Success Stories: Entegrion
When Dr. Thomas Fischer became scientific director of UNC's Francis Owen Blood Research Laboratory, he continued the work of his predecessor, Dr. Marjorie Read, on a product that was ready to begin the U.S. Food and Drug Administration oversight process.
"That process is very capital intensive," says Fischer. "I needed to raise private funds and thought the best way to do that would be to create a company in the free market for the product. For that I needed help."
Enter Launching the Venture program, UNC's primary venture-creation program. Launching the Venture combines lectures, functional workshops, lab sessions and hands-on expert coaching to help teams of aspiring entrepreneurs develop their business plans and launch strategies. Entrepreneurial teams may comprise any mix of faculty, graduate and undergraduate students.
"Academics and scientists get very little exposure to business in their training," says Stan Eskridge, a program coach who became an advisor and now serves as Fischer's business partner and Entregrion CEO. "Not everyone understands the business side of a getting a product to market or the difficulty involved. It's not easy. This program does a great job of helping people to understand what's involved. It is demystifying the translation."
Fischer says Launching the Venture was essential to his ability to start his company. "It provided the framework for what I needed to get started."
The program was particularly critical in two ways. "First, it helped me to understand that I could not do it by myself. I am a scientist and I wanted to stay in the lab. It became clear that a company like the one I wanted to start was complicated and required expertise I didn't have in many areas - regulatory processes, corporate law, patent issues. There was just too much for me to do alone.
"Secondly, the program connected me to the people who could do all of these things. And because of the program, I had the wisdom to understand that I needed those people."
One such person was Eskridge, a UNC graduate and career entrepreneur who'd been preparing to retire. Eskridge was serving as a team coach for the launch program and was drawn to Fischer's idea and business plan. "Tom's product looked to me like it was something with a direct result that was doable. I was very interested in his product and business plan," says Eskridge.
Together they started Entegrion in 2002, a company that develops novel devices and drugs for hemorrhage control, wound management and tissue repair, including Stasilon, a treated bandage that stops bleeding when applied to wound sites. Two applications for Stasilon have been approved by the FDA: the first is for the military use, first responders in emergency rooms, police and fire departments, and EMT crews; the second to stop bleeding during surgery.
"This product is so exciting," says Eskridge. "It is going to change medicine. And we have this program to thank for getting it out of the lab and into the world."
Fischer says university support throughout the process played a critical role in the development of the business. "The university allows its full-time faculty to use 20 percent of their time for outside interests, which is what allowed me to take time for Launching the Venture and Entegrion," says Fischer. He also credits his colleagues in the blood lab with helpful ideas and support throughout the process.
Launch program director and instructor Ted Zoller, executive director of the Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, played a particularly important role in his success. "About halfway through the course, I was honestly overwhelmed," says Fischer. "But Ted's enthusiasm and encouragement finally made a switch go off in my head that said, 'this is not an exercise. This is doable and is really going to happen.' I could not have done it without Ted's support."
Both Fischer and Eskridge are pleased to be able to give back to UNC by bringing clinical trials for their product to the university. "UNC will receive federal research money for the clinical trials," says Eskridge. "Since UNC provided all the initial research and support in the first place, it's nice to be able to complete the research loop here and to have the university benefit from it."