Blog: yale


By Jesse Rich

 Jesse, John, Jen, Joe)

I came to Yale SOM because I believed that it gave me the best shot at working with a stellar multi-disciplinary team to solve unaddressed healthcare problems and make a difference in patients’ lives. This past fall, I was fortunate enough to join such a team through the Technology Commercialization Program at the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute (YEI). The team includes myself and Jen Gaze (both first year MBA students), Dr. John Geibel (Yale School of Medicine), and Dr. Joseph Zinter (School of Engineering and Applied Sciences/CEID). 

Together, we’ve formed Revai, a company built around technology developed in MENG 404, a course on medical device design and innovation that Dr. Zinter teaches at the Center for Engineering Innovation & Design. This technology allows us to help individuals with severe intestinal issues. 

About 20,000 people in the US suffer from short bowel syndrome. They’ve lost over half of their intestines, receive nutrition intravenously, and experience upwards of 40 bowel movements a day. Needless to say, quality of life can be extremely low. Also, treatment costs upwards of $200,000 a year and puts patients at risk of liver failure, blood clots, and serious infection.

The only solution to short bowel syndrome is to receive an intestinal transplant. And yet there are only 100 intestinal transplants performed each year, even though there are over 8,000 donor grafts available. The main reason that so few transplants are performed is that intestines are full of bacteria and degrade quickly, so you can’t transport them very far given that the current standard of care is a cooler with ice. This means that a lot of patients have no way to access healthy donor organs.

Porcine test results contrasting outcomes under the current standard of care (L) and using the Revai IPU (R).Porcine test results contrasting outcomes under the current standard
of care (L) and using the Revai IPU (R).

Our solution is the Revai Intestinal Preservation Unit (IPU). It’s a patent-protected system that pumps fluid through the intestine to keep it healthy during transportation. Both pig and human tests have shown that using the device can stop organ degradation for 8 hours. This will allow us to expand the donor network, provide better organs, increase transplant success rates, improve patient quality of life, and drastically reduce healthcare costs. 

With the Revai IPU, we can save patients and give them their lives back. 

This semester, Jen and I are taking MGT 646, Start-up Founder Practicum, where we can get credit for all the work we’re putting into our venture. In general, SOM has been incredibly supportive of our efforts and I would encourage any student interested in entrepreneurship to check out all of the resources available through the Program on Entrepreneurship.

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January 7, 2015: A team currently participating in YEI's Venture Creation Progam is competing in the NIH Neuro Startup Challenge in which teams develop business plans around NIH inventions available for licensing. The competition is supported by the Center for Advancing Innovation and the Heritage Provide Network in addition to the National Institutes of Health. The Yale team--Anthos Pharmaceuticals--is pursuing a novel therapeutic for Alzheimer's disease that would work by prventing the hyperphosphorylation of Tau, a protein in the brain with important links to the disease.

The Anthos Pharmaceuticals team includes co-leaders Levi M. Smith, PharmD, a second-year PhD student in Yale’s department of cell biology, and Santiago V. Salazar, a second-year PhD student in the department of genetics. Other team members are Meina Wang, PhD, a post-doctoral fellow in pathology; Jian Shao, a second-year MBA student; Nathan D. Williams, a second-year PhD student in the department of molecular, cellular and developmental biology; Robert Fernandez, a second-year PhD student in the department of molecular biophysics and biochemistry; and Brenden Barco, a second year PhD student in the department of molecular, cellular and developmental biology.

The team is being mentored by Susan Froshauer, PhD, president and CEO of Connecticut United for Research Excellence (CURE) and a member of YEI's Operating Board; Jim Heym, PhD, senior director of Life Sciences Venture Development at UCONN; and Gus Lawlor, managing director of HealthCare Ventures.

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startup showcase

Jim Boyle, managing director of the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute (YEI) introduced the Startup Showcase at the AYA Assembly by noting that YEI is no longer the sole entrepreneurship hub on campus. “We’re one of several hubs,” he told the assembled delegates, “and that’s a good thing.” Among those other hubs represented at the event were InnovateHealth Yale, which is dedicated to solving global health problems through entrepreneurship; Yale School of Management, which launched a new Program on Entrepreneurship this year; and the Center for Business and the Environment at Yale (CBEY) which is dedicated to solving global environmental challenges.

