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Faculty entrepreneurs Dr. Maria Gomes-Solecki, Dr. Lisa Jennings, and Dr. Ed Chaum spoke to an audience about their experiences starting and running new life science businesses. The speakers have collectively launched 9 companies in diverse fields from vaccines and medical devices to telemedicine and contract research services, and have raised more than $20 million dollars in funding for their businesses through angel investors, venture capital funds, and grants.
In a Q&A session moderated by UTRF Vice President Richard Magid, the audience heard about the panelists’ motivations for starting their companies, the challenges of learning business management skills, and received advice on raising money for a new startup. One key lessons that all three speakers mentioned was how faculty entrepreneurs should take advantage of federal grants, especially SBIR grants, as these grants represent “free” money to the startup. Dr. Chaum and Dr. Jennings also described how their initial private investments came from investors that they already knew, and that all entrepreneurs should first look within their personal contact networks for fund-raising. Dr. Gomes-Solecki noted that one of her companies, US Biologics, had successfully competed in a business competition sponsored by a Nashville-based venture fund, taking first prize and a million dollar investment.
As the session wrapped up, the speakers all noted that balancing their UT obligations and the demands of a startup is challenging, and that entrepreneurs should carefully consider their personal priorities and the short- and long-term role they want to have in the startup company.