This University of Maryland program brings students inside health startups

Through UM Ventures' Presidential Entrepreneurial Fellowship program, students from different schools at the university help startups move technology forward.

Front row (L to R): Tida Jarjou, Yiwei Gao, Jonathan Ostrosky and Raqeeb Jamil. Back row: Kevin Fan and Jay Shah.

(Courtesy photo)

Inside The GRID on Thursday night, a trio of University of Maryland students presented work on a clinical trial for a drug that could be used to treat triple negative breast cancer.

Tida Jarjou, Kevin Fan and Raqeeb Jamil — each representing different schools at the university — were presenting to close out the latest cohort of the UM Ventures-run Presidential Entrepreneurial Fellowship.

The group designed a clinical trial for Isoprene Pharmaceuticals, which is a startup that was recently founded out of the university by Dr. Vincent Nijar of the University of Maryland School of Medicine and is based at The GRID.

Through the four-month program, the fellows work with health sciences startups that are commercializing research coming out of the university. It allows the students to get entrepreneurial experience, and to bring expertise from their education to help the startups to make progress in the specific areas.

“They take their educational training and apply it on an entrepreneurial side of things, but it also puts them together in a team,” said James Hughes, director of UM Ventures-Baltimore.

Many of the startups coming out of the university are working in biotech, medical devices and health. As UMB Director of New Ventures Rana Quraishi pointed out, this is a specialized area of entrepreneurship that features expertise. There’s also expertise required in a variety of areas like finance, intellectual property, licensing and regulations.

So the teams are multidisciplinary. The latest cohort was no different: Fan brought clinical experience as a full-time student at the university’s Baltimore-based medical school, Jamil brought drug development expertise as a Ph.D. student at the Baltimore-based pharmacy school, and Jarjou brought financial modeling and logistical experience as an MBA candidate at the Robert H. Smith School of Business in College Park. (The latter is regularly represented among the cohort, Hughes said.)

Other cohort members included Yiwei Gao (studying dentistry), Jonathan Ostrosky (business) and Jay Shah (pharmacy).

“We all bring perspective I feel that we would not have if we worked on this alone,” Jamil said in an interview following the presentation.


For their project, the recent group of fellows looked at the process and design of a Phase I clinical trial, which is the earliest period of testing in humans that comes prior to any regulatory approval. During the presentation, the fellows talked about the disease and the small molecule created by the company, as well as considerations such as cost, patients, dosage and a potential regulatory pathway.

The fellows said putting together that work required working outside of their comfort zone, and ultimately get experience with the fast pace and “grit” that’s required in entrepreneurial settings.

“It is the best of both worlds, where we’re getting a very valuable product to drive things forward, and the students are getting a great learning experience,” said Hughes.

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