Students leverage Lassonde experience to land good jobs

When Arlo McGinn entered the University of Utah (the U) as a doctoral student in pharmacology and toxicology, he had only an inkling of the entrepreneurial adventure he had undertaken.

Initially tapped in 2008, along with MBA students Mark Adams and Kalyani Yerra, to evaluate the commercialization potential for a novel optically-guided endoscopic feeding tube that would eventually give rise to a university spin-off company, McGinn assumed steadily increasing levels of responsibility and influence. As director of business and clinical development for Veritract, he has helped the fledgling company develop a product that has the potential to achieve unprecedented levels of safety, efficacy and cost-effectiveness. With McGinn’s support, Veritract is pursuing clearance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for its flagship product, has filed for patent protection, has raised $200,000 in grant funding and has closed a Series A preferred stock round of almost $1 million.

Armed with these successes, McGinn is considering a wide variety of positions, from management roles at pharma and biotech powers to C-level opportunities with equity stakes at promising startups.

“The University of Utah’s Lassonde New Venture Development Center excels at catalyzing synergies between students of different backgrounds, allowing us to focus on our strengths while learning the elements that go into developing a successful startup,” said McGinn. “The commercialization experience has been absolutely phenomenal. Whether I end up working with a startup or an established industry leader, I will always use the expertise I developed at the U’s Lassonde program.”

The University’s Technology Venture Development program (Tech Ventures) is comprised of the Technology Commercialization office and the Lassonde Entrepreneur Center, which includes the Lassonde New Venture Development Center. The Tech Ventures program provides an experience-based learning laboratory and company formation “factory.” The program has three fundamental objectives for its technologies: create innovative Utah-based enterprises that provide quality jobs; develop technologies that help Utah companies expand their growth and influence; and generate financial returns on new research investments to retain and attract world-class faculty and students.

The primary approach of the Lassonde New Venture Development Center is to foster collaboration between entrepreneurial-focused science students and business students, under the direction of experienced faculty advisors with deep domain expertise.

“The integral involvement of students in technology development and company formation is at the core of what the Lassonde New Venture Development Center does – unlike the conventional approach of separating commercialization from education,” said Pierre Lassonde, founder of the Lassonde Entrepreneur Center. “Integrating students into the process of developing technologies and companies from the ground up creates a cohesive, dynamic environment; people feel like they are engaged in creating something very special – and they are.”

In its 10-year history, the Lassonde New Venture Development Center has generated 72 projects, directly launching 28 companies that have raised more than $50 million in equity or grant funding and created more than 150 jobs. The center has become a model for universities nationwide. More than 80 universities have visited the program to learn about its approach.

Another Lassonde Center success story is electrical and computer engineer and Tech Ventures alum Joey Wilson, who collaborated with faculty advisor Neal Patwari to develop the first-ever real-time system that uses wireless radio-wave transmitters to “see” people through walls using inexpensive, simple technology. Wilson serves as CEO and Patwari director of research for the startup Xandem, which has garnered significant coverage in some of the world’s leading publications. The company won a 2011 Utah Innovation Award for groundbreaking technology that makes sophisticated surveillance capability affordable for new uses in security, law enforcement, search and rescue, and retail analytics.

“Tech Ventures provides a powerful illustration of the strong symbiotic relationship that can occur between industry and higher education,” said Wilson. “I was so inspired by Neal’s innovative work that I quit my job to pursue this full-time. Because of this program’s proactive approach, we are in a position to do some real good in the world.”

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