Edgar Goluch, PhD, never intended to become an entrepreneur.
The researcher and associate professor of chemical engineering at Northeastern University thrives in the lab and classroom, where he focuses on developing novel ways to sense the presence of certain cells and molecules. Although his research has always had real-world applications, the road to commercialization seemed too arduous. “I saw how much work it takes and how complicated it is to bring a product to market,” says Goluch. “I really like research— learning and understanding how things work — and I thought starting a company would be a distraction.”
Goluch changed his mind after he was approached by a well-respected life sciences consultancy in 2014 that had read about his work. They told him his discoveries could be extremely useful in the healthcare industry and did he have a product to show them? Unfortunately, the answer was “no.” So Goluch went to work.
He contacted the Center for Research Innovation (CRI), the tech transfer experts at NU, and got the application process started for a handful of patents to protect the technology he had developed through seven years of research. CRI put him in touch with Health Sciences Entrepreneurs (HSE) at Bouvé College of Health Sciences —the 12-year-old program that provides structured, rigorous mentorship to graduate students, faculty and alumni with a promising healthcare-related product or service and the passion to turn it into a viable business. HSE organized a dream team of mentors for Goluch— seasoned, successful executives and serial entrepreneurs— each with a different area of expertise that would be critical to his company’s development. His team acted as catalysts — helping him turn a brilliant idea into a business that experts say could revolutionize the diagnostic testing industry.
“I know the diagnostic testing marketplace well and I know how frustrated people are with how long it takes to get results back,” explains long-time entrepreneur Craig Sockol, MS ’79, the lead on Goluch’s all-volunteer HSE mentoring team and founder of three companies in the medical diagnostics space. “Edgar’s tests will help people all over the world. His company has a major chance of becoming very successful and very profitable. I can see it eventually penetrating the food testing market as well.”
Goluch’s company, QSM Diagnostics, offers low-cost tests for deadly bacteria — tests that are faster and more sensitive than current ones. Through earlier detection of bacteria, infections can be averted or at least treated quicker. “My collaborators and I definitely wouldn’t be where we are today without the Health Sciences Entrepreneurs program,” says Goluch. “I don’t know if we would be anywhere.”
A Better Way to Test
QSM derives its name from what are called quorum sensing molecules. The molecules, which enable cell-to-cell communication, are secreted quickly and in large numbers by bacteria. QSM’s small, battery-operated device detects the presence of these molecules in blood, saliva, urine and other bodily fluids without having to wait days for bacteria to culture in numbers large enough for detection by traditional tests.
QSM’s prototype recognizes the most common bacteria you’ve never heard of: Pseudomonas aeruginosa, as potentially dangerous as the more notorious eColi and Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA. Found in dirt, Pseudomonas aeruginosa is an innocuous organism to most people, but for someone with a compromised immune system, it can be life-threatening. It can also cause infections in animals, so veterinarian practices are another promising market for QSM.
A Hand-Picked Dream Team
In addition to Sockol, Goluch’s HSE mentoring team consisted of three other NU alums— with decades of combined experience and successes in the worlds of investing, regulatory affairs, medical device software and wound care — a huge potential market for QSM. Team members, who first met Goluch at an event sponsored by NU’s Venture Mentoring Network (VMN), helped him create a business plan, sharpen his presentation skills and identify QSM’s most auspicious markets. HSE mentors also coached him on developing a compelling pitch and connected him with potential investors. Goluch credits his mentoring team with teaching him how to make that critical pivot from scientist to entrepreneur. “The business side of things was very foreign to me,” he admits. “I used to go into a meeting and say, ‘here’s how our technology works.’ Now I say, ‘here’s what we can fix.’”
In addition to VMN and HSE, Goluch also received invaluable assistance from NU’s IDEA, a student-led accelerator. IDEA gave Goluch $10,000 in funding to help with prototype development; organized events at which Goluch pitched potential investors; and introduced him to professors from D’Amore-McKim School of Business who helped him interview CEO candidates.
MassChallenge and I-Corps
Thanks to the support of Goluch’s mentors, he and his graduate student, Hunter Sismaet, PhD ’17, won seats in the country’s most prestigious and competitive programs for burgeoning startups—the business accelerator MassChallenge and the National Science Foundation’s I-Corps. I-Corps gave QSM $50,000 in grants to develop two device prototypes and interview 100 industry professionals to ascertain exactly where their product would have the best chance of succeeding.
And MassChallenge — QSM was one of 128 companies chosen from 2,000 applicants— provided Goluch and his company with access to all kinds of resources, workshops, in-kind benefits and introductions to experts and influencers. Of the 128 startups in Goluch’s MassChallenge cohort, QSM was selected as one of the 26 most promising at the end of the season. “My mentors helped prepare me for MassChallenge and we wouldn’t have been able to go through the I-Corps program without Craig,” explains Goluch. “It’s an intensive six-week program and it requires a mentor to work full-time with the team. Craig donated his time for the entire period and accompanied us on many of our interviews.”
The experience has been a great one for Sockol as well, who says he derives tremendous satisfaction working with new companies, shaping their direction and putting them on the road to success. “Every company is different and I always learn a lot,” he adds. “” It’s been a fascinating journey with QSM.”
QSM’s prototypes are now being tested in labs at George Washington University Hospital in Washington, DC, Angell Animal Medical Center in Boston and soon, Tufts Medical Center. The company is on its way to raising $1.5 million in funding — much of it thanks to introductions made by the HSE mentoring team — to develop additional tests for staph and e-Coli bacteria. Goluch will soon take a year-long sabbatical to devote himself full-time to his company, while Sismaet, who received his PhD in March, has also joined QSM. A very experienced and accomplished CEO, Phil Devlin (BSEE ’79, MSEE ’83), is helping drive the company forward.
“Edgar exemplifies what makes Health Sciences Entrepreneurs so successful at launching promising companies,” says Health Sciences Entrepreneurs founder and chairman, Joseph Fleming (P ’70, MS ’71). “He is a brilliant scientist who had a great idea and understood what he didn’t know. And that’s why he valued and acted on the advice of his mentors — talented business people who have built successful companies. We look forward to many more HSE success stories like Edgar’s.”
Author: Vicki Ritterband