Congratulations to Dr. Peter Zandstra for receiving the first ever Scientific Entrepreneurship Award through Life Sciences BC. Not only is Dr. Zandstra the Founding Director of the School of Biomedical Engineering (SBME) and a former Director of the Michael Smith Laboratories, but he has also founded a number of biotechnology companies, including ExCellThera and Notch Therapeutics both of which have made a significant impact in the design of novel therapeutic technologies.

This award recognizes the role entrepreneurship in academia plays in helping to shape careers. Since working with the School of Biomedical Engineering, Dr. Zandstra has created a diverse ecosystem of career options for his students, which includes entrepreneurship.  In the academic sense this means the translation of a discovery into society. Economically, it means creating new investments in the areas that aim to improve healthcare for everyone. During Dr. Zandstra’s career many of his ventures have developed their own spinoff companies, demonstrating the ripple effect of asking a big question. 

Dr. Zandstra’s entrepreneurial spirit has shone brightly to many of his students and inspired them to think differently about their careers by paving their own way. “Over the course of my career, I’ve been really blessed to work with fantastic students that have gone on to have many different careers. Notch Therapeutics, for example, was co-founded by one of my PhD students, Shreya Shukla. She developed an idea and launched a company that’s now creating new clinical technologies based on stem cells. The proudest moments I’ve had as a faculty member are seeing the successes of the students I’ve worked with in my lab and the impact they are having in society.” Dr. Zandstra comments.

Many students from the Zandstra Lab have gone on to pursue entrepreneurship during their career, whether starting their own venture, or harnessing an entrepreneurial spirit doing research in a hospital, lab or pharmaceutical setting.

“Peter’s mentorship and encouragement has changed the course of my career,” comments Yale Michaels, a former postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Zandstra’s lab. “When I was a Postdoctoral Fellow at SBME, Peter created the opportunity for me to collaborate with, and consult for, multiple cell and gene therapy companies. One of these projects resulted in Peter and I co-founding a new venture called Apiary Therapeutics. Without Peter, I would not have embarked on this entrepreneurial journey.”

There is a consistent entrepreneurship element through the programming in SBME – from the Propels Workshop Series that offers sessions focused on entrepreneurship and leadership, to a Makerspace, and partnerships with entrepreneurship@ubc and the Creative Destruction Lab. These spaces provide students the opportunity to be creative with their biomedical engineering expertise and explore pressing questions about the problems that they want to solve.

“Our students are going to be the technical innovators and scientific leaders, so we need to balance their rigorous engineering and scientific training required in order to be leaders with an awareness that entrepreneurship can be career path opportunity.” Dr Zandstra remarks.

Dr. Zandstra encourages students who are interested in pursuing entrepreneurship to build a diverse team so each member can focus on what they are good at and dive deep into their area of expertise. “Every time I interact with a company, I learn something new. Entrepreneurship connects the puzzle pieces between scientific discovery, translation, economic impact and health. It’s a really exciting spectrum to work on because at the end of the day, I’m doing biomedical engineering because I think it can make the world a better place for people that need health care improvements. If I can amplify the entrepreneurial spirit through students to expand the impact, that’s a great thing.”