|April Research Roundup|
Carolina Kickstart names technology innovation fellow
Ricky Spero of Rheomics works on cancer diagnostic tools
Richard “Ricky” Spero, Ph.D., a co-founder of Rheomics, Inc., a startup firm using discoveries developed at UNC to develop diagnostic tools for cancer, has been named UNC’s first Technology Innovation Fellow. The two-year fellowship program funds a recently graduated Ph.D. student or post-doc to continue developing technologies in a startup company generated out of the work he or she has been doing with co-founding faculty during the course of his or her studies.
The fellowship was funded in part by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, which last October named UNC one of three universities designated as “Kauffman Commercialization Leaders.” The award recognizes UNC, Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Missouri System for their creative approaches to help to accelerate the process of bringing student and faculty innovations to market. Each university received a $100,000 grant for their selected programs or initiatives.
Additional funding at UNC came from NC TraCS Institute, UNC’s home for its NIH Clinical and Translational Science Awards (CTSA) and one of 55 medical research institutions working together as a national consortium to improve the way biomedical research is conducted. Carolina KickStart, a core program of NC TraCS that fosters the building and launching of UNC startups, administers the fellowship.
“Ricky has a rare combination of scientific intellect, entrepreneurial spirit and sheer guts,” said Richard Superfine, Ph.D., president and CEO of Rheomics. “The Kaufman Fellowship allows Ricky to devote his full attention to our new venture, Rheomics, and to start getting our exciting technology into the hands of customers.” Superfine is also a professor in the department of physics and astronomy and director of Computer Integrated Systems for Microscopy and Manipulation at UNC.
Spero, Superfine and Rheomics co-founder Russell Taylor, Ph.D., a professor of computer science jointly appointed in physics and astronomy, work in the area of mechanical biology, applying theories and methods of physics to biology. As Spero explains, "Today, the best way to know if a cancer is malignant is to discover a secondary tumor, and by then it's too late. We want to predict whether a tumor can metastasize before it happens. And we think we've got the best technology to do it. It's a cutting-edge tool that can measure the stiffness of individual cells."
The Innovation Fellowship Program also includes trainees in the area of business development. John Strenkowski, a UNC alumnus and recent Harvard Business School graduate, has been named a Business Innovation Fellow. He is currently surveying several companies before deciding which one to specifically work with for the remainder of his fellowship.
“John has a passion for startups and is ideally suited to work with these early-stage companies,” said Don Rose, director of Carolina KickStart. “He will be an important catalyst to get these companies launched and in a position for success.”
The Innovation Fellowship Program supports one of the five major recommendations in the Innovate@Carolina Roadmap, to “translate important new ideas more expediently and at an increased volume into innovations that improve society.” The Innovate@Carolina initiative also calls for an expansion of the Carolina KickStart program campus-wide.
"We've been amazed at the quality and diversity of the resources that UNC has assembled for novice entrepreneurs,” said Spero. “The community here is amazing. From KickStart, to the Business School, to OTD (Office of Technology Development), we've gotten advice and support from incredibly talented and enthusiastic people. I can't imagine a better environment for starting a business."
|By Elizabeth Witherspoon|