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February 7, 2019
Sometimes academic research can be purely … academic. That’s where the Science Center’s QED proof-of-concept program comes in, propelling promising research from university labs into the healthcare and life sciences marketplace.
Since its establishment in 2009, QED has helped to license 10 technologies and launch eight startups.
QED’s secret weapon is its team of business advisors, more than 150 industry and business experts who serve as volunteer mentors, coaches and boosters. These advisors are matched with QED participants to work together to develop a proof-of-concept plan and present it to a high-level selection team of industry executives and investors. (QED stands for quod erat demonstrandum, or “proven as demonstrated.”)
Along the way, the advisors provide guidance on developing funding plans and attracting follow-on funding (in some cases, QED itself provides kickstart funding), working with university technology transfer offices and, ultimately, commercializing the technology or product.
Flying Slippers caught up with two QED advisors to ask them why volunteering with QED is meaningful to themselves, the scientists and aspiring entrepreneurs they work with and to Philadelphia’s life science innovation economy.
Ronald Rothman has been a QED advisor almost since the beginning, spearheading proof-of-concept ventures for therapeutics, medical devices, diagnostics, and digital health IT solutions. A biochemist by training, he has a Ph.D. in molecular biology from the University of Pennsylvania and has had an extensive and diverse career in biomedical research and as an entrepreneur. His consulting practice, Strategic Bio Insights, advises entrepreneurial founders in biotechnology, biopharmaceutical and bioscience ventures in supporting claims about market opportunity in federal Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) submissions.
"Personally, I find the QED Proof-of-Concept program intellectually stimulating,” he says. “It keeps me abreast of current emerging trends and discoveries that promise to revolutionize healthcare. Participation also provides me a creative outlet for favorably positioning a venture to attract interest. Drawing upon multiple perspectives from extensive and diverse experiences, I shape the vision of the scientist to align with the commercial interest of industry.”
“Just as importantly, QED has been a very educational experience, learning about the various topics of vital interest to industry and investors considering a venture. I’ve become more knowledgeable through consultations with specialists in the fields of intellectual property, regulatory, reimbursement, marketing and health IT law. These specialists are available as a resource to participating QED teams. Lastly, the QED program provides a networking opportunity with other entrepreneurs, service providers, investors and industry insiders. This invaluable opportunity facilitates the ‘know, like, trust’ mantra for forming business connections.”
Beth DeSouza has been a QED advisor for five years. A Wharton MBA, her life sciences experience includes finance, marketing, sales and new business strategy. She currently serves as CEO of Vifant LLC, which is itself in the proof-of-concept stage for a vision screener for preverbal and non-verbal children.
“Being a CEO of a startup allows me to have a deep level of empathy to the entrepreneurs that participate in the program,” she says. “Volunteering one’s time and expertise to the QED program allows one to strengthen the local entrepreneurial community and allows one to be up-to-date with industry trends and innovation.”
As a QED advisor, DeSouza has mentored a range of companies from digital health to traditional pharmaceutical compounds. Rothman has helped fund development of three medical device concepts: a synthetic bone graft substitute that promotes faster and better healing of challenging bone fractures; an eco-friendly and durable biocidal treatment for textiles to prevent hospital-acquired infections and a single-molecule-counting lab-on-a-chip to permit rapid and sensitive quantitation of biomarkers for early detection of cancer.
Both DeSouza and Rothman are enthusiastic about how QED advances the Philadelphia region’s innovation ecosystem.
“The Philadelphia metropolitan area has an incredible amount of talent involving accomplished academic researchers and industry experts with diverse expertise,” says Rothman. “The QED program provides a conduit that connects this talent; and acts as a catalyst to promote our homegrown innovation that promises to revolutionize healthcare.”
Still, he adds, “Although the Philadelphia area has the talent and infrastructure, we lack the necessary investor capital to be a first class hub of innovation. Building upon momentum from its successes, the QED program can be a magnet to attract investor capital, the lifeblood of innovation.”
DeSouza concurs: “The program provides resources in terms of funding and expertise to entrepreneurs. It positively impacts the generation of jobs and quality of life (locally and in many cases nationally and beyond).”