Invent, valorise, market
One of Brightlands’ goals is to ensure that developed concepts and products make their way to users, usually through the market. Vanessa LaPointe, assistant professor at MERLN at Brightlands Maastricht Health Campus is a good example of this concept in action.
If you had asked Vanessa LaPointe years ago if she would ever work in an academic research setting, her answer would have been “never, a thousand times never!” In the end, an academic career ultimately proved to have more appeal than a commercial one. In 2014, Clemens van Blitterswijk offered her a job as an assistant professor at the regenerative medicine research institute MERLN. Her own research team works at the interface between biology, medicine and engineering on manipulating stem and other cells. Her latest challenge? Starting her own company!
The Canadian Vanessa LaPointe moved to the Netherlands for love. After completing her studies in the United States and obtaining her PhD in England, she was offered a post-doctoral position at the University of Twente: “Clemens van Blitterswijck, my mentor, adviser and role model, was chairman of the department there at the time. When he transferred to Maastricht University, he offered me a position as assistant professor. It was crazy; one day I was a post-doc, and the next I was an assistant professor, an academic... You’re still the same person, but there’s a huge difference between the two jobs.”
The challenge to start her own business didn’t come out of the blue, and has everything to do with what her husband does. Aart van Apeldoorn is an assistant professor and researcher at MERLN. His invention is the one that Vanessa will launch on the market as CEO: an implant of new pancreatic cells made from stem cells. The implant takes over the function of the pancreas for patients with type I diabetes, replacing the insulin syringe. “This could potentially become very complex; it is his ‘baby’, after all. Aart definitely possesses an entrepreneurial spirit, but this isn’t where his passion lies. I have the scientific background and knowledge to take this on, but I don’t have the emotional connection. I see this as an advantage.”
It was crazy; one day I was a post-doc, and the next I was an assistant professor, an academic... You’re still the same person, but there’s a huge difference between the two jobs.
Doing new things
Vanessa LaPointe never thought she would ever start her own business. “I’ve said this before though. For the time being, I’ll remain at the university full-time; working on and for the company - sorry, I can’t reveal the name since not everything has been finalized yet - is reserved for evenings and weekends. Once the company starts demanding more of my time, I will have to limit my contract with the university. This is fine; sometimes you have to make choices. I see plenty of opportunities to combine the two. I believe that to be a good CEO of a company active in regenerative medicine, you have to be (and remain) an expert in this field.”
“MERLN is a major advocate of starting your own business. Clemens is an international role model when it comes to combining an academic career and entrepreneurship, and he really encourages me to go into business. It wasn’t even my idea to start a company. My colleague Marianne van der Steen - Professor of Entrepreneurship in Healthcare - was the one who suggested it. We had also worked together at RegMedXB, where I was assistant director. RegMedXB has set up a valorisation infrastructure for regenerative medicine and I am naturally grateful to be able to tap into their knowledge and experience.”
I believe that to be a good CEO of a company active in regenerative medicine, you have to be (and remain) an expert in this field.
Lots of help
“I’m truly surprised at how much free help I get. It’s definitely not normal in the academic world to just give so much away. Just this morning I had a meeting with a potential investor, and they listened to my story, watched my presentation and said, ‘This is good, but that needs a little more work.’ Fantastic! Brightlands Maastricht Health Campus is a co-shareholder in the company, something that is undoubtedly going to offer a lot of advantages. They have a large network, experienced people on staff who can help us along the way, and of course we benefit from the ecosystems that have been set up in Limburg.”
“There will be a time when I will also have to start hiring people for my company. I intend to take the exact same approach to this as I do when I select my team members now: based on intuition. My research team of around twelve people is a motley crew: students, PhDs, post-docs, all of whom have different scientific backgrounds, nationalities, seniority levels and so on. I even have a reputation for hiring people with the wrong background for the job. This is because I tend to look more for a type of person - driven, smart, enthusiastic, not afraid to deviate from the obvious choices - than people who have chosen the quickest and easiest path to the ideal master’s degree.”
Setting an example
“My teaching role at Maastricht University puts me in contact with a lot of young students. I always make it clear to them that choosing the ultimate minor will not be the last choice they make in their lives. It’s okay to change your mind and pursue a different path. Look at me: I’ve changed my mind a few times and it’s all worked out for me. Although I do still have to prove I’m cut out for entrepreneurship. I hope I’m giving them good advice.”
Source: Brightlands newsletter
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