New ventures make valuable connections

December 22, 2010

We’re leveraging the wealth of experience in the supercluster with MassCONNECT, a mentoring program pairing budding entrepreneurs with seasoned biotechnology professionals for evaluation and advice.

MassCONNECT aims to enable everything from better licensing deals to new company start-up through individualized mentoring and industry networking. The program has now seen three rounds of applicants, with five cutting-edge companies completing the full cycle.

MassCONNECT is open to life sciences-based, pre-seed and seed stage opportunities arising from New England based laboratories. With the help of a scoring matrix, applications are reviewed by industry experts representing various sectors of the biotechnology ecosystem including venture capital, angel investors, business development, intellectual property and technology validation. Chosen entrepreneurs are paired with a team of 5-6 mentors with expertise that fits their need, and an MBA student to coordinate the group’s work. The mentors and mentees meet several times over a few months to collaborate on a business plan for the proposed new technology or platform. The program culminates with mentee groups making their first pitch to all MassCONNECT mentors and at office hours with venture capitalists.

A look at three exciting MassCONNECT stories:

 

Dr. Rajendra Kumar-Singh

Dr. Kumar-Singh participated in the pilot round of MassCONNECT with his technology, a peptide for ocular delivery. Kumar-Singh, an associate professor of Ophthalmology at Tufts University School of KumarMedicine, had been working on the idea for some time and was looking for advice on taking the research to the next step on the commercialization spectrum.

The goal of Kumar-Singh’s business opportunity is to improve the efficacy of existing ophthalmic drugs by increasing uptake into cells and reducing the treatment dose using novel, non-viral delivery technology. The technology takes advantage of the cell penetrating properties of a novel peptide, known as peptide for ocular delivery (POD), to deliver therapeutics to the eye. POD can also be used to deliver genes and proteins.

Through MassCONNECT, he was able to hone his pitch, and begin getting in front of the venture community.

“As an academic, I have no prior experience in the pathway of commercializing a novel idea and taking it from 'bench to bedside'. The program provides support in the form of experienced individuals who donate their time to guide novices like myself in the art of preparing a business plan and presenting it to VCs,” he said.

 

Dr. Adam Wolfberg

Dr. Adam Wolfberg has now participated in MassCONNECT through two cycles, with two different companies. A Maternal-Fetal Medicine specialist at Tufts Medical Center in Boston and a faculty Adammember at Tufts University School of Medicine and at Harvard Medical School, Wolfberg applied to MassCONNECT in order to tap into a network of experienced leaders in biotechnology who could provide the kind of guidance and mentoring that an aspiring physician-entrepreneur doesn't easily access walking from the exam room to the operating room.

"It was enormously helpful to meet a group of skilled biotechnology experts who were willing to share their knowledge and insight with me and my colleagues," he said.

For his first round, Wolfberg showcased MindChild Medical, a company focused on making obstetric care safer and less expensive through the use of revolutionary fetal electrophysiological monitoring. MindChild’s Meridian monitor will enter the market in 2011 through the FDA 510(k) process. More reliable than Doppler ultrasound-based technology, and introducing the safety of ST-segment evaluation without the need for an invasive electrode, MindChild’s Meridian monitor will fundamentally change fetal evaluation.

In the second round, Wolfberg presented Preview Diagnostics, a company formed to help obstetricians, midwives, and family practice physicians improve the quality of prenatal care and prenatal diagnostic services they provide to their patients. Preview Diagnostics' software collects information from pregnant women through tablet- and web-based interfaces, provides interactive counseling about screening options for heritable conditions (such as Down syndrome), and applies decision-support algorithms to guide clinicians toward evidence-based care.

Today, Wolfberg is finishing up the work with his mentor team and preparing to present Preview at a Venture Café one-on-one session at the Cambridge Innovation Center. Watch for him there!

 

DOUGLAS MCMILLIN

When Dr. McMillin came to MassCONNECT, his scientific work had recently been published in Nature Medicine, and he was in the process of raising money to move the work out of his lab at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and into industry.

DougMcMillin’s company, Axios Biosciences, uses a co-culture screening technology to develop oncology therapeutics active in the tumor microenvironment, where tumors intimately interact with normal cells. The company’s mission is to improve oncology drug discovery and identify drugs to improve patient health. Axios works to identify promising drugs that fail conventional testing methods while rejecting drugs that are destined to fail in late-stage clinical trials.

Through MassCONNECT, McMillin was able to get feedback about the approach he was using to find funding, make connections to business development professionals in the industry and learn about angel funding options.

Axios has received a lot of buzz this year, having also been named as a finalist in the Mass Challenge start-up competition. Keep your eye on this fast-moving MassCONNECT star!

 

For more information, or to apply to be a mentor or mentee, visit http://www.massbio.org/membership/massconnect.

 

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