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BioVentures Boot Camp Wins National Recognition

3 min read

The Health Sciences Entrepreneurship Boot Camp run by BioVentures recently won a national award, the second-place Innovations Research & Research Education Award from the Association of American Medical Colleges.

BioVentures, a private Little Rock nonprofit, is the technology licensing office and startup incubator of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.

Its $50,000, all-expenses-paid, five-day program teaches Arkansas undergraduate (post-sophomore year), graduate and medical students and postdoctoral fellows how to start and fund a company. The students live on the University of Central Arkansas’ campus in Conway during the camp.

About why BioVentures runs it, Director Nancy Gray said, “Probably the biggest driving factor is talent retention. The last thing we want to do is train all these very bright young students who are interested in health care and then have them go get a job outside Arkansas. So one mission of it is to really have the students see ways they can contribute and have a job here in Arkansas.”

Another goal of the program is to encourage innovative thinking in Arkansas students, she said.

Planning for the fourth iteration of the camp begins with its first budget meeting in a few weeks, and the camp will likely be held in May.

Another partner is The Conductor, a public-private initiative of UCA, Startup Junkie of Fayetteville and the Central Arkansas Venture Team focused on supporting entrepreneurship and innovation.

The first camp, held in August 2016, was funded by a $50,000 National Institutes of Health training grant.

For the past two years, Gray said, it has been funded through the Arkansas IDeA (Institutional Development Award) Network of Biomedical Research Excellence, or Arkansas INBRE. Arkansas INBRE is supported by a NIH and National Institute of General Medical Sciences grant that UAMS has received and administered for years.

Gray said she is confident that the camp will attain funding for its fourth year and that some of its budget will come from Arkansas INBRE and the Arkansas Biosciences Institute. She hopes to gain some state funding for it as well.

During the camp, students meet with faculty, entrepreneurs and mentors and are exposed to business processes, regulatory requirements, patents and legal issues.

“What makes the program so successful and rewarding is the number of people who volunteer to help,” Gray said. About 70 adults volunteered to help with the 2018 camp.

The students also form teams, create and refine new venture ideas and interview potential customers during the camp. It concludes with a “demo day.” The public is invited to that event to watch the teams present their ideas.

The inaugural camp, held in August 2016, had 14 graduate students and did not require them to live on campus.

Several changes were made for the second and third camps. The camp was opened up to undergraduate students and students were required to stay on campus.

“What we didn’t do as strongly with the first group that went through that we do now is really lining up subject-matter experts in the hospital and things like that … We left them to their own devices and, quite frankly, the teams struggled with accessing potential customers for interviewing and things like that,” Gray said. Requiring the students to stay on campus, she added, allowed them “to really come together effectively as a team.”

Another key change was an additional partnership with Conway Regional Medical Center. Students in the second and third camp spent a day at the hospital. An assigned executive escorted them to any department they needed to speak with that could help them refine their business idea.

Twenty students from schools across the state attended the second camp, and the third camp attracted 17 students.

Four startups were formed by teams that graduated from the camps. They are Rejuvenix Technologies LLC of Perryville, Salusions LLC of Benton, Spiritum Solutions of Little Rock and TiFix of Searcy.

Gray said the program’s current budget could support 30-35 students. But “budget aside, 30-35 is probably the maximum number of students we would want to do in any given year … If we got much larger, we would be struggling to give the teams that independent attention during the boot camp that works out so well for them.”

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