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TechVenture Challenge spurs entrepreneurism
among Vanderbilt University students
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THE STUDENT-ENERGIZED TechVenture Challenge (TVC) at Vanderbilt University takes another step forward, presenting an "Ideas Showcase," this evening.

TVC is a business-plan competition now in its second annual cycle. During TVC, Vanderbilt students join teams to develop -- as educational exercises -- commercialization plans for technologies backed by intellectual property developed by VU inventors and protected as potentially bankable assets by VU.

The majority of Vanderbilt students now leading TVC are also officials with the Graduate Alliance of Lifescience Tennessee, but TVC is a Vanderbilt student-conceived and -led event for VU students and focused on intellectual property produced by VU investigators.

Virtually all who were interviewed for this story expressed hope that the TVC model will be replicated on other campuses and that those programs will be somehow networked or connected, but VNC interviews suggest that goal has not yet been purposefully addressed.

Up to six teams are likely to emerge following this evening's showcase at the Owen Graduate School of Management: Students will partner with investigators to develop plans for commercialization of their assets. They will compete with one another via presentations they will make on April 12. There may be a small cash prize given to winners, as honoraria, but that has not yet been decided.

Judges have been targeted for recruitment for the April competition, but that roster is neither final nor public, said several TVC representatives. Entrepreneurs, investors and others are among those likely to participate from the Nashville business community.

TVC is continually looking for advisors and corporate sponsors from within the broader Nashville Community to support student teams and other programs, said one student leader.

Potential TVC team members were invited to an entrepreneurship panel in January, featuring Pathfinder Therapeutics' Jim Stefansic and NextGxDx founder Mark Harris, according to the TVC website. In February, a program on Vanderbilt technology transfer and commercialization services is to be held, but details are not yet available.

Mallori Burse

The TVC initiative has generated strong student interest, said leadership-team member Mallori Burse, a Ph.D. candidate who co-founded the Ph.D. Career Connections initiative at Vanderbilt. Burse told VNC that while she is certainly focused on her own laboratory work, she has become extremely interested in how discoveries make their way to the marketplace.

Andy Rigby, a spokesman for TVC and a second-year Owen student focused on human and organizational performance, told VNC that graduate students across schools at Vanderbilt had come to realize in recent years that the jobs and careers they seek may not simply arise spontaneously, and they should do something to help along the process of creating better jobs. Students have become "very entrepreneurially focused," he said.

Rigby noted that in 2011 he joined a TVC team and worked with Alfred George, M.D., who, among other distinctions, is chief of Vanderbilt's division of genetic medicine and director of the Vanderbilt Institute for Integrative Genomics.

Rigby said he believes George's work is likely to lead to one or more ventures, and he aims to keep a hand-in, even though he is looking forward to his post-Owen employment in talent-management at NISSAN.

Vanderbilt's office of technology commercialization lists George as inventor on a number of cell-line assets, which are offered-up for licensing. One item, "stable HERG expressing cells," is presented as offering advantages over some existing lines which may be used to address illness related to potentially lethal side effects of some prescription drugs.

The main TVC website is here. The volunteer-driven site is well-mapped and useful, but VNC advises those interested to contact persons identified at various points in the site, to ensure that vital information is current and accurate. VNC

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Tags: Alfred George, Andy Rigby, commercialization, Jim Stefansic, Mallori Burse, Mark Harris, Pathfinder Therapeutics, technology transfer, TechVenture Challenge, Vanderbilt University

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