Author: Brian Conlin

Meet the Entrepreneur

Meet the Entrepreneur: Andrew Ishizuka Aims to Help Patients…

Meet the Entrepreneur: Andrew Ishizuka Aims to Help Patients Fight Advanced Cancers

A disease to which seemingly everyone has a personal connection, cancer causes approximately 600,000 deaths in the United States annually.

Avidea Technologies intends to blunt cancer’s impact through the development of its proprietary nano-scaffold technology that may one day enable them to engineer safer and more effective immunotherapies for the treatment of cancer. Its approach may also have broader applications to infectious disease prevention.

The Maryland-based startup is currently developing this technology at FastForward 1812, where it keeps office and lab space. One of the company’s co-founders and its Chief Scientific Officer, Andrew Ishizuka discusses Avidea’s mission, Maryland’s startup support system and how entrepreneurs can adapt to an increasingly busy schedule.

In five words, what does your company do?

Applied immunology and drug delivery.

What are your goals and how will you get there?

Avidea’s main focus is the development of a personalized cancer vaccine for treating patients with advanced cancers. Avidea, with several academic collaborators, has developed a vaccine technology and process for generating cancer vaccines that are unique to each patient. The benefit of a personalized cancer vaccine is that it can teach the immune system to recognize and eliminate cancer cells without affecting normal, healthy cells.

We’ve carefully tested our approach in rigorous preclinical models over several years and are now poised to undertake clinical trials. To get there, we are currently completing a series of carefully regulated experiments for the FDA prior to starting the trial. Entry to the clinic will be a major milestone for our company.

What makes Maryland a good home for your startup and a good place for growing a business?

Maryland has all the resources to build and grow a biotech startup, including mentorship, pitch competitions, ready access to capital, and legal and consulting services. The real selling point, however, is the scientific community.

Avidea was founded by scientists who trained at Johns Hopkins and the National Institutes of Health, and we continue to collaborate with labs in the area, including ones at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, NIH and University of Maryland. There will always be considerable competition in biotech. We strive to differentiate ourselves on the strength of our science, which is bolstered by our cooperation with Maryland universities.

What resources from Johns Hopkins have helped Avidea grow?

Avidea is based in the FastForward 1812 innovation hub managed by Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures. In addition to leveraging the facilities and broader Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures’ network, we also make use of the larger core facilities at the medical school on a regular basis. This gives us access to otherwise cost-prohibitive advanced instrumentation, accelerating our product development cycle.

Importantly, we also collaborate with Johns Hopkins investigators who contribute scientifically to our product development.

If you could give your past self one piece of advice for creating a startup, what would it be?

“Your schedule next month will not be lighter.”

Having the opportunity to build a company is a tremendous privilege, but the demands and diversity of activities required of co-founders increases with each stage of growth.

Every day, I’m excited about our work and inspired by its potential to improve human health. I’ve found that the most effective way to manage my time is to prioritize tasks based on their importance to the long-term growth of the company, remembering that maintaining a healthy work-life balance for myself is aligned with that goal. Building a company positioned to grow over the long term is a marathon, not a sprint.

What book are you currently reading?

An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield. Hadfield is an accomplished astronaut perhaps best known for his captivating music video of him performing David Bowie’s Space Oddity aboard the International Space Station. I enjoy reading about people who have made significant contributions in their career to learn about how they managed different challenges. I suppose it helps with the ups and downs of managing a startup.

What innovator do you look up to? Why?

Jane Goodall. I admire that she – as a woman facing considerable entrenched biases – struck out into an entirely new field, and through her determined efforts changed the way people view animals.

What’s your favorite non-work-related thing to do in Maryland?

I started sailing on the Chesapeake about five years ago and probably enjoy thinking about the physics of sailing about as much as relaxing out on the water.

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Student Ventures

FastForward U Awards First Microgrants to Spark Student Entrepreneurship

FastForward U Awards First Microgrants to Spark Student Entrepreneurship


In March, FastForward U — Johns Hopkins’ hub for student entrepreneurship and innovation — dispersed its first set of microgrants to 10 teams of student entrepreneurs. The funds, which range between $500 and $1,000, are designed to enable students to test their ideas, build prototypes or launch pilot projects.

These Spark Grants provide relatively small amounts of funding that could pay huge dividends as the six undergraduate and four graduate student recipients aspire to increase access to clean water, provide better medical care, introduce a stress-relieving beverage to the marketplace and more.

