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How to start a biotech materials company and conduct clinical trials as an undergraduate student

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Biotechnology, especially in medical applications, is a notoriously unfriendly industry to startups. The exploratory research required prior to operations, the high capital costs, and the maze of regulations surrounding medical technology paralyze many would-be entrepreneurs, and they make preparations lengthy and difficult for the rest: Kinshuk Mitra, a previous University Innovation Fellow, noted that he's seen entrepreneurs 8 years into starting their companies, still entirely in the startup stage.

Kinshuk, currently a senior in biomedical engineering at Ohio State University, started up in his junior year. His company, Oncofilter, is developing a special microfluidic tool to diagnose cancer. Developing this tool requires laboratory space, clinical trials, and other long-term and valuable resources: Kinshuk's relationships with university leaders, including the Deans of Engineering and Science, have been instrumental to his success in starting up so quickly and effectively.


Kinshuk considers himself lucky in his set of connections: he was fortunate enough to have the "right" friend in his Dean of Engineering. His professor and research advisor is also extensively influential at OSU and in the field of medicine, that same professor's wife is the Dean of OSU's business school. Kinshuk recommends connecting with high-level officials on campus: beyond their logistical abilities to make change, connecting with them also brought him greater self-confidence, credibility, and ambition. Knowing that people of high standing and authority trusted him created a feedback loop that empowered him toward his early success.


Since Kinshuk's connections were made informally, his own meetings were flexible and did not strictly formal presentations of materials. However, the aspiring campus innovator with weaker personal connections would do well to meet with university leaders well-prepared--especially if that meeting is a first introduction. 


Kinshuk's connections were made informally, but his outreach had strong intrinsic drive behind it. To students or entrepreneurs trying to make critical connections, Kinshuk recommends two things above all else: effort and focus. In discussing his goal of admission to Stanford University, he called high GPA, high GRE scores, and good research the "conventional" goal. His own method, and the one he recommends, is this: Find a passion, do everything humanly possible to meet it, publicize your accomplishments, and reach out personally to form working relationships.


Work on Oncofilter began in the Fall of 2012, during Kinshuk's junior year and the beginning of his work as a University Innovation Fellow. Development was slow until the Winter of 2013, when results drastically improved and the Oncofilter team realized that the business had potential. The combination of a sound value proposition and good results led Oncofilter to win OSU's business plan and eTeam competitions in the Spring of 2013, and helped Kinshuk reach out to work with a professor at Stanford and a global leader in microfluidics research in the Summer of 2013.


Oncofilter has now been in development for one year. It has gained traction from its success in OSU's business plan competition and eWeek, and Kinshuk's research efforts in coordination with Stanford University have sped development of the product device.


Kinshuk continues to have active working relationships with the Deans of Engineering and Business, as well as with his research advisor.


The greatest benefit of making high-reaching personal connections, Kinshuk believes, is not the logistical clearance or power they can provide--instead, it is the personal transformation that occurs as a result of knowing people at the top. The greatest thing that Kinshuk says came of his early connections and his work with the UIF was the breaking of his own inhibition: regular contact with these changemakers helped him realize how similar he was to other ambitious people, and how possible his audacious projects actually were. He acknowledges that this inhibition never truly goes away: at the time of this interview, Kinshuk was mulling over how to ask a top professor at MIT for a favor in further developing his company.