According to Dr. Rana Khan, the MS in Biotechnology Management and Entrepreneurship (BME) at the Katz School of Science and Health is one of a handful of national biotechnology graduate programs that are interdisciplinary in nature and focused on entrepreneurship. Dr. Khan, the founding director of the program, noted that what makes the program stand out is that “our students learn ‘by doing’ and are exposed to various aspects of biotechnology industry via case studies, guest speakers and hands-on projects.”
On Monday, Dec. 16, 2019, five students presented their capstone projects, becoming the first cohort of students to complete the requirements for the master’s degree. Robert Friedman ’78YC, the professor in the biotechnology management course for which the students were doing their presentations, noted that purpose of the capstone “is for the students to integrate as much as possible from what they have learned at BME.”
Each capstone project is structured around a selected company. The student, using information culled from a multitude of sources, creates, in essence, a business plan for the company that examines such areas as the company’s product, potential competitors and allies, possible markets and advertising plans for accessing those markets, to name just a few of the areas covered by the project. The goal is to create a plan that will help the company increase its market presence, improve its performance and make it more attractive to potential investors.
The five students were given their final assignments based on projects solicited from companies and assigned them based on the fit as determined by the course professor and the program’s director. “Creation of the presentation started essentially on the first day of class,” said Friedman. “The class met at regular intervals and provided updates on their research projects in PowerPoint presentation format. In essence, they were creating the final document at every step of the research process.”
To make the project even closer to real life, students and faculty signed non-disclosure agreements prior to commencing work. “As in most strategic consulting processes,” Friedman explained, “the company maintains intellectual property rights to the work produced, except to the elements of the report that were not confidential and were sourced from publicly available information.”
Here are the five presentations:
Libra@Home uses portable virtual reality technologies to present physical therapy exercises to “motivate patients to take an active role in their therapy.” The company is based in Jerusalem. Alana researched the physical therapy equipment market to identify the key players, understand their business model and define the value proposition that Libra@Home system requires to be a fit for these distributors to commercialize the product.
SFA Therapeutics “is a development-stage bio-pharmaceutical startup company.” Josh developed a business plan focusing on SFA Therapeutics’ core business of developing microbiome-derived drugs to treat chronic inflammatory diseases.
For MatterBio, Devorah studied the current and future competitive landscape of gene therapy in cancer, outlined and compiled the intellectual property connected to certain key technologies and translated her research into an investor-ready vision for fund-raising.
Surosri Banerje and David Wallach
Both students developed plans for ChalkSense, a data-driven and customer-centric management consulting service whose motto is “making sense from the data dust.” Surosi developed an analysis and preliminary strategy for an exploratory stage endeavor in the drug-device combination space for insulin pump improvements. David put together an integrated business strategy for EndpointGenie™, an artificial intelligence assistant tool that enables “strategic” endpoint design and execution.
YU News had the pleasure of sitting in on the presentation done by Alana Reichenberg for Libra@Home, who had the honor of being the first out of the gate.
Connected to her contacts in Israel, Dario Geiseninger (founder and CEO) and Lacey McBride (business development and clinical liaison), through a Zoom conference room, Reicheberg presented step-by-step her findings about how Libra@Home might access markets in the United States and the challenges to the company in doing so, including a review of potential competitors in the world of providing physical therapy services.
At the end of the presentation, Reichenberg was critiqued by Friedman, Dr. Khan and Dr. Maria Blekher, director of the Innovation Lab, who sat in on the meeting. They all agreed that the plan presented was solid, and they also offered other avenues to pursue for research, such as Dr. Blekher’s suggestion of reaching out to early adapters of technology, who might be more open to Libra@Home’s software approach than companies more invested in other kinds of equipment and approaches.
Relieved to have done well, Reichenberg was also buoyed by the way the capstone project had sharpened and expanded her skills, especially because she wants to find employment as a clinical trial coordinator. “As an undergraduate at Stern College, I had a major in biology and a minor in business management,” she noted. “I wanted to find a path that incorporated both, which is exactly what the BME program has given me. I have learned so much from my professors, the guest speakers and my fellow classmates. I am proud to be part of the first cohort to complete this program because I know this is just the beginning.”
(l-r): Dr. Rana Khan, Robert Friedman and Alana Reichenberg celebrate Alana’s successful presentation
This is precisely what Dr. Khan and Friedman hoped the capstones would do for the students. “Working on a project like this,” said Dr. Khan, “gives students firsthand experience of the issues biotechnology businesses have to research/consider at different stages. It expands our students professional network and provides opportunities for employment/recommendation letters.” Furthermore, said Friedman, “students learn how to put together a presentation for investors and to communicate effectively, both orally and in writing, within a given time. This is also something that will go on their resumes.” He added that “on a personal level, it has been a most gratifying experience; in some ways, I have learned as much, if not more, from my students than they have learned from me!”
Find more information on the program at go.yu.edu/katz/biotechnology-management