From Lassonde to Genentech

Not all students working at the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute become serial entrepreneurs. Some develop valuable skills that they apply to many other industries and professions.

Katherine Aiello is one of these students.

Aiello participated in the Pierre and Claudette Lassonde New Venture Development Center in 2016-17, while pursuing a Ph.D. in bioengineering at the University of Utah. The experience helped her secure a sought-after job in San Francisco for Genentech, a biotechnology company that develops and manufactures medicines, as a data scientist, working on using machine learning and data science techniques to help improve clinical trials.

Katherine Aiello

“I was really excited about the program at the U because it was a really unique setting for the type of research that I was doing,” she said. “We have the Huntsman Cancer Institute, and my lab was housed at the Scientific Computing and Imaging Institute, and so there were all of these interdisciplinary institution resources.”

The New Venture Development Center allows students to work in teams, alongside faculty, to evaluate and develop business opportunities based on real technologies. Coupled with her academic experiences, Aiello said her time in the New Venture Development program was instrumental in her placement at Genentech. Aiello’s project focused on pre-clinical oncology. Her team developed an evaluation model for a startup company in that field while conducting market research on different cancers.

“I got to work with people from different academic programs and backgrounds. I had gained a lot of great technical skills through my coursework and research, but it can become this bubble, where I was working with a lot of computer scientists and engineers but not necessarily getting out beyond that,” she explained. “The Lassonde program helped me talk to the MBA students, and we had an MD/Ph.D./MBA student on our team, which was really unique. It forced me to think beyond the people I normally work with, and to be able to communicate and see the problem from their perspective as well as my own. That was something that really helped me transfer my skills into industry and get the job I’m at now.”

It’s first-hand, real-world business experience, and that set Aiello apart.

“Having experience communicating about a technical problem from different perspectives, that was something that a lot of the interviewers were really interested in,” she explained. “None of the problems that a company faces exist in isolation. The best solutions are always very complex. Here we get to work with clinicians, and scientists and all different stakeholders across the company, so they were very impressed with my experiences of just sitting down at a table and working with business students, scientists, people of different backgrounds and reach a single conclusion.”

Aiello participated in a project focused on a technology startup. “We were looking at a preclinical oncology therapeutics,” she said. “Together we developed evaluation models for the startup company that spun out around the technology used to treat different cancers. We did lots of market research, and in the end, we were able to direct the founders of the company towards a particular indication that would be the best starting point for the company.”

Aiello was excited to work on this team given her academic background. She received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Virginia in bioengineering with a minor in engineering business.

“The original reason that I went into engineering was that I wanted to use technology to help people and improve healthcare,” she said. “Often, that technology gets stuck in a laboratory. There’s a lot of push to do in translational research that can be inherently translated to the clinic, but I think you also need a well-rounded business approach in order to really bring it to patients and make full-fledged technology that’s going to really impact our standard of care. I wanted to be able to develop those skills and have a more well-rounded perspective on the technologies that I was developing and working on, because I think that’s the only way to bring them to the patients.”

Learn more about the Lassonde New Venture Development Center at development.

About the Author:

Jacqueline Mumford Jacqueline is a master of accounting graduate from the University of Utah. Specializing in tax, she works as an accountant studying the intersection of government and business. In her free time, she runs, plays Candy Crush, and reads novels. Twitter: @jacqmumford and LinkedIn here.

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