup companies that are developing new healthcare and life sciences technologies.
“I can’t underscore enough how important it is to develop these relationships,” said Dr. Kishinevsky, noting that this networking time is the real value-add of the event, and a key driver behind the eLab’s development.
“If the person with the idea can find the right people to work with,” she said, “that idea will make it off the lab bench, and get to the patients that need it. Networking and collaboration can make that happen.”