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Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences

AGSD Collaboration with Enventure (In Crowd Series)

Master
Content

By Zer Vue

Interviewed: Amy Hurwitz, Founder of Enventure and co-founder of In Crowd Series

I understand you are founder of the non-profit group: Enventure. Can you explain to me the goals of Enventure? Why did you start Enventure? What inspired you? Did you see something that was missing and wanted to bridge that gap? If so, what was it?

Enventure is a grassroots non-profit for medical entrepreneurs that listens to the community’s needs, putting students and aspiring entrepreneurs first. We provide networking, education, mentorship, and matchmaking to help your startup idea succeed in Houston, the #1 city for medical entrepreneurs.

All of our programs are open & free to students, healthcare-focused, and community-centric. Within our first year of forming, we developed a network of over 500 students and professionals from diverse industry backgrounds and experience levels, all brought together by the common interest of building and developing biotechnology.

Inspiration for starting this group sparked during Jack Gill’s “Life Science Entrepreneurship” course (MGMT/BIOE 633) through the Rice Alliance. Each spring, this course provides a unique opportunity for students and professionals from across the medical center to interact, from which a fellow classmate and I decided to launch Enventure. I believe strongly in creating the help you want to find, and my colleagues and I recognized the need for a collaborative cross-disciplinary, cross-institutional platform to nurture collaboration and the development of life science technologies.

Now in its second year, Enventure hosts weekly meet-ups that range from happy hours, skills workshops, and “Bench-to-Biotech” seminars that highlight stories from inspiring scientist- & physician-entrepreneurs. In 2014, Enventure also co-organized the Space Health Innovation Challenge, a 48-hour “invent-a-thon” to solve health-focused challenges identified by NASA’s Johnson Space Center, and the BioVentures course where students learn how to build a company through hands-on experience with their own technology.

What brought you to the Texas Medical Center/Baylor College of Medicine? Was there something that you saw here that you didn’t see anywhere else?

There are many things that drew me to Baylor College of Medicine for graduate school. Since my ultimate interest is for my work to have clinical relevance, the Ph.D. program in Translational Biology & Molecular Medicine was a critical element since it provides both basic science and clinical perspectives through dual mentorship and requires a translational component in students’ thesis work. Further, as the largest medical center in the world, the Texas Medical Center provides the ideal playground for forming clinical collaborations and bringing new technologies from bench-to-bedside. Where else could be better to conduct translational research?

I understand that you come from a very diverse research background, working in industry and academic settings (Baxter labs and SRA at UCLA). Can you please explain how these different experiences played a part in your creating Enventure or your decision in coming here to Houston?

The sum of my experiences before graduate school gave me a good preview of how the biotech industry is structured, which helped me to formulate a perspective for my future career interests. Overall, the pursuit of basic science discovery with an ultimate goal to advance the standards of medical care stuck out as to me a key combination.

My first exposure to the biotech industry came through the Amgen Scholar Program. This exposed me to the process of drug development and corporate structure through tours of Amgen’s headquarters and interactions with leaders at the annual Amgen Scholars Symposium. After graduation, my work at Baxter BioScience gave me a firsthand perspective of how departments interact inside a large company. Then, my role as a lab manager & research assistant at UCLA taught me how to balance the broad range of responsibilities necessary to keep a lab running smoothly while conducting research.

By the time I began graduate school, I knew that I needed to find training in moving innovations from bench-to-bedside-to-biotech. The last piece of that is where Enventure fits in by providing a bridge between academia and the biotech industry for educational, networking, and leadership opportunities.

As a pre-doctoral student and founder of Enventure, how do you balance everything? I can only imagine how hard that would be, being a graduate student myself.

I stay very focused and organized. You have to set priorities and assemble your team. Teamwork is essential! We now have an incredible team of talented & reliable people who organize various aspects of Enventure. Most of us are graduate students (plus recent alumni), so we all have priorities set to getting our research done. As Enventure has grown beyond casual meet-ups to include educational programs and community partnerships, each of us has taken responsibility for specific elements in order to make it all happen. By dividing up programs and tasks among ourselves, we’ve found that we can accomplish exponentially more than would be possible if any one person was involved with organizing every piece.

