As part of its speaker series, the MSL program recently brought in Dimitra Georganopoulou. Dimitra currently works as an Invention Manger and an Innovation & Commercialization Office at INVO, which is Northwestern’s tech transfer office.
She has her PhD in Bioelectrochemistry (!) and did a post-doc in analytical chemistry. Dimitra is a delightfully engaging, energetic, and generous speaker, and has been a friend to the MSL program since its inception.
Before working at INVO, Dimitra worked with a startup called Ohmx. She said that working in the startup was great training for her, because folks who work in startups generally have to be involved in every aspect of the business, and that prepares those folks for a variety of positions, including the position she now has in tech transfer. She said she didn’t really map out the progression of her career from academia to business to tech transfer, and she recommended that folks be open to the twists and turns that they find along their career paths.
Dimitra told us about how INVO operates and the types of projects that get pushed out to the world through Northwestern’s tech transfer office. She said that while INVO “invests” in the technologies that come out of Northwestern, INVO is not a classic investment bank, and doesn’t experience the same ups and downs of an investment bank. She said that INVO’s focus is on getting good ideas out into the world, and not just on making money for the University.
Dimitra has to be very proactive in her position. She goes around to companies and finds out their needs and then tries to match up what they need with the technologies that are coming out of Northwestern. This idea of filling needs for companies and being more proactive is changing the way the tech transfer office traditionally interacts with the outside world.
Dimitra’s area at INVO is medical devices. She has a broad interpretation of what medical devices are, including health IT, apps, traditional medical devices, and more. She said that medical devices are a unique field because the entity that pays for the devices is generally not the entity that uses the devices. There are so many touchpoints and stakeholders involved with medical devices; this makes this a complicated area in which to innovate.
The issue of “risk” came up a number of times, and how important it is for folks in a start-up environment to manage risk. Dimitra noted that investors are generally unwilling to take on ideas that involve too much risk – they might be able to handle risk in one area (say, on the regulatory side) but would not also want to take on risk in another area (say, on the IP side). Investors want to be sure that the folks running a company understand and have thought through the many potential risks involved. Because the MSL program is focused on a 360 approach to understanding the risks and opportunities involved with a particular idea – with a focus on business, intellectual property, and regulation – it is especially good training for somebody who wants to work in a startup environment. Dimitra said that it takes a special kind of person to work in a startup – somebody who is cool dealing with lots of uncertainty and risk. And she also said that for a startup to be successful, there has to be at least one or two people involved who are giving absolutely everything they have to the new company.
Dimitra’s advice for MSL students: Be determined, have a plan, be flexible, and be happy.