Combining business acumen with an innovative biomedical solution has been a winning combination for NovoThelium, a student-led startup biotechnology company.
Founded in October 2015 by biomedical students Bianca Cerqueira and Lauren Cornell, MS ’12, NovoThelium utilizes tissue engineering to provide breast cancer patients with nipple reconstruction.
NovoThelium won the Women’s Startup Pitch competition held at Texas Woman’s University in September, the UTSA Big Rowdy Idea CITE Business Plan competition in November and the TERMIS (Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine International Society) business plan competition in December.
“We both have a history of breast cancer in our family,” said Cornell, who is a doctoral student in UTSA’s joint translational science program and earned her master’s in biomedical engineering at UTSA. “With our background in tissue engineering, we want to change the standard of care for nipple reconstruction.”
In the first semester of her doctoral program last fall, Cornell began taking entrepreneurship classes in the College of Business. As part of a class assignment, Cornell pitched her company to her MBA classmates as the basis for her team’s business plan.
“My classmates believed in our product, and they chose our company for the competition,” said Cornell. Her team included Matt Breaker, MBA ’16, Cecillia Nguyen, MBA ’16, and Zach Stansbury, ’11, MBA ’16.
“We wanted more expertise in business,” said Cerqueira, who is a doctoral candidate in the joint biomedical engineering program at UTSA and the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio. “Although we founded our company, we didn’t have a formal business plan. And, the feedback we’ve received through this process has helped us create a better product.”
Another important element of NovoThelium’s success was the mentorship that they received from Cornell’s entrepreneurship professor Lynda de la Viña. “I can’t even express how great Dr. de la Viña was,” Cornell said. “In a world of negatives, she was extremely supporting. She spent countless hours helping us prepare our presentation for the first competition.”
“Lauren and Bianca have a compelling story and a viable and well-tested medical process,” said de la Viña, the Peter Flawn Professor in entrepreneurship and economics. “The only piece they were missing was the marketing and financial aspects of their business. And, that is what they’ve gained from the entrepreneurship program.”
Now in the research and development phase, NovoThelium will take their prototype and begin animal studies this year. And, they plan to continue to hone their business expertise by participating in more business plan competitions.
“I don’t envision that we’d just make this one thing,” said Cerqueira. “This is a stepping stone to other products.”
“A valuable lesson that I learned from my business training is that not every good scientific idea will make a viable business,” said Cornell. “I feel more empowered and confident that we can achieve our dreams with any business venture.”
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