Phar­ma­ceu­tical entre­pre­neur Joe Fleming offers prac­tical advice to North­eastern stu­dents who want to found health sci­ence start-​​ups: com­bine your clin­ical exper­tise with a novel busi­ness product.

On Thursday, at the fifth annual Health Sci­ences Entre­pre­neurs men­toring event at North­eastern, Fleming, PAH’70, MS’71, and a dozen other alumni in the health-​​care industry shared that advice and other nuggets of start-​​up wisdom with roughly 200 stu­dents who are inter­ested in launching their own com­pa­nies. The event was a fea­tured pro­gram of Northeastern’s Global Entre­pre­neur­ship Week.

Fleming, the founder and chairman of Novus Health, Inc., a Stow, Mass­a­chu­setts, firm that develops and acquires new health-​​care models, sees a grand oppor­tu­nity for bud­ding health sci­ence entre­pre­neurs to become inno­va­tors in a rapidly changing field.

The entire world of health sci­ences has changed dra­mat­i­cally,” he said, noting the quick­ness with which the biotech­nology industry has trans­formed patient care. “Health care has gone from 7 or 8 per­cent of our GDP to almost 18 percent.”

When it comes to building health sci­ence start-​​ups, Northeastern’s loca­tion and its co-​​op pro­gram give stu­dents an edge on the com­pe­ti­tion, said Carl LeBel, PhD’89, who hosted a breakout ses­sion on investing in health-​​care firms.

Boston is such a med­ical and science-​​heavy region,” explained LeBel, the chief sci­en­tific officer of Otonomy Inc., a San Diego, Calif., bio­phar­ma­ceu­tical com­pany. “And what sep­a­rates North­eastern from other uni­ver­si­ties is its co-​​op pro­gram. The con­nec­tion to so many dif­ferent com­pa­nies in the health-​​care industry is some­thing the uni­ver­sity can take advan­tage of,” he said.

Ashkan Afkhami, ’09, is the quin­tes­sen­tial example of a North­eastern stu­dent who takes advan­tage of his con­nec­tions gained through co-​​op.

As an under­grad­uate majoring in man­age­ment infor­ma­tion sys­tems and finance, he held posi­tions as a busi­ness ana­lyst at Black­Rock, as a cus­tomer advo­cacy lab engi­neer with Cisco Sys­tems, and as an IT tech sup­port staff member at the Boston Beer Company.

Today, Afkhami is enrolled in Northeastern’s master’s of tech­no­log­ical entre­pre­neur­ship pro­gram and is a site admin­is­trator for Her­cules Tech­nology Growth Cap­ital, a spe­cialty finance com­pany that pro­vides ven­ture debt and equity to ven­ture tech­nology and life sci­ence com­pa­nies. He is also the founder and CEO of the Inter-​​Disciplinary Entre­pre­neur­ship Accel­er­ator (IDEA), a student-​​run orga­ni­za­tion that helps other stu­dents create, develop and accel­erate their own busi­ness objectives.

At the Health Sci­ences Entre­pre­neurs men­toring event, Afkhami co-​​hosted two breakout ses­sions on IDEA.

Like Fleming, he had poignant advice for the roughly 30 stu­dents who attended the dis­cus­sion. “One thing is cer­tain,” he said. “Things will go wrong. Starting a com­pany is a pretty mas­sive under­taking, and going through it myself, there’s always a way to change some­thing or improve on something.”