Chicago Sun-Times

A boost for biotech startups

- SANDRA GUY This story originally appeared at chicagogri­

Paul A. Fehrenbach­er and two fellow graduate students at Northweste­rn University are postponing their graduation­s to develop a technology to help surgeons identify and keep from accidental­ly cutting blood vessels.

Daniel Leventhal, a doctoral student in cancer biology at the University of Chicago, is helping advise two professors working to develop new ways of treating cancer with less radiation or by making radiation treatment more effective.

Both Fehrenbach­er, 34, and Leventhal, 26, are benefittin­g from Chicago’s littleknow­n biotech incubator, Chicago Innovation Mentors, or CIM.

CIM pairs would-be biotech entreprene­urs with seasoned experts, and provides hands-on business experience to aspiring biotech entreprene­urs, faculty and graduate and post-doctorate students. The students face an increasing­ly tight job market in academia.

The long-term goal is to give students, professors and entreprene­urs the skills to create biotech companies in Chicago, and to build a community strong enough to keep those companies, jobs and brainpower here.

The effort to birth biotech companies is occurring as Chicago aims to boost the industry’s presence here. The world’s largest biotech conference, the BIO Internatio­nal Convention, meets April 22-25 at McCormick Place. In advance of the convention, Gov. Pat Quinn is slated to unveil a study on Illinois’ biotech sector. A research report last year put Illinois’ biotech industry at 3,400 sites and companies, called “establishm­ents,” employing about 80,000.

CIM’s monthly meetings act much like “The Voice,” the NBC-TV reality singing competitio­n in which contestant­s vie for coaches who can help them become stars. Most teams get three to five mentors — volunteer experts who have no vested interest in the startups.

It’s a unique program nationally because four rival universiti­es — Northweste­rn University, the University of Chicago, the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana — cooperate to send would-be student and faculty entreprene­urs to the matchup meetings. Other CIM members include Argonne National Laboratory, the iBIO Institute’s Propel Center, the Rehabilita­tion Institute of Chicago and the Chicago Biomedical Consortium.

Alan Thomas, director of the University of Chicago’s technology transfer and intellectu­al property office, is credited with starting CIM with four colleagues. John Flavin, the executive director, has grown CIM to 147 mentors advising 62 ventures.

Fehrenbach­er, the Northweste­rn medical student, co-founded the surgery-tech startup BriteSeed after he and fellow students Muneeb A. Bokhari, a law student at the time; Jonathan W. Gunn, a law-school student, and Mayank Vijayvergi­a, a master’s level biomedical engineerin­g student, watched their class-team mentor, Dr. David M. Mahvi, perform surgeries.

They came up with the idea of SafeSnips near-infrared technology that can be integrated into surgeons’ cutting tools to give a real-time, bird’s-eye view of blood vessels.

Leventhal, the University of Chicago doctoral candidate, said his experience has given him terrific insights into how to work in the private sector.

“The more we integrate biotech entreprene­urship into the universiti­es and bolster students’ and faculty training, the greater the chances it will bring more biotech to Chicago,” he said.

 ?? | ANDREW A. NELLES~SUN-TIMES MEDIA ?? Paul Fehrenbach­er co-founded the surgery-tech startup BriteSeed.
| ANDREW A. NELLES~SUN-TIMES MEDIA Paul Fehrenbach­er co-founded the surgery-tech startup BriteSeed.
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