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Tell Me More: A Conversation with Your I-Corps Team, Featuring Jin Montclare

Q&A with Jin Montclare, Professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and I-Corps Research Lead for New York University (NYU)

How did you get involved with entrepreneurship at NYU? 


I stumbled into entrepreneurship because my students were interested in it. As a faculty member at NYU, I had graduate students coming to me doing competitions and asking for advice. I was not as tuned in as an individual, but listening to students brought it into my world, as I learned how I could help them. To get them involved in a systematic program where they could learn these skills, I applied for a site grant from NSF I-Corps. And that’s how I came to understand the rigor and training of the program.

Jin Kim Montclare , Ph.D.


I participated in one of the first cohorts led by CUNY, in 2013, and was among the first from NYU to participate in it as well. In learning the Lean Launchpad methodology, I realized it was very similar to the way scientists approach research: have a hypothesis and talk to people to test your theory, rather than doing it from the bench.


Your lab has always been committed to diversity. Why has that been a priority for you?


Diversity is very important to moving science and engineering forward. The greatest creative solutions come from a diversity of minds and backgrounds. When I first started my lab, it was important to me to give back to the community. I reached out to local public schools, including Urban Assembly Institute of Young Women in Brooklyn, which educates mostly girls from underserved communities. I’ve continued to try to encourage students that are underrepresented in STEM and get them into a pathway towards science and engineering education. I’m also now working on a longitudinal study of women in STEM entrepreneurship.


What are the latest developments in your own entrepreneurial pursuits?


My lab is focused on engineering two types of proteins—biomaterials that can do physical things, and biocatalysts, that engineer functional proteins. I have two startup companies currently in development. With Brooklyn Bioscience, we are seeking to identify enzymes that can break down pesticides. For that company we participated in national I-Corps and secured an NSF Partnership for Innovation (PFI) grant.


I also recently started another company, ProViZiGen, developing injectable hydrogels to provide an invasive treatment for post-traumatic osteoarthritis, which can be severely debilitating. When the paper describing my research on this was published in summer 2021, I began to hear from patients that were looking for a trial. Since that company must navigate FDA regulations, I am working on the roadmap to filing for approval. The science isn’t complete yet, but the I-Corps approach is baked into how I look at the technology coming out of the lab. We recently applied for and secured an NIH STTR grant. 


Are there any new developments with I-Corps at NYU?


We recently published a paper in the Entrepreneurship Education, looking at how covid impacted the entrepreneurship education at NYU and gender-based differences.


Can you share a challenge for which you are hoping to see a solution from I-Corps participants?


As I’m learning with ProViZiGen, it’s much harder to launch a biomedical startup as you must address all the regulatory issues. Those hurdles mean we see those kinds of ideas less frequently, but those are important issues to address as well. I would love to see more therapies that control or manipulate cells—these are interesting areas of research, and they can be commercialized. I am seeing more AI and computational/machine learning ideas and efforts to bring those to market, because of the recent advances in the public sphere. I also think we urgently need to see solutions for the challenges of waste and climate change; I think we’re going to see more and more of that in I-Corps.   


What advice would you give to all I-Corps participants?


As an academic, pivoting is not something you are used to; you focus on one thing for a long time, and you don’t waver. At the same time, learning how to pivot is so useful! Getting insights on how to support the customer, learning to identify what can be helpful, is a useful lens to carry as you move forward, even if you don’t run a startup. Learning how to be able to engage and understand and tailor your technologies to that insight can always help your research. 


What did you learn from your successful experience applying for the NIH STTR grant?


This was my first STTR application, and the first one that I secured. I also applied for an NSF STTR; each agency’s application has a different twist. For the NIH, we really focused on the science. It’s also important to show how you are preparing for the next steps of your business, charting out all the steps you will need to take as you move along. You need to show your thinking, for example, about all the partnerships you are going to need, so you don’t look like you haven’t thought it out. You also need to show that you can recognize what is “go” and what is “no-go,” and that you will be mitigating those risks in your experiments, so you hopefully get to “go” and move forward.


What are you reading?


I’m not reading much, other than research papers! I’ve been totally swamped by learning to understand the FDA and regulatory hurdles required for bringing something to market. That’s been a huge learning curve, but it’s also brought insights into how biomedical technologies are brought to market.



What do you do to relax?


Whatever time I have free, I spend with my family, my children, making sure they see me all the time. I’m involved with their school lives; it keeps me grounded. They are my way to be normal and turn off whatever else is on my mind.



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