To keep everyone in the loop, we get together for regular “Business Meetings” and an annual weekend retreat where we sync up and get things done (GTD!). With everyone working together and communicating regularly, it all becomes very manageable. Part of the purpose of Enventure is to provide students with leadership and networking opportunities, so there are always ways for new people to get involved.

How can interested students get more connected and involved with Enventure?

Join our mailing list by visiting www.enventure.org! We send out one email per week that lists upcoming events and opportunities for students. If you have an idea for an event you’d like to help organize, or something you’d like to learn more about, reach out to team@enventure.org.

What is the purpose of the In- Crowd series? What is the role of the IN-Crowd Series?

The “IN-Crowd Series” involves monthly, industry-sponsored field trips for post-bacs, Ph.D. trainees, and post-docs to visit biotech/pharma companies in Houston. These events provide attendees with the rare opportunity to discover information about current innovative research & technology development at the host companies, to become familiar with their facilities to learn how the ever-evolving biotechnology ecosystem operates, to practice effective networking, to acquire internships, and finally to support trainees in making the necessary steps to find a job within the biotech industry.

What happens during the meetings?

During each scheduled visit, a scientific representative from the host company provides an overview of the company’s history that has value and lends credibility, orients the audience on who they are and their overall purpose/mission, presenters technological sector, the current product(s) that are for sale or under development, developmental role that the company is taking to expand the technological or medical device industry available in Houston, and the presenter’s career path and role in the company.

Also, the presentation will be no longer than 30 minutes and a have a maximum of an 1 hour to deliver slide/interactive presentation, the presentation should include opportunities to allow the trainees time to have an interactive dialogue. Furthermore, once the presentation is finished, the presenter will follow up with a Q&A and allow networking to commence naturally between students and industry representatives. Students can ask questions pertaining to the company, biotech industry in general, and career paths for PhDs; typically, the host company provides some refreshments (e.g. pizza & wine/beer) while Q&A goes on.

What is the purpose for Trainees (postbacs, Ph.D. candidates, postdocs) to attend the “In Crowd Series”:

To become familiarized with the life science startup ecosystem in Houston To learn about the life science industry environment and how it compares to academia To learn about the role of a Ph.D. in industry and potential career opportunities

Who is your other co-founder for the “In Crowd Series” ?

The Association for Graduate Student Diversity

What are Trainee’s Responsibilities while at the Series ?

Trainees should come prepared with questions, have a basic working knowledge of the company they are visiting, have decorum when it comes to food and wine choices while in the presence of industry representatives, dressed in business casual clothing, business cards, small note pad and pencil, and finally, an attitude for success equipped with 30 second, 2-minute, and 5-minute personal elevator pitches for networking with industry representatives.

Trainees are responsible for sending “thank you” follow-up emails or cards to host companies and presenters. Trainees should also connect with industry presenters on LinkedIn.

What is the purpose for Trainees (postbacs, Ph.D. candidates, postdocs) to attend the “In Crowd Series”:

To become familiarized with the life science startup ecosystem in Houston To learn about the life science industry environment and how it compares to academia To learn about the role of a Ph.D. in industry and potential career opportunities

What is the purpose for and How the “IN-Crowd Series” Benefits the Baylor Graduate School:

It expands Baylor’s career development opportunities for trainees & community involvement. It also develops an ongoing network & relationships between Baylor and local industries. This could bring in money necessary for a Master Provides industry internship opportunities for students and postdocs.

As a pre-doctoral student, can you please elaborate on what you do research on? Who you work for and who are your PIs?

I work with Dr. Timothy Palzkill in the Department of Pharmacology developing phage-based diagnostics to detect norovirus (NoV). NoV is the most common cause of gastroenteritis, often found in outbreaks on cruise ships and in other areas of close human contact. With a low infectious dose and high environmental durability, NoV requires rapid point-of-care detection in order to prevent & manage large outbreaks and to inform appropriate decontamination procedures.

Using phage display technology, we’ve identified lead phages that display 12-mer peptides that have specific binding affinity for NoV and other targets of interest.

Currently, we’re characterizing the binding properties of these reagents and further optimizing them for detection of NoV in clinical samples through collaboration with my clinical mentor, Dr. Robert Atmar. Our ultimate goal is to develop and validate these reagents so they can be incorporated into existing point-of-care diagnostic platforms for rapid detection of infection.