“Student interest in innovation and entrepreneurship is multiples of where it was just a few years ago,” says Darius Graham, Johns Hopkins Technology Ventures’ director of student ventures and head of FastForward U. “These microgrants, along with the mentorship and space FastForward U provides, enable these students to pursue their passion, learn about business and, hopefully, change the world in a meaningful way.”

FastForward U has a rolling monthly deadline for students to apply for a Spark Grant, and decisions are made the following month. To apply, students must attend FastForward U’s “Intro to Entrepreneurship: Where and How to Begin” workshop.

The first call for applications in February attracted 20 applications. Of the 10 awards totaling $6,950, six went to Whiting School of Engineering students, two to Krieger School of Arts and Sciences students and one each to the Carey Business School and Bloomberg School of Public Health.

“Often times great ideas are left on the whiteboard due to a lack of support and funding,” says Paarth Sharma, a sophomore biomedical engineering major leading Aquatas. “Unlike large competitions which require a refined business plan and product, Spark Grants support ventures at even the ideation stage. Without requiring extensive groundwork from the entrepreneur, the grants provide a necessary financial foundation when innovators might not have many other avenues available.”

FFU’s Kevin Carter leading a student workshop
Graham says he anticipates a similar number of applications, if not more, each month, and hopes to have representation from all of the university’s schools. Graham and his team will meet with each recipient at least monthly to discuss progress and challenges as well as connect them to the myriad resources available at Johns Hopkins and the Baltimore area.

“At Hopkins, we are fortunate to be surrounded by many smart, talented people who have the skills to start and grow a successful business,” says Andy Craig, a graduate student in the Carey Business School and founder of HiTech HIPAA. “However, even the leanest businesses eventually run into expenses. Spark Grants allow students to push past these bumps in the road to be able to test and implement their ideas in a meaningful way.”

The amount of funding each team received was based on how much it requested and an evaluation of its prospective budget. Applicants not selected to receive a Spark Grant are provided feedback and may apply again.

“I’m incredibly excited to see the strides Hopkins has made in supporting budding entrepreneurs through programs like Spark Grants,” says Michael Brooks, a primary benefactor of the funding who earned a bachelor’s degree from the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences in 2010 and a master’s degree in applied mathematics from the Whiting School of Engineering in 2012. “I love being able to contribute to their missions, but more importantly I love being able to build the greater sense of entrepreneurship and community for the next generation at Johns Hopkins University.”

Meet the first recipients of the FastForward U Spark Grants:

Aquatas (Awarded $1,000)
Paarth Sharma (WSE, undergraduate student)

Aquatas aims to address the ever-growing problem of clean water shortages that plague developing regions. It aims to provide an efficient and affordable water purification system that promotes the health and societal well-being of low income individuals around the world.
Braegen (Awarded $500)
Victor Dadfar (WSE, undergraduate student)

Braegen is a medical device startup company focused on advancing drug delivery techniques for brain disease patients with the greatest unmet need.
Efficompass (Awarded $500)
Zheying Mao (Public Health, graduate student)

Efficompass aspires to help patients with chronic diseases find the best care management tools and services.
EntriFeed (Awarded $750)
Annabeth Rodriguez (WSE, undergraduate student)

EntriFeed aims to design a new type of enteral feeding tube that minimizes dislodgement and reduces patient readmission for replacement procedures.
GOBA Tea (Awarded $1,000)
Byron D’Mello (KSAS, undergraduate student)

GOBA solves your thirst and your stress through a refreshing fruit-flavored decaffeinated tea, made with bursting-edible fruit balls infused with stress relieving vitamins and minerals.
HiTech HIPAA (Awarded $700)
Andy Craig (Carey Business School, graduate student)

HiTech HIPAA is a software tool for HIPAA compliance management.
ProgKnowsis (Awarded $500)
Arjun Vachhani (WSE, undergraduate student)

ProgKnowsis is developing medical prediction algorithms to mitigate respiratory failure.
Quira (Awarded $500)
Rutvi Shah (WSE, graduate student)

Quira is an online community designed to help people find the right fashion for any occasion at an affordable price.
Rume (Awarded $1,000)
James Shamul (WSE, graduate student)

Rume uses motion sensing hardware and a mobile application to maximize space utilization on campus, providing real-time information to help students find an open study or meeting room.
Shepherd (Awarded $500)
Sung kyu Kim (KSAS, undergraduate student)

Shepherd delivers tailored, evidence-based strategies that are designed to help users manage depression through their smartphones.
FastForward U will award Spark Grants twice more in the spring semester. The application deadlines are March 31 and April 30. In order to apply, students must attend an “Intro to Entrepreneurship: Where and How to Begin” workshop, which will be held on March 28 and April 10.

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