A team of Wake Forest graduate students has advanced to the finals of the Breast Cancer Startup Challenge.
Second-year MBA students Andy Bowline and Gonzalo Estupinan, second-year law student John Hodnette and doctoral candidates Alison Arter, Kyle Murrah and Janel Suburu from the School of Medicine and Wake Forest Innovations will now put its unique business plan – which calls for taking a clinically viable breast cancer treatment invention to market – into action.
The Breast Cancer Startup Challenge is the first business plan and startup challenge featuring inventions conceived and developed by scientists at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and Avon Foundation for Women grantees to accelerate commercialization. Forty-six teams of business, legal and medical/scientific students from top-ranked universities chose one of 10 inventions to bring to market.
The advancing WFU team chose invention No. 7, which uses virus-like particles as a platform for efficient delivery of proteins and molecules like RNA.
“These technologies worked really well in the lab, but didn’t have the funding to make it to market. Our plan to create six small business units as part of our company, BeSpoke Therapeutics, will allow us to spread out the financial risk,” said team leader Estupinan. “Instead of taking one big bet, we are taking several smaller, less risky bets to fund the company, based on milestones the technology needs to achieve. That will hasten the timeline to bring our product to market.”
As one of the 10 finalists, the Wake Forest team will work with a mentor to further its business plan and bring the new technology to market to help breast cancer patients. The startup phase of the competition begins immediately. Teams will have until approximately mid-June to secure patents, seed funding and additional resources needed to develop their business.
“Today, progress in breast cancer research depends on step-change advances in technology and on paradigm-shifting strategies to rapidly bring these advances to market so they can be used by scientists and physicians,” said Rosemarie Truman, founder and CEO of the Center for Advancing Innovation (CAI). “Thanks to the Avon Foundation and the National Cancer Institute, CAI has been able to identify potential breakthrough technologies that harness the intelligence, experience and creativity of the innovative thinkers in the challenge. The challenge has exceeded expectations and we are thrilled with the results.”
Five of the 46 teams that competed hailed from WFU. School leaders say that’s a credit to students and faculty.
“Across the various campuses of Wake Forest we strive to provide real-world learning opportunities for our students,” said Stephen Susalka, associate director of commercialization at Wake Forest Innovations. “The thoughtful and efficient manner in which the School of Business, School of Law, School of Medicine and Wake Forest Innovations were able to quickly assemble a number of quality inter-disciplinary teams for this Breast Cancer Startup Challenge is a testament to our goal of preparing our students of today for the careers of tomorrow.”