In New Position, Lawrence Boyd to Boost Student Entrepreneurship at Duke

Three days after completing his doctoral work in biomedical engineering, Lawrence Boyd got started in a completely new role, as associate director of Duke's Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization (CERC). The position was created with funding support from several departments and programs across the university in an effort to boost student entrepreneurship at Duke.

Founded and directed by Biomedical Engineering Professor Barry Myers, the interdisciplinary CERC aims to bring knowledge and technology into the service of society. Boyd comes to the position with considerable experience in doing just that, having spent more than 10 years working in the medical implant industry prior to entering graduate school at Duke. He also holds almost 50 patents for devices and procedures primarily aimed at spinal repair.

"Dr. Boyd's new role includes support to undergraduate students with creative and entrepreneurial aspirations," said Larry Moneta, vice president for student affairs at Duke. "I am pleased to co-sponsor his appointment to CERC and we have hit the ground running with partnerships on consultation to students. Over time, we hope to develop a student entrepreneurial 'hatchery'--an incubator of some sort -- as a prelude to further support for both social and business student inventions."

"As a contributing unit, Markets & Management Studies is pleased to be working with Larry Boyd," added Ken Spenner, a professor of sociology and psychology and director of Markets & Management Studies (MMS). "Our joint vision is that his role will serve as a two-way conduit between Pratt students and MMS students, engaging on issues of technology and entrepreneurship."

One of Boyd's main goals in the new position is to give students the tools they need to make their business ideas come to life. "Duke students are amazing," Boyd said. "They are creative and incredibly motivated. If there is a student with an idea, I want to find a way for them to realize it, whether that means helping find funding or giving input, access to business contacts in the community or maybe even some space on campus."

A first priority was the development of a new undergraduate course, BME 265.08 Introduction to Business and Technology-Based Companies, which is being offered this fall semester and then again in the spring. In teams, students in the course, including both undergraduate engineers and Trinity students, will write business plans around devices developed by other undergraduates in one of a few biomedical engineering (BME) capstone design courses. At the conclusion of the course, students will pitch their concepts to their peers and a panel of internal and external reviewers.

"We'll take some of the more promising ideas, the final designs and products and move them further toward reality," Boyd said. Some of the best business plans might even go on to compete in the annual Duke Startup competition, he suggested.

Other items on Boyd's to-do list include helping to strengthen and define the role of the Duke Undergraduate Business Advisory and Resource Committee (DUBARC) and the Duke Entrepreneur student club. He will also develop a new course offering for students in Duke's Masters of Engineering Management Program.

From Industry to Academia

When Boyd completed his master's degree in bioengineering in 1989, he took a job as a product development group leader and engineer at Dow Corning Wright in Arlington, Tenn. During three years there, he worked on the development of a variety of implants for use in various parts of the body, including the hands, feet and knees.

He then moved on to work for a company in Memphis that at the time was called Danek Medical (later Sofamor Danek). The small startup company's focus was in an emerging arena for medical implants–— those aimed at fusing the spine. Boyd worked in the area of interbody fusion and artificial disc replacement. "It was a great opportunity because it was brand new," Boyd said. "There were some patents, a few ideas, but the market didn't really exist yet."

At Danek, Boyd rose in the ranks rather quickly, going from manager to director to group director and learning a lot about the commercialization of medical technologies along the way. To further his leadership skills, he also enrolled in a Master's of Engineering Management program that offered evening classes at a local university.

Medtronic later acquired Sofamor Danek and promoted Boyd yet again--this time to vice president of product development. After working himself up the chain, however, Boyd said he found himself getting further from the ideas that had motivated him from the beginning, spending more of his time away from the engineers actually developing the products. He also began to realize that biomedical devices were increasingly moving from the metal hardware he knew in favor of recombinant proteins, human tissues and other biologically inspired materials.

He decided to return to school and began looking at graduate programs. He said he found Duke the perfect place, given the proximity between Duke's Pratt School of Engineering and Duke Medical Center. He started on his Ph.D. in 2000, working in the laboratory of biomedical engineering professor Lori Setton. In the Setton lab, he collaborated with Duke orthopedic and neurosurgical spinal surgeons in an effort to elucidate the process of spinal degeneration. He also conducted his dissertation studies in mice lacking a key form of collagen to better understand the mechanisms of disc degeneration and the changes that occur in the adjacent bone as the spinal disc gets worn down.

A Master Mentor

In the course of his graduate study, Boyd showed himself to be someone with a dedicated interest in helping others to succeed. He has guided 11 undergraduate and master's students at Duke, many of whom have now gone on to graduate school or to start careers of their own, and maintains regular contact with many of them to this day. For his effort, the Duke Graduate School last year awarded Boyd one of the first Dean’s Awards for Mentoring.

"I've applied the same approach in working with students that I used with those I supervised in industry," Boyd said. "I've viewed students as partners in my research. I really tried to bring them in and hopefully get them excited about the work we were doing in the lab. The difference in being a mentor versus a manager is that you can really take a broad and long-term interest in people and their personal development, not just in some task that they are doing."

Last summer, he offered his assistance to CERC founder Myers. The two began talking about developing a position aimed at getting the new center integrated more fully into the Duke community. Now, Boyd is leading that charge.

"One thing that really drew me back to academics is the great joy I find in teaching and mentoring students," he said.

Boyd holds a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering and a master's in bioengineering from Clemson University. He also has a master's degree in engineering management from Christian Brothers University and, as of this summer, a doctorate in biomedical engineering from Duke. In addition to his CERC position, Boyd is also an adjunct professor for the biomedical engineering department and the masters of engineering management program.