Mentoring: A Key Ingredient for Success Outside of Major Biotech Centers

Raising capital for a startup is a major undertaking—especially in the highly regulated, capital-intensive field of diagnostics. The challenge is multiplied for startups based far outside of major centers of biomedical innovation. But there’s good news for New Orleans: a mentor with expertise, experience, and an open door can make a huge difference.

Dr. Sudhir Sinha, InnoGenomics Technologies’ CEO and President, has invented innovative genetic testing solutions for forensic and medical use. An initial clinical trial is showing that InnoGenomics’ cancer diagnostic tool can detect a treatment’s effectiveness within two to three weeks of starting a new drug—instead of waiting three months for a radiological examination. This streamlined algorithm could enable patients to avoid the continued costs and side effects of a drug that’s not working.

“Right now we are working on colorectal cancer to do the trial,” said Dr. Sinha. “But there’s a lot of literature to support that the test can be applied to any solid tumor, like breast cancer and lung cancer.”

InnoGenomics is not Dr. Sinha’s first experience with commercialization. He previously founded and sold ReliaGene Technologies, which created multiple molecular diagnostic tests and PCR amplification genotyping kits for use in forensics.

In looking back on his entrepreneurial success, Dr. Sinha points to the good advice he received. As a Tulane University professor in the early 1990s, he was raising funds for work on a protein marker he suspected played a role in cancer metastasis. But he got advised to go in a different direction.

“I went to Washington, talked to a few people about venture capital, and at that time biotech was pretty hot. Everyone was getting funding,” he said. “But one of the investors suggested to me that forensics DNA testing is coming up and is very, very exciting and you have all the expertise in the field. Why don’t you start a forensics DNA company to generate some revenue while you do research on this diagnostic?”

With that advice, Dr. Sinha and his associates pivoted to forensics and paternity. He started ReliaGene Technologies, a private lab, and quickly grew from two employees to 100. Again, good advice played a role—this time from the late Dr. Ronald Schroeder at the College of Business at Loyola University New Orleans.

“I said, I have no idea how to start a business, and he was another very helpful person to me,” said Dr. Sinha. “I am so indebted to him.” Dr. Schroeder put a team of five MBA students together and charged them with developing a business and marketing plan for his company.

Now, Dr. Sinha pays it forward. He is committed to encouraging federal and private funders to send more capital to New Orleans innovators, just one reason why the Downtown Development District honored him this year for his exceptional contributions to the city’s commercial progress. And he freely offers advice on grant applications, business accounting, and other challenging topics to startups.

“Other companies keep their doors closed,” said Dr. Sinha. “My door is always open. People can come in and ask me questions anytime.”

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