Jessai Flores

Last Thursday, Sandy Chang, associate dean for Science and Quantitative Reasoning Education, held an inaugural discussion panel titled “Entrepreneurship in STEM,” featuring three leading entrepreneurs at Yale and Harvard University. 

The panel included conversations on the panelists’ journeys in STEM and within their startups, how entrepreneurship can be prevalent in STEM and advice for students interested in the field. The panelists included Co-Director of the Yale Brain Tumor Center and founder of Cybrexa Therapeutics Ranjit Bindra ’98 MED ’07, professor of chemistry and pharmacology and founder of Proteolix Inc. Craig Crews and ENT surgeon at Harvard Medical School and lecturer of healthcare ventures at the Yale and MIT Schools of Management Ayesha Khalid.

“I fell in love with drug discovery and drug screening from an academic standpoint … and I started my first company, Helix Therapeutics, and you learn a lot from both your mistakes and successes,” Bindra said about his initial venture into entrepreneurship after completing his education. 

Bindra received his undergraduate degree in molecular biophysics and biochemistry from Yale College in 1998, and both his master’s and doctorate from the Yale School of Medicine in 2007. He completed his medical internship, radiation oncology residency and post-doctoral research studies at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in 2012, after which he received a faculty position. 

In addition to Cybrexa, Bindra founded Alphina Therapeutics, B3 Therapeutics and Helix Therapeutics, which are all biotechnology companies that work on metabolic pathways of cancers. Bindra currently works as a physician-scientist, treating adult and pediatric brain tumors while also running a lab that focuses on finding ways to target cancer cells for new breakthrough treatments. 

“My day-to-day work includes a little bit of everything, but entrepreneurship is something that I hope all of you will take away as something that is incredibly exciting and a wonderful side distraction from the classical hierarchy of academia,” Bindra said during the panel. 

Bindra provided students with insights from his entrepreneurial experience and advice for undergraduates on how to approach mentorship. He shared how he was tasked with creating pitches for his lab for competitions in order to obtain funding and underscored the importance of learning how to pitch stories and ideas not just from an academic perspective, but also from an entrepreneurial perspective when obtaining funding for ventures. 

Bindra advised undergraduates that showing initiative and drive for something is important for attracting potential mentors. Once an aspiring entrepreneur has the opportunity to work with faculty or other entrepreneurs on projects, he explained that it is important to be proactive in the organization to establish great connections and improve outcomes. 

Along with his professorship at Yale, Crews has a background in chemistry, which has led to the success of his biotechnology company Proteolix Inc., whose proteasome inhibitor, Kyprolis, received FDA approval for the treatment of multiple myeloma. He has also served as an editor of Cell Chemical Biology from 2008 to 2018, and his breadth of foundership in successful biotechnology companies includes Arvinas Inc., Halda Therapeutics and Siduma Therapeutics. Crews believes that his work demonstrates the importance of answering biological questions using chemical approaches, while creating effects for patients and society. 

In the panel Q&A, some students raised concerns about entering the entrepreneurial world having only bench research and theoretical learning experience. Crews responded that it is important for students to explore various entrepreneurial positions and opportunities to understand their day-to-day operations, which can help inform students as to what they actually want to be involved in. 

Crews added that he has seen many students in his lab and his classes shift to working with his biotechnology companies during off-time in order to explore what they would like to pursue. Crews is a proponent of using gap years and summer internships to explore these interests. 

The third speaker, Ayesha Khalid, served as the clinical director of the Yale School of Medicine’s Center for Biomedical Innovation to help launch early-stage ventures and has extensive board experience at many medical organizations. Khalid obtained her bachelor’s in physiology from McGill University and completed her master’s and surgical residency in otolaryngology from Penn State University. Khalid also wished to pursue different avenues in entrepreneurship in digital health and therefore obtained an MBA from the MIT Sloan School of Management.

“Following Sloan, I worked on a digital health startup and worked full-time for two years, while practicing surgery on the side,” Khalid added. “I learned that startups are hard, and after selling the startup, I realized it was such a tough learning to see the business model generation that happens in digital health.” 

Khalid described how past work in intensive sciences could provide benefits in pharmaceutical and biomedical work. Physicians can play key roles in study designs and understanding patient outcomes for these companies, but Khalid added that these degrees are not necessary to obtain success in the entrepreneurial realm. 

She also noted that mentorship is key for success, and finding mentors outside of one’s sphere of practice could provide the fastest line to success in order to learn new things and create connections. This is facilitated even more by the virtual world brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. The virtual world has allowed undergraduates to infiltrate many different fields, not limited to entrepreneurship, by allowing attendance at many different educational events. This fosters the cross-pollination of passions and knowledge and encourages learning by taking full advantage of the opportunities available, she said. 

“I try to teach my students about how to balance relaxing and finding your center, and how we cannot be the delivery of healthcare if we are all unhealthy as clinical health providers,” Khalid emphasized. “You cannot be perfect at everything and, in this journey, you must decide what matters and excites you most.” 

The Yale Science and Quantitative Reasoning department provides many panels for student information and guidance. 

Manas Sharma covers the Yale School of Medicine for the SciTech Desk of the News. Manas is originally from McComb, MS, and is a sophomore in Branford majoring in Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology.