Brandeis International Business School

Startups powered by STEAM

At HackMyPhD event, attendees get an introduction to the world of entrepreneurship

Brandeis University's National Science Foundation I-Corps fellows at the HackMyPhD event.

Brandeis University’s National Science Foundation I-Corps fellows at the HackMyPhD event.

Jonathan Thon was a scientist researching platelets — tiny blood cells that help form clots — when he first tried his hand at entrepreneurship.

“I got into science to make a difference,” said Thon. “I never conceived of starting a business, but it became a vehicle to translate the work that I was doing.”

Thon is now the co-founder, CEO and Chief Scientific Officer of Platelet BioGenesis, a Massachusetts-based company that makes human platelets from stem cells. Last month, the company was awarded a $3.5 million U.S. Department of Defense research grant to help develop new treatments for battlefield and civilian casualties.

On July 26, Thon gave the keynote address at Brandeis Innovation’s second-annual HackMyPhD event, a daylong introduction to entrepreneurship and startups for PhDs and postdoctoral scholars. The event was cosponsored by the Hassenfeld Family Innovation Center, which is supported by Brandeis International Business School and Brandeis University’s Office of Technology Licensing.

Thon told the more than 50 students and postdocs in attendance that entrepreneurship is for everyone — especially those working in the STEAM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics).

At HackMyPhD, attendees built career action plans, engaged in team-building exercises, previewed startup demos and networked with like-minded entrepreneurs who are now leveraging their STEAM expertise.

Thon said a PhD in biochemistry and molecular biology helped him achieve his business goals. That sentiment was echoed by a panel featuring Irena Ivanovska and three Brandeis graduates — Nathan Cohen ’77, PhD; Sena Biswas ’84, PhD; and Vipin Suri, PhD’01.

“The credibility that you get (with a PhD) is very powerful in the business world,” said Biswas, founder of Merrimack Pharmaceuticals.

The panelists shared advice they wish they received as students. Cohen, who is the CEO of Fractal Antenna Systems, explained that learning from failure is an important aspect of being a successful entrepreneur.

“You better be willing to fail,” he said. “It is not a failure to you, it is an experience.”

Throughout the event, attendees were able to take free professional headshots and stop by resource tables staffed by the Brandeis Science Communication Lab and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Center for Career and Professional Development. Here, students were able to seek advice on improving their resumes, LinkedIn profiles and communication skills.

The latter part of the day also featured presentations by National Science Foundation I-Corps fellows, during which audience members could vote for their favorite team. The winner was GreenLabs, comprised of David Waterman, Brenda Lemos, Shen Wang and Yi Jin. GreenLabs aims to reduce the amount of plastic discarded by science labs by collecting and recycling the plastic waste generated as raw material.

A second panel, focusing on career opportunities beyond academia, featured Anne Joseph PhD '16, Ajoy Basu PhD, Benjy Cooper ’11, PhD’16, and Eric Furfine, PhD’87. The panelists highlighted various opportunities available to Brandeis students, such as SPROUT grants, the SPARK program, ongoing NSF I-Corps funding, consulting competitions and the 3 Day Startup Challenge.

Cooper said companies are looking for people with experience in a variety of disciplines.

“You have to either show deep knowledge or be a quick learner,” he said.