The Biomedical Entrepreneurship Network (BEN) and Scientista Foundation – Gregg Khodorov and Julia Tartaglia (Podcast #6)

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Ryan O’Keefe, MS2

We are always overjoyed to meet students at other schools who share the same goals and ideals of Health-X. I met Gregg Khodorov at the Wharton Business in Healthcare Conference, and we knew we had to c

ollaborate. He then introduced me to Julia Tartaglia, his fellow co-president of BEN, the Biomedical Entrepreneurship Network, out of the Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. I spoke with both them over Skype about their backgrounds, interests, and what they hope to accomplish with BEN. We were also able to talk about the Scientista Foundation, which is an organization co-founded by Julia to address the “leaky pipeline” which shows that women are more likely to drop out of STEM programs and careers.

Some takeaways from our conversation:

1.) Entrepreneurship is like running a club, but you get paid for it

While starting a company is no easy feat, if you have any experience starting something from the ground-up, you understand how many barriers and unforeseen challenges you will ultimately have to address. Many of those in med school have at one point or another been a leader of a club or organization.

In every circumstance, such experiences are learning opportunities in management, leadership, and communication. At its core, being an entrepreneur is a lot like starting or leading a club in college. You start to realize that you have to learn on the job, adapt, and just give things a try. You will probably have no idea what you are doing – no one really does. The main difference is that as an entrepreneur, you get to make some money!

2.) There will be many barriers to starting something new, so you need to surround yourself with people who will help lift you over those barriers

Again, it’s no secret that starting organizations or companies takes a lot of work. However, what may be surprising is how many little things add up, and how they always end up taking way longer than you expect. It can quickly become overwhelming for one person to take on all of the responsibilities. There just isn’t enough time or energy. That’s where your team comes in.

For example, if your goal is to start a group on campus, it’s crucial to find other students, faculty, and administration members who see the value in your idea, and want to genuinely help. Surrounding yourself with a team that can both help spread out the work and hold you accountable will keep you moving forward.

When it comes to writing this blog, and making new episodes of the podcast, it was hard for me to find motivation initially while it was still just an idea in my head. There were so many little things to do and decide on, that when added up seemed insurmountable in their totality. Once I pitched the idea to the Health-X board, and some of Penn Med’s administration, I knew I had to follow through. It wasn’t just on me anymore, I had to be accountable to others.

3.) People will rarely understand your vision, but it may seem obvious and downright necessary in hindsight

Julia shared that when she initially approached others about her idea to start a group specifically for women in the STEM fields, many didn’t understand why it was necessary. Today, such naivety is borderline laughable. The inequalities and difficulties for women in such fields is now understood to be a widespread issue. When it comes to truly visionary ideas or products, the sad reality is that most other people will tell you it’s dumb or useless. That’s part of what it means to be revolutionary and ahead of your time – if it was obvious to others, someone would have done it already. Thus, when you do find those who understand you and your vision, you need to capitalize on that and include them in your mission.

4.) Starting a Health-X or BEN-like organization at your school is 100% do-able, as administrations are beginning to see the draw and value of innovation

While we are incredibly proud of what we’ve accomplished at Health-X in only a few short years, we recognize that the group was born at an institution that already had a strong foundation of crossover in the business, entrepreneurship, and healthcare worlds. There were already some other groups – primarily at Wharton – that had similar niches, but were not specifically tailored to med students.

Not every school across the country offers programming focusing on the intersection of business and medicine – and many administrators and clinicians still argue that such projects and endeavors are antithetical to clinical practice and putting patients first. After all, if you want to start a company, just get your MBA, right? Why get the medical degree at all? You should make room for people who want to be PCP’s or practice full time. Some believe this, and you need to understand that.

There will undoubtedly be some inertia, or confusion as to why med students are interested in management, entrepreneurship, and technologies. Keep in mind that some of the most senior clinicians and deans of the best institutions in the world went to medical school in the 60’s and 70’s, before many of the current standard of care medicines and technologies were even created! However, the zeitgeist is shifting rapidly – innovation is in (helped along by shows like Shark Tank, and podcasts like How I Built This) and schools are beginning to realize that new students want to see such offerings available. If it will help draw the best and brightest students, the schools will adapt – and you can be at the front of the charge!

Please contact us at Health-X (pennhealthx@gmail.com), or Gregg or Julia at BEN, if you want help establishing your own group on your campus. It can start with just one passionate student. Why not you?

 

– Ryan is a second year medical student at thePerelman School of Medicine. He is the co-VP of curriculum for Penn Health-X, the co-host of the Penn Health-X podcast, and founder/editor-in-chief of the Penn Health-X blog. You can contact him at ryan.o’keefe@uphs.upenn.edu –

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