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November 13, 2018

Entrepreneurship Curriculum Dinner with Venture Capitalist Geoffrey Smith
By Jason Hawkes, MD

As part of the Clinical Scholars program’s ongoing entrepreneurship curriculum, Clinical Scholars and Faculty hosted a dinner on September 6, 2018 with Geoffrey Smith. Mr. Smith is the current founder and managing partner for Digitalis, a venture capital firm that invests in healthcare-related technologies. He also represents Digitalis as a Director of CareDox, GRO Biosciences, and Elemental Machines, and as a Board Observer of Second Genome.

Mr. Smith has been a venture capitalist since the early 1990s, with a particular interest in healthcare-related technologies. He is co-founder and General Partner of Ascent Biomedical Ventures, a New York City-based venture capital firm focused on early-stage life sciences investments. He also represents Ascent on the Board of Directors for Azevan Pharmaceuticals, BlinkBio, and Orchestra BioMed, and is a Board Observer of Vivasure Medical.

In addition to his many roles in biomedical ventures, Mr. Smith has maintained professional relationships and ongoing collaborations with several academic institutions and hospitals. He is a Visiting Scholar at Rockefeller University and an adjunct faculty member at the Rockefeller University Center for Clinical and Translational Science. He also serves as a member of the Scientific Advisory Board for Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston. Previously, he was the founding Director of the Mount Sinai Institute of Technology and a Professor in the Department of Population Health Science and Policy at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

During his recent visit to Rockefeller University, Mr. Smith shared with the Clinical Scholars his personal experiences as an entrepreneur and manager of several venture capital funds. He provided an overview of the role of venture capital in medicine and science and insights into this fast-paced area of work. He also discussed with Scholars several real-world examples of successful and unsuccessful healthcare-related technologies and research ideas. He challenged Scholars to never stop trying to solve the most difficult clinical or research problems in their respective fields as the answers to these questions are likely to be the most impactful. He also encouraged Scholars to not be afraid of failing and to pursue research questions about which they were most passionate.

Towards the end of the evening, Mr. Smith discussed the variety of ways physician-scientists can provide potential solutions to improve human health with the venture capital firms by supporting the development of novel research and technology. Scholars were also asked to offer their suggestions for the development of a future, pilot externship with Mr. Smith’s company as a way of educating physician-scientists about the innerworkings of venture capital. He welcomed Scholars to arrange a visit to his office, where they would also have an opportunity to pitch their own research ideas and discuss areas of need in their respective fields of work. Overall, the Clinical Scholars’ event was an excellent overview and introduction to the potential synergy between entrepreneurship, venture capital, and the research activities at Rockefeller University.