These groups and others on campus are working in close coordination to expand entrepreneurship opportunities for both students and faculty and to create a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem at Yale. Martin Klein, Director of InnovateHealth Yale, mentioned that they would offer a course next year in conjunction with SOM on health and innovation. “Entrepreneurship is important not just for solving business problems, but for solving social problems,” Klein said.  

SOM and CBEY are also working with YEI and other partners on campus to provide students with opportunities for making connections and advancing their ideas both inside and outside Yale. Kyle Jensen, the Shanna and Eric Bass ’05 Director of Entrepreneurial Programs at SOM, called entrepreneurship “a team sport.” He talked about the increased number of course offerings related to entrepreneurship at SOM (now up to 12) and the fact that SOM hosted Startup Weekend New Haven, connecting Yale students with developers and founders in the community. “We’d like to play a role in expanding economic opportunity in New Haven,” Jensen said.

The speakers mentioned the importance of alumni as engaged participants, particularly in the role of mentors.  Stuart DeCew, Program Director of CBEY, talked about that organization’s efforts to build their mentor network. “I want to compete with MIT and other institutions to solve global challenges,” DeCew said.

Former and current Yale students took to the podium to share their startup stories, including Olivia Pavco-Giaccia (YC ’16) founder of LabCandy, which is dedicated to getting young girls excited about science through storybooks with relatable female characters and fun, stylish lab goggle and lab coats. LabCandy launched a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter in October and surpassed their fundraising goal of $20,000, raising $31,035. Andy Lebwohl (SOM ’12), founder of New Haven bar Karaoke Heroes, talked about his vision to create a space where people could feel empowered and have fun on a night out. His is one of the few dedicated karaoke bars (and only superhero-themed karaoke bar) in the region. Chris Fleming (SOM ’15), is determined to disrupt the boring hotel gym with his startup wrkIN, which provides an easy way for travelers to pay for quick access to local gyms, yoga studios and the like without memberships.

On the social side of entrepreneurship, Ruchi Nagar (MCDB '15) spoke about his startup Kushi Baby, which is making it easier for healthcare workers to track child immunizations in remote parts of the world thanks to a necklace that contains a chip that can be easily scanned by a smart phone. Kushi Baby won the $25,000 Thorne Prize for Social Innovation in Health, run by IHY, last year. The startup StoryTime also has a bigger mission: to provide stories and related activities to underprivileged kids via smartphones. Founder Phil Esterman (YC ’17) told the audience, “We are not the next Facebook or SnapChat. At StoryTime, we want to make it easier for parents to raise readers.” He painted a compelling picture of how his app could turn smartphones into a tool to bring families together, even for parents struggling to read themselves.

Two undergrads—Patrick Casey (YC ’15) and Benjamin Burke (YC ’15) have been working on solving a very different sort of problem—how to make it easy for Yalies to share taxis back to campus from Bradley Airport. They designed and launched the website and app Bulldog Taxi to solve the problem with the skills they learned from the YEI Tech Bootcamp, a 10-week intensive coding program run by YEI and the Student Tech Collaborative, last summer.

Numaan Akram—cofounder of Rally Bus with Siheun Song (’15)—closed out the event. The startup provides easy-to-access bus travel to and from sporting events, concerts and rallies and has been growing in success since it launched in 2010. Akram says they are approaching their 60,000th reservation and that the business has always been profitable—even without outside investment.

It was just a sampling of the entrepreneurial activity underway at Yale—but a strong showing of both Yale ideas that have come to fruition and those that are just beginning to take root.

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viveca morris david chiYale student startups have a new potential funding outlet in Dorm Room Fund, a student-run venture capital firm backed by First Round Capital that provides $20,000 on average to help accelerate new student ventures. “The purpose of Dorm Room Fund is to support promising student founders in taking their ideas to market and to inspire students to engage in the startup community,” says Viveca Morris (YC ’15) who along with David Chi (YC ’16) was chosen to represent Dorm Room Fund at Yale this year. The two meet with interested student entrepreneurs on Tuesday and Friday mornings at a newly converted space across the hall from the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute.

