Entrepreneurship: The Driving Force Behind Innovation

To define entrepreneurship, one must clarify the difference between an inventor and an entrepreneur. According to Adjunct Professor Dean Lewis, an inventor is “scientifically-driven and has the desire to discover something new or novel,” while an entrepreneur “conceives or recognizes a new idea and has the vision and drive to bring that idea into commercial reality.” About 97% of all current patents on inventions never come to fruition nor are they made commercially available; those who can commercialize the remaining 3% of inventions are the true entrepreneurs. 

The Entrepreneurship Track, one of the Master of Science (MS) in Biotechnology Program’s newest additions, is primarily intended for students who wish to learn about business formation. Classes in this Track focus on managing product development, raising angel and venture capital funds, and other important functions to form a startup biotechnology company. Typically, there are only four students in the Entrepreneurship Track, all of whom have at least one year of professional or entrepreneurial experience and also do not plan on working in the laboratory after graduation. 

With its foundations in life science entrepreneurship, the MS Biotechnology Program is strengthened not only by its location in the I-270 Life Sciences and Technology Corridor, but also by its adjunct faculty members who hold many roles in academia, the biotechnology industry, finance, and more. 

Experiential Learning in Entrepreneurial Settings

Professor Dean Lewis earned his Bachelor of Science in Economics at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand and his Master of Arts in Economics from the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom. After several years of traveling all over the world working on privatizations and international mergers and acquisitions with the International Finance Corporation under the World Bank, Professor Lewis co-founded Iomai Corporation, a biotechnology company that specializes in non-invasive vaccines. After Iomai Corporation, Professor Lewis acted as the Chief Financial Officer and eventually also as an international consultant for several small biotechnology companies and foreign government innovation programs. 

Dean Lewis, Adjunct Professor
Georgetown University
Biotechnology Program

Along the way, Professor Lewis met James Hawkins, PhD (Professor, Biotechnology Program) while helping him with several companies. Dr. Hawkins asked Professor Lewis if he would participate as a guest lecturer in BIOT 510: Entrepreneurial Biotechnology in the spring 2019 semester.  Due to his depth of experience and know-how, Professor Lewis also helped to direct BIOT 602: Tools for Entrepreneurship, which was formed by the late Dr. Jack Chirikjian. It is a core course requirement for the Entrepreneurship Track students. Professor Lewis revamped the syllabus by incorporating a deeper dive into writing business plans and financial models. It also eliminated the introduction of an internship at a startup in the fall semester.

BIOT 602 consists of the following topics that students grasp through experiential learning: minimizing risk for biotechnology companies, developing financial models, writing executive summaries, producing business plans, and translating this information into startup pitches. Currently, Professor Lewis takes on four students per class; this small number fosters team building between the students. Though it is a small class, there are multiple opportunities for both group and individual work. Everyone on the team receives the same grade; this grading system holds everyone accountable to their individual work as well as the finished product.

One of the main components of BIOT 602 is the Investor Pitch Presentation at the end of the fall semester. In 13 minutes, the students make a “commercially-tantalizing” pitch for potential investors based on the business plan that the students had worked on throughout the semester. This end-of-the-year pitch allows the students to practice and perfect their skills in raising early-stage investment money for a startup. 

This year’s Entrepreneurship students had an opportune chance to work with an alum named Joe Abdo, PhD on his startup, Stella Diagnostics, Inc. Professor Lewis, Dr. Hawkins, Dr. Abdo, and Vasna Nontanovan (Associate Director, emeritus) formed an agreement to have the Entrepreneurship students contribute to the growth of the startup. Their work for Stella Diagnostics would also serve as deliverables that meet the criteria for the BIOT 602 course requirements. 

When asked about his experience thus far with Georgetown’s MS Biotechnology students, Professor Lewis observed that the students have exceptionally clear writing, thinking, and researching abilities. Drawing on his interactions with the Entrepreneurship Track students, Professor Lewis highlighted their caliber, drive, and accomplishments which drew them to apply and eventually join the Program. Professor Lewis also noted that the current cohort is an exceedingly considerate group that works well together, in spite of the current virtual environment.

For the future, Professor Lewis is excited about the growth and potential for both the Entrepreneurship Track and the BIOT 602 course. He hopes to expand both components to accommodate more students who can be grouped into multiple teams and work with various startups. In the spring semester, Professor Lewis is looking forward to assisting Dr. Ivica Labuda with the entrepreneurial biotechnology course, where he builds upon the information taught in BIOT 520: Financial Matrix for Biotechnology. 

Concluding Thoughts

With its course requirements that delve into business, science, and regulatory science concepts, the Entrepreneurship Track contains many opportunities for the students to expand their current skill sets beyond the life sciences. Past alumni in this Track have pursued advanced degrees and have also acquired careers in multiple sectors such as project management, regulatory affairs, and more. Its emphasis on innovation provides students with an edge when they seek internships and employment opportunities. Entrepreneurship plays an impactful role in the biotechnology industry; to Professor Lewis, “the power of entrepreneurship is equivalent to discovering a new country.”

Written by: Shauna Leonardo, MS Biotechnology candidate

Contributions by: Dean Lewis, MS and Vasna Nontanovan, MS

Edited by: Kyle DiVito, PhD