Spring 2012 Newsletter –
While most of his peers are working at entry-level jobs or in graduate school, Siddarth Satish is CTO of a medical device startup company, has raised about $1 million in venture funding, hired several full-time staff, recruited a veteran entrepreneur as CEO, and is submitting designs to the FDA.
How do you get from ChemE undergrad to CTO of your own company in just under 2 years? Hard work, brains, ambition, and the Master of Translational Medicine program.
The Master of Translational Medicine program is a one-year master’s degree offered jointly by UC Berkeley and UCSF, aimed at accelerating the translation of cutting-edge research into advances in patient care. The curriculum combines bioengineering principles, clinical exposure, and business fundamentals – three critical components for modern medical innovation.
Finishing up his 2010 Berkeley B.S. in Chemical Engineering, Satish learned of the brand-new program and decided it was the perfect fit. He became one of only 16 students in the first entering class.
“I ended up saying that I don’t need a Ph.D. right now,” said Satish of his decision, “this is what I was meant to do. I didn’t know MTM would push me toward this – that I would be doing a startup right after school – but this is exactly where I wanted to end up.”
Students in the program are immersed in translational medicine through coursework, projects, and contact with leaders in the field. The key experience, however, is the team-based capstone project. Satish was partnered with fellow students Amer Abdulla and Charles Zhao to work with Dr. David Rempel, an M.D./M.P.H. with appointments at both UCSF and UC Berkeley and director of the UC Ergonomics Laboratory.
“The really great part about the MTM is the collaborative model it follows,” said Satish. “It gets the students and the faculty to sit down at the same table and think of solutions together, not in a traditional faculty-student relationship. We got to sit down and ask, how do we build something that is solving a real medical problem and take it into the real world?”
Although not all MTM graduates go on to startups or to work in industry, the unique experience helps students with ambition pursue their passion. “It was a classic Berkeley and UCSF experience,” said Satish, “in that everyone involved takes things to a higher level. The MTM provides the framework in which students like us who had a vision for something could actually go do it. The program staff are incredible mentors for students; we still keep in touch and it’s great to have that encouragement.”
The team explored several different projects with collaborators at Stanford Medical Center, including one on virtual instrument pedals that resulted in a patent filing and presentation at the American Academy of Pediatrics. All three students scrubbed into surgery for observation as part of their research, and in the end decided to focus on another operating room problem: estimating surgical blood loss.
We don’t think about it much, but if doctors don’t know how much blood a patient has lost, they don’t know how much to give back. Currently, the amount is simply eyeballed – clinicians look at the amount of blood on surfaces and make a best guess. The project team, along with Stanford surgeons Michael Hsieh and Mark Gonzalgo, decided to work a mobile platform that can rapidly and accurately monitor surgical blood loss.
The team completed prototyping and proof-of-concept work before graduating in Summer 2011, and then decided to take their work all the way and form a company: Gauss Surgical. With Abdulla off to medical school at UCLA and Zhao to graduate school at Georgia Tech, Satish was suddenly in charge of starting up a brand new company from scratch — talking to venture capitalists, writing pitches, refining designs, consulting with advisors, hiring staff. Luckily, he wasn’t without support. All three faculty mentors — Drs. Rempel, Hsieh and Gonzalgo — stayed on as advisors. Milt McColl, a veteran medical device entrepreneur and venture capitalist who met Satish at Stanford, signed on as CEO of the company, and Gauss was given office space in StartX, Stanford’s student startup accelerator.
Details of the current product design are still under wraps, but Satish has submitted his first product to the FDA for 510(k) clearance. The project is continually evolving, Gauss Surgical is moving quickly toward real-world impact, and Satish is overflowing with enthusiasm.
“Doing a startup is a lot like grad school,” he said, “it’s among the most exciting times of life, but also among the most stressful things you can do. We pull all-nighters, and things fail sometimes. You just have to keep pushing. There is a different spin on it from school, in that you are accountable to investors and the investment they’ve made in your team. It’s exciting. I’m not doing just the tech stuff; at any time during the day I could be in the lab up to my eyeballs in blood, in the operating room, in the office coding, giving an investor pitch, or at a board meeting. I’m having the time of my life.”
Satish is now an earnest proponent of entrepreneurship as a problem-solving engine. “I feel like a lot of students are trapped in looking at grants as the main source funding,” he lamented, “and people have to start thinking past that. There is this whole world outside academia that is often even more successful at bringing technology to fruition, with a whole different funding model. The MTM is great for helping students get beyond that and look at other options for funding what they want to do.”