Student entrepreneurs have at least two meetings with Morris and Chi before submitting their online application. After that, the team may be invited to pitch to the 14 Dorm Room Fund investment partners on the New York City team, which includes representatives from Columbia University, New York University, Princeton University, Cornell-Tech and Cooper Union in addition to Yale. (Dorm Room Fund has additional chapters in the Bay Area, Philadelphia and Boston).

Chi says the ventures they are looking to fund are ones for which $20,000 will be a meaningful investment. “One way for that money to be spent is toward reaching a milestone that informs the founders if their idea will work,” he says. Software companies are often able to make an impact with $20,000, he continues, particularly when they use it to hire a talented developer, although hardware companies might use the money to build a prototype to show proof of concept.

In addition to working with YEI to meet with teams in its programs, Morris and Chi plan to reach out to students taking CS112 and 113—Intro to Programming and Programming and Entrepreneurship—which will emphasize app building. They are also in touch with the Yale Entrepreneurial Society and other groups on campus. Morris spent last summer learning to code as part of YEI’s Tech Bootcamp—a 10-week coding immersion program that may be another fertile source for new tech entrepreneurs.

Chi, who has worked as an analyst at Lone Star Investment Advisors and Abdiel Capital, says he’s looking closely at teams but real world experience is not always required. “We have met founders that have done an exceptional job of understanding markets that they haven’t worked in,” he says. “They have demonstrated tremendous hustle—cold calling industry experts, tapping into their alumni networks.”

Morris adds that Dorm Room Fund also adds value to its portfolio companies by providing legal and business services, mentors and networking opportunities. “Dorm Room Fund is founded on the idea that you can start a meaningful company while remaining at school,” she says. “It’s exciting to see so many highly creative, capable and motivated Yale students focused on building solutions to challenging problems.”

To sign up for office hours, email and

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ilana odess

When Ilana Odess took the stage at Harkness Hall on June 10, she told the audience she wanted to discuss her failures as well as her successes. She’d given herself a difficult task; Odess’ resume hasn’t left her with many failures worth mentioning.

After working for a time with ICL, an Israeli chemical company, Odess – who is Israeli – helped the massive multinational Johnson & Johnson expand into her native country. A few years later, the company’s Israel branch, under Odess’ leadership, was earning Johnson & Johnson its highest revenue-per-capita of any country in the world.

This was the first in a long string of successes:  Odess moved on to executive roles at several different medical companies before becoming the CEO of her current venture, Woven Orthopedic Technologies, which develops engineered fabrics to reduce complications and recovery time for patients undergoing orthopedic surgery.

Odess has seen just about everything that can happen in business, but she managed to distill her wisdom down to five lessons for an audience of entrepreneurs, beginning programmers and members of the Yale community:

1. Be relevant. Every startup fits somewhere along Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, whether they provide basic food and shelter or help customers achieve self-actualization. Startups are most likely to find success when they can fill an unmet need – making something unlike anything anyone else has ever built before.

2. Know your business. Know the answer to every question someone might ask about your work – and make sure you can explain your company to people who know nothing about your market. Speaking of markets, make sure you’ve defined yours carefully. Knowing specific, quantifiable details about your business shows people that you have done your research, and that you’ll work diligently to provide accurate results.

3. Build a great team. Odess compared building a team to building an ecosystem. “We hired people based on their strengths,” she said, explaining that every team member knows exactly where they can do the best work. She likes the idea of hiring people who can function as generalists but have expertise in targeted areas. “When operating in a startup environment,” she said, “people have to wear many hats for the company to operate efficiently and control costs. I look to hire people who can function in many different roles but who have specialized knowledge in certain areas.”

4. Embrace change. No business plan survives contact with the open market. Odess cited a Harvard study showing that companies that change course three times underperform compared to those that change course six times. The Affordable Care Act, for example, forced many medical companies to rethink their business models; Odess adjusted faster than many competitors, and her business grew accordingly.

5. Be relentless: Odess believes that our minds are capable of pushing us further than we expect, and that some of the greatest businesspeople on the planet have discovered this. Steve Jobs, for example, watched his company lose hundreds of millions of dollars without him, then stepped in to turn things around by refusing to part from his vision of the future of computing. (This author notes that mental strength is more powerful than we might assume; just thinking about a swimming match beforehand can improve one’s speed in a race.)

Odess left the audience with a reminder that team-building is central to success: “Put the right people on the bus, even if you don’t know its destination.”

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