Samit Gupta was pursuing a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering—until he took this course.
Change of Plans Samit Gupta, left, with Michael Camp of Ohio State University.
"Until then, this had been just a class project." Samit Gupta is co-founder, with Robert Rushenberg, of the start-up O2 Insights, based in Menlo Park, California. In 2009, he took the Technology Venturing class at Ohio State University.
I was doing my Ph.D. in biomedical engineering, fully intending to go into academic research. My father said I shouldn't close the door on a business career, so I signed up for Dr. Camp's class. The technology my team chose to focus on was a particle that can be used to measure oxygen levels in the body. Its inventor, a professor at OSU, had been working on it for 10 years. There's a big difference between a research mindset and an entrepreneur's mindset. He was trying to come up with the next great technology. We wanted to develop the next great product.
Our team came up with three applications. The first two—for cancer and plastic surgery—didn't have big enough markets. The third application was wound care. If doctors know the amount of oxygen around a wound, they can choose the best therapy. For feedback on the idea, we cold-called a lot of doctors, nurses, and other experts. One of them was Jim Wilcox, from a wound-management company called Diversified Clinical Services. He was lukewarm when we described the device, which we envisioned being implanted under the skin. He said, "This would be really nice if it were totally noninvasive." So we asked the inventor if that was possible. He said he had already done it, using a kind of strip or Band-Aid. When we told Jim, he started bouncing off the walls. He said it was going to revolutionize oxygen measurement.
Until then, this had been just a class project. But here was a real human being getting so excited and telling us what this product would mean to him. I thought, I have to graduate as soon as possible so I can start this company.
LEIGH BUCHANAN is an editor at large for Inc. magazine. A former editor at Harvard Business Review and founding editor of WebMaster magazine, she writes regular columns on leadership and workplace culture. @LeighEBuchanan