BME Alumni to Provide Entrepreneurial Advice

Duke Biomedical Engineering is launching a new seminar series focused on entrepreneurship this fall. Featuring three Duke alumni who have gone on to start successful businesses, the lectures will give attendees the opportunity to learn from those who got their start in exactly the same spot.

The series is the brainchild of John Oxaal (BME ’76), a serial entrepreneur and venture capitalist out of Palo Alto, California, who is the department’s Entrepreneur in Residence for the 2015-2016 school year. In this position, Oxaal will be keeping office hours on Mondays, from 1:00–5:00 pm in FCIEMAS 1435, for the purpose of coaching undergraduates, graduate students and faculty who have an idea and want to start a company.

“John has been enormously successful at both ends of the start-up business, as an entrepreneur and venture capitalist, and is hence uniquely qualified to be Duke BME’s inaugural entrepreneur in residence,” said Ashutosh Chilkoti, chair of Duke’s Biomedical Engineering Department.

“My vision for these talks and my role for the semester is to help people get focused on the most important attributes of starting a successful business,” said Oxaal, who will also be the first speaker for the series. “Too many people think a good idea revolving around the solution to a gnarly tech problem is a sufficient basis upon which to start a company. While it is true that you need a fundamental advantage when starting a new company, many other factors ultimately determine the fate of the venture.  I want to use these talks to address the aspects of business design that are basic necessities for success.”

As a Duke BME student in the 1970s, Oxaal worked with Olaf von Ramm on the first two-dimensional phased-ray ultrasound systems. He then helped start seven enterprises—some of which eventually went public—including Volumetrics, which pioneered the first 3-D ultrasound machine.

In 1999, Oxaal joined Sevin Rosen Funds in Palo Alto, where he led the institutional venture capital financing for 12 companies. All told, he and his partners have funded some 125 startups over the past 15 years, both in Boston and on the West Coast, and hopes to fill a void he sees in the Research Triangle.

“There aren’t a lot of forums for quality consulting directed toward entrepreneurial business in the RTP,” said Oxaal. “I think this will be an interesting set of lectures. I hope people get excited about it.”

The first seminar will be titled, “So Why Should I Fund Your Startup?”  It will examine 10 big factors that VCs assess when deciding whether to fund a company. It takes place on Friday, September 11, at 12:00 noon in FCIEMAS 1425.

The other two Duke alumni taking to the stage are William New (MD ‘72) and Chikai Ohazama (PhD, BME ‘98).

New is the cofounder of Nellcor, which first developed and marketed pulse oximetry systems—that thing a nurse puts on your finger to determine your blood oxygen levels. He holds a PhD in electrical and computer engineering from Stanford and earned his MD and was the chief resident in anesthesiology at Duke Medicine. His talk will focus on the challenges he faced when starting Nellcor and a subsequent business venture, Natus, that developed a device that determines if a baby barely 24 hours old can hear or not. New’s lecture takes place on Friday, September 25, at 12:00 noon in Teer 115.

Ohazama earned his bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering from Vanderbilt University before completing his PhD in biomedical engineering at Duke, where he did research on real-time volumetric cardiac ultrasound imaging. After graduation, he developed an application that used engineering, geographic information system technology and 3-D mapping to help people see the world in a new way. The program was bought by Google, and is now known as Google Earth. Ohazama served as engineering lead for Google Earth for many years after the acquisition. His lecture will focus on new types of business models, such as those used by Google and social media companies, which provide services for free. Ohazama’s lecture t akes place on Friday, October 23, at 12:00 noon in Teer 115.