The news that I was selected as the first postdoc for the Blavatnik Fellowship was both humbling and exciting. It also felt like the ideal capstone to my academic training. Up until that point, I had spent my academic career focused on technical training as an engineer, including the last seven years working as a PhD candidate and postdoc. The last four years of that time were focused on a pilot clinical trial between Brigham and Women’s Hospital and MIT and proved to be a transformative experience in many ways, both personally and professionally. This has laid the foundation for my time as a Blavatnik Fellow and the formation of Stratagen Bio, a start-up based on the work from this collaboration.

I was lucky to have grown up in an environment where I was introduced to the idea of entrepreneurship at a young age. My first exposure came as a kid, when I spent my days in my grandfather’s rug store, where I eventually worked as a teenager, or going to work with my dad at his automotive engineering R&D start-up. These experiences undoubtedly shaped my thinking about what future career opportunities could look like. As a high school senior making decisions about colleges and majors, I liked the idea of working in a job at the intersection of engineering, medicine, and business. In hindsight, as a 17-year old, I was somewhat naïve about what exactly that entailed. My main motivator for this career choice was that I was convinced that the greatest challenges we face in health care would be solved by people who could efficiently interact across these three disciplines. I decided to major in biomedical engineering, addressing the first two aspects of my career goals (engineering and medicine), while convincing myself that I would find a way to supplement my formal engineering education with opportunities in business and entrepreneurship.

It wasn’t until my first full-time job that I started to realize exactly what working at the intersection of engineering, medicine, and business would look like. I joined a medical device start-up spun out of MIT, and was extremely fortunate to be quickly exposed to the many aspects of life science entrepreneurship. This opportunity helped shape the better part of the next decade of my professional life. While my time there opened my eyes to many key aspects of translating technologies from the lab into commercially available products, it also convinced me of two things: 1) that additional technical training would better enable me to lead future companies in the types of roles that interested me most, and 2) that I still wanted a more formal business training.

I first addressed my desire for additional technical training by pursuing a PhD in Materials Science and Engineering at MIT. While I expected to spend my time focused on advancing my technical skills, I wanted to work on a technology that would have potential for clinical translation. I selected a project that focused on developing implantable tissue oxygen sensors. At the time, clinical translation seemed far off in the future. But that changed quickly about halfway through my PhD when I had the opportunity to work on something fairly unusual for someone in my position, a human clinical trial. I started meeting with clinicians at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in an effort to find collaborators who could support the final steps of the pre-clinical development of our technology. This collaboration moved quickly and, after about a year, we secured a grant that would fund a pilot human clinical trial in patients receiving radiation therapy for cervical cancer where low tumor oxygen levels had been tied to poor outcomes. My life as an academic researcher shifted quickly and, instead of running experiments at the bench, I was identifying suppliers and manufacturers for a version of our sensor that would be used in a clinical trial in the next two years. Many of these tasks brought back memories of my first job, and I felt incredibly grateful for those experiences because they prepared me to step well outside the role of a traditional grad student and served as a foundation and guide for this new challenge.

My work in this clinical trial also gave me the context of “why.” Prior to the start of this collaboration, my understanding of the clinical applications for our sensor had been somewhat abstract. As I met with the clinicians and we started to discuss the specifics of the patient need, I became acutely aware that the shortcomings of the current treatment needed to be solved and solved quickly. As I started to spend more time in the hospital, I would pass patients in the halls and had to reconcile the fact that we couldn’t help those patients, but if we could move efficiently the first patient we could help would be in the not too distant future. The urgency of the problem has really served as motivation for me and cemented my decision to co-found Stratagen Bio, a start-up based on this tissue oxygen sensing technology, with my PhD advisor Professor Michael Cima. Ready to take this next step, I thought about how I still hadn’t had the formal business training I had wanted and whether that would slow my progress with Stratagen Bio. Then I found the Blavatnik Fellowship in Life Science Entrepreneurship.

At the halfway point of my time as a Fellow, I can say with certainty that this was absolutely the right choice for me, and it happened at the perfect time. At the end of the day, I recognize the role that luck plays in life. Had the Fellowship not recently expanded to include postdocs, I wouldn’t be writing this post and I wouldn’t be a part of this program with its amazing support structure and resources and incredible community of mentors, advisors, and peers. The Blavatnik Fellowship fulfilled my desire for rigorous entrepreneurial training, but, most importantly, it did so in the context of my own venture. Not having to choose between those two things was not only preferred, but was actually the best way for me to become a well-rounded entrepreneur in the life sciences and to positively impact the lives of patients.