‘The perfect time to think big’
By Alex Branch
Rachel Miller’s transformation from physician assistant to CEO of her own Forth Worth startup company began as most entrepreneurial ideas do — she saw a problem to fix.
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The 2007 UNT Health Science Center graduate had grown tired of hearing clinicians implore patients to take control of their health without providing intelligible health information or individualized plans to improve their wellness.
So Bloodscore was born.
That’s the personal wellness monitoring platform that Miller launched in January to deliver easy-to-understand blood-test results and wellness plans to patients on private digital dashboards. Patients perform dry blood spot collections at home and mail them to laboratories for testing.
“This is not rocket science – this is basic information we all should know and understand about our health,” Miller said. “But so often this information is delivered on confusing reports or people avoid blood draws altogether because making appointments and going to the lab is a hassle.”
“I started Bloodscore to remove that confusion and hassle.”
Miller’s ingenuity embodies the spirit of an ambitious campaign underway at UNTHSC to invest in entrepreneurshipand to develop an innovative mindset for its students, faculty and staff. This effort reaches beyond campus and into Fort Worth’s growing startup and entrepreneurial community where ideas form.
As the premier medical research institution in Fort Worth, UNTHSC is a natural leader for conversations between innovators, investors and thought leaders.
“We do not want to invent things in the laboratory just for the sake of inventing them,” said Cameron Cushman, UNTHSC Director of Innovation Ecosystems. “We want to translate those things into ground-breaking treatments that cure disease, make people healthier and improve the human condition.”
Primed for disruption
Miller shared her startup journey with UNTHSC students in a GSBS special-topics course that met in the state-of-the-art Interdisciplinary Research and Education Building on Camp Bowie Boulevard.
The course was the university’s first to focus on entrepreneurship, a subject not typically included in medical education programs.
“Health care is primed for huge change and disruption,” Miller said. “Successful entrepreneurs often say they solved a problem for the customer — and we both know how many problems patients encounter in health care.
“I love that the Health Science Center is thinking innovatively. Look at the amazing new infrastructure and the entrepreneurship course for clinician students and scientists—none of this was here 15 years ago.”
After practicing as a physician assistant in New York, Miller worked for Doctors in Training, a Fort Worth medical education company, during its startup years and later as a management consultant for Deloitte Consulting, LLP.
After a personal health scare nearly a decade ago, Miller began monitoring her own blood biomarkers to make sure her health was on track.
“But it was expensive, time-consuming, and literally painful going to lab every few months,” Miller said. “I knew there had to be a better way. Once I found it, I wanted to bring the solution to other people.”
Students enrolled in the entrepreneurship class were from different schools, programs and labs on campus. Last summer, UNTHSC hired Lin Nelson from the Texas Christian University Neeley School of Business to incorporate the development of an entrepreneurial mindset into each school’s curriculum and increase student engagement in innovation.
“As a rising scientist, I have to learn how to pitch my ideas to get funding,” said Amanda Roberts, a Pharmacology and Neuroscience PhD student “That’s hard to do if you don’t understand business, which is why this class is such a great opportunity.”
Inspiration and problem solving
The emphasis on innovation and entrepreneurship is a vision of UNTHSC President Michael R. Williams, DO, MD, MBA, a former hospital CEO.
As federal research funding gets harder to obtain, a shift in thinking is essential for the university to achieve its vision of defining and producing the health care providers of the future. That doesn’t mean everyone is expected to launch a new venture or invent something.
“It means everyone is using innovative thinking to solve problems,” said Robert McClain, PhD, UNTHSC Associate Vice President of Research Development and Commercialization. “That is something that everyone can do – see a problem and create an innovative solution.”
Miller’s innovation, for example, relies on a dry blood spot collection method that has been around for 50 years. Just prick a finger, squeeze a couple drops of blood into a sample collector and mail it to a laboratory.
“It sounds strange for a startup to be proud of relying on older technology, but it’s proven and evidence backed,” Miller said. “What’s new is delivering comprehensive, easy-to-understand results to people with personalized recommendations to meet their wellness goals.”
Travis Whitfill, a partner at the Fort Worth-based venture firm Bios Partners, joined Miller in the entrepreneurship class. UNTHSC has teamed with Bio Partners to create an Entrepreneurship-In-Residence program to assist with technology commercialization and entrepreneurship.
Whitfill showed students successful product pitches and how to avoid common pitfalls.
“These conversations have the potential to inspire students in entrepreneurship and infuse a market perspective into research projects,” Dr. McClain said.
As a hub of innovation in Fort Worth, the Health Science Center is the natural leader for the conversation about entrepreneurship in a city that has grown into the nation’s 13th largest.
That’s why Dr. McClain’s nine-person team is housed at WeWork, a sleek co-working space in the Shops at Clearfork development. There, local innovators and entrepreneurs sip micro-roasted coffee and fill cups with Kombucha that flows from a tap.
The team connects the innovative research happening in UNTHSC’s laboratories to Fort Worth’s entrepreneurial community.
“When we bring people onto campus to check out our labs, they are blown away by the research we are doing,” Cushman said. “They didn’t know because the university’s involvement with the startup community is relatively new. That’s changing.”
The team also helps innovators and investors connect. On Nov. 18- 22, UNTHSC will partner with several organizations on Global Entrepreneurship Week, a celebration of innovators, entrepreneurs and supporters that includes large-scale startup competitions, workshops and community discussions.
It also has hosted Start Up Weekend Fort Worth where fledging entrepreneurs get a 54-hour crash course in launching a startup.
“Some of those companies created during a startup weekend are still operating,” Cushman said.
UNTHSC collaborated with the City of Fort Worth and Texas Christian University to launch Sparkyard, a platform to connect entrepreneurs with the resources they need to start, scale and accelerate startup companies. The university also helps support TechFW, a nonprofit organization that helps entrepreneurs commercialize innovative technologies.
In other words, it is an exciting time to be an entrepreneur in Fort Worth, particularly in the health care sector, said Miller, Bloodscore’s founder.
UNTHSC’s emphasis on innovation and commercialization offers students the opportunity to develop unique skills that will set them apart from graduates of other schools.
“There are all these resources at their fingertips,” Miller said. “It’s the perfect time to think big.”