Biotech leader offers advice to University of Pittsburgh students


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The road to successful entrepreneurship has taken many local startup owners on a road out of Pittsburgh over the years, and David Lucchino is no different.

The founder of Boston-based Semprus BioSciences left the city to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology around 2000, not long after he had founded South Side-based biotech investment company LaunchCyte LLC.

As it turned out, the move was a key factor in making Mr. Lucchino the executive he is today. At MIT, he was part of a team that won the institute's $100K Entrepreneurship Competition in 2006, which helped him bring Boston-based Semprus BioSciences from idea to reality in 2007.

Semprus is a biomedical device maker dedicated to creating complication-free medical devices.

It is currently focusing on reducing complications associated with vascular access catheters. In May, Limerick, Pa.-based medical device provider Teleflex acquired Semprus for $30 million.

Yet when he speaks during the University of Pittsburgh's Michael G. Wells Entrepreneurial Scholars Lecture on Wednesday, Mr. Lucchino plans to tell budding entrepreneurs competing in a similar contest that there's no need to flee the city to find success.

"Pittsburgh has it, too," he said. "We have the University of Pittsburgh, which has a world-class medical center, and Carnegie Mellon University, which is a world-class institution. Sometimes I think people don't appreciate all there is here."

Mr. Lucchino's speech, "The Entrepreneurial Leap -- from MIT to the NYSE," is designed to give students vying for prizes in the university's Student Health Care Entrepreneurship Competition a glimpse of what their future as a winner could look like.

The contest, sponsored by the Michael G. Wells Entrepreneurial Scholars Fund, will provide $10,000 to help commercialize an idea. Four finalists will be selected to work with mentors to write pitches and develop other materials to sell their ideas. The winner will be chosen by a panel of judges that includes Mr. Lucchino.

Mr. Wells, president and CEO of Lawrenceville, N.J.-based pharmaceutical company Aton Pharma, established the fund and the competition in 2011 to support students hoping to establish biomedical businesses. He said judges such as Mr. Lucchino are expected to identify not only solid, actionable plans, but the students capable of carrying them out.

"We're looking for someone who can solve a real-world problem or unmet medical need, someone who has thought about what it will take to get the product from an idea to the marketplace, someone who has the energy and focus needed to spend the money wisely and make progress," he said.

Robert Langer, MIT's David H. Koch Institute professor and a longtime mentor to Mr. Lucchino, said students will respond to Mr. Lucchino's story because it reflects what many of them hope will come if they win the competition.

"He is the epitome of a successful entrepreneur," said Mr. Langer. "It's a great story of doing good for the world. It's a win-win -- investors win, entrepreneurs win."

Mr. Lucchino, a Highland Park native and Central Catholic graduate, grew up in a family that remains deeply entrenched in the community, maintaining roles in prominent judicial, medical, academic and cultural institutions.

Mr. Lucchino said he will judge the contest according to strength of ideas and student character, and he seemed optimistic that there would be much to choose from once the judging started.

But win or lose, he said he hopes students understand how much there is to gain as the city grows in tech, but remains the same in heart.

"I think Pittsburgh has done a tremendous job over the last decade," he said. "It has a lot of natural assets, outside of biomedical research and health care industry. There's a culture of people with a work ethic that's second to none."

businessnews

Deborah M. Todd: dtodd@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1652.


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