Sometimes the stars align and an experiment yields a “Eureka!” moment. That’s on par with what happened recently at UAMS’ Biomedical Research Center.
Led by Nancy Rusch, Ph.D., and Nancy Gray, Ph.D., the “experiment” was UAMS’ first Health Sciences Entrepreneurship Boot Camp for 16 graduate students. Rusch leads the UAMS Translational Research Institute’s workforce development efforts and chairs the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology in the College of Medicine. Gray is director of UAMS BioVentures and a professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology.
Even before the laudatory written evaluations came in, Rusch and Gray were excited by what they witnessed and what participants were telling them. Both were impressed with how quickly the students learned the language of entrepreneurship. That was evident on the final day of boot camp, when teams of students presented their commercialization ideas.
“From Monday to Friday there was an amazing transformation,” Rusch said. “It was like a different group of students.”
Several of the participating students said the boot camp inspired them and either applied directly to their goals or opened their minds more fully to commercializing their ideas, even if they plan to continue in academia as “intrapreneurs.”
“The presenters that were brought in were absolute rock stars,” said Erin Bush, R.N.C., M.N.N., a graduate student in the UAMS College of Nursing. “One of the things that I most want to do with my nursing Ph.D. is be an entrepreneur and translate the nursing science that’s coming out of research into something that can be commercialized. So the boot camp has incredible applications for my career goals.”
The boot camp’s success was aided by the participation of UAMS’ entrepreneurial faculty as well as other heavy hitters in Arkansas’ entrepreneurial community. The roster included the University of Arkansas’ Carol Reeves, Ph.D., whose MBA students have led the world in business plan competitions the last six years, and Paul Mlakar, MBA, a serial entrepreneur.
Other outside presenters included Jeff Stinson, MBA, director of entrepreneurship at Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub; Rebecca Norman, M.S., an innovation consultant at the Arkansas Small Business & Technology Development Center; and Lee Watson, president of The Venture Center.
“We’ve developed a wonderful spirit of collegiality with all of our presenters and there’s great cooperation between UAMS and UA, Fayetteville,” Rusch said. “Their participation really made this possible.”
A Rising Tide
The boot camp was supported by $50,000 in supplemental funding tied to a National Institute of General and Medical Sciences T32 Systems Pharmacology and Toxicology Training Program grant led by Phil Mayeux, Ph.D., who alerted Rusch about the supplemental funding opportunity. Rusch and Gray applied for the funding and developed the boot camp agenda.
There are now 58 faculty at UAMS with entrepreneurial experience. Their success is good for them as well as UAMS, which receives intellectual property revenues for the licensed technologies. UAMS’ intellectual property revenue is about $1.6 million per year. BioVentures has been involved in over 50 spinoff companies. Of those, 23 are still in operation and had an aggregate payroll of $7.2 million at the end of 2014.
Rusch said she hopes UAMS can increase these numbers through entrepreneurship training. She is leading the educational effort for the Translational Research Institute, and she credits institute Director/Associate Vice Chancellor for Clinical and Translational Research Laura James, M.D., with the idea of making it a key component of TRI’s mission and Clinical and Translational Science Award application. The goal is to offer a certificate program.
“I see the need for entrepreneurship training with my students all the time,” Rusch said. “They come into my office and say ‘I have this idea and it could really improve clinical care, but I don’t know how to proceed.’”
UAMS faculty entrepreneurs who shared their stories at the boot camp:
- Jay Gandy, Ph.D., professor and chair, Fay W. Boozman College of Public Health; Founding Partner, Center for Toxicology & Environmental Health, LLC
- Bill Gurley, Ph.D., professor, College of Pharmacy; chief science officer, Balm Innovations LLC
- Amy Hester, Ph.D., R.N., assistant professor, College of Nursing; chief scientific officer, HD Nursing, LLC
- Laura James, M.D., professor, College of Medicine; director, UAMS Translational Research Institute; associate vice chancellor for Clinical and Translational Research; chief medical officer, Acetaminophen Toxicity Diagnostics, LLC
- Jeffery Moran, Ph.D., assistant professor, College of Medicine; CEO and founding partner, Pinpoint Testing, LLC
- Michael Owens, Ph.D., professor, College of Medicine, chief scientific officer, InterveXion Therapeutics