Today’s entrepreneurs embody the spirit of entrepreneurship more than any conventional definition. Meet a few of our alumni and students who aren’t afraid to shatter perceptions about how, why, when, and where a new idea gets off the ground.

Entrepreneurship is an attitude, one that Carl LeBel, PhD’89, believes is best nurtured in a small environment. He’s right at home as chief scientific officer at Otonomy, a development-stage specialty biopharmaceutical company in San Diego, Calif., that employees 25 people.

But being an entrepreneur wasn’t even on LeBel’s radar when he graduated from Northeastern with a doctorate in biomedical science. He thanks Northeastern and biotech pioneer Amgen for helping him develop that mindset.

LeBel originally studied forensic chemistry, but found himself inexorably drawn to pharmacology and toxicology. His adviser, Bob Schatz, who retired last year after 31 years as associate professor, encouraged LeBel to join his rigorous toxicology lab, where students were encouraged to poke holes in data and debate experimental designs.

“Northeastern has a fluid system in place to find your perfect fit,” LeBel says. “I learned how to become a critical-thinking scientist, and it all took off for me after that.”

LeBel joined Amgen when it had 1,500 employees and its cutting-edge entrepreneurial research on recombinant DNA technology was just taking off. By the time he left as executive director in 2007, Amgen was a biotech behemoth.

Along with that rapid growth, however, came less freedom to innovate, says LeBel. What he found at Otonomy? “The bigger risks and greater thrills of a startup.”

Natural entrepreneurs are drawn to small companies that don’t yet have a rigid corporate bureaucracy, says LeBel. “There’s an element of freedom and risk that comes with a smaller company.”

LeBel and his elite R&D team are developing new drug therapies for millions of people with hearing and balance disorders of the ear who have never had drug treatments available. And as an entrepreneur, he couldn’t have asked for a greater challenge.
In addition to the ongoing push to invent a pharmaceutical that can make a difference for patients and physicians, LeBel and his team must find ways to raise capital and navigate the complicated labyrinth of FDA drug approval. Accustomed to having to
operate nimbly, they embrace the challenge, rather than letting it bog them down.

And as an executive member of Northeastern’s Health Sciences Entrepreneurs, he’s training the next generation to thrive in such an environment, too. This group of alumni shares experiences with students and faculty and recently launched a mentoring program for alumni and students who want to start new health-science businesses.

“My hope is to help other people find their outlet for innovation,” he says.

From Northeastern Magazine
by Joan Lynch
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