10 Questions w/ César de la Fuente — Presidential Assistant Professor @ UPenn
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César de la Fuente
César de la Fuente is the Presidential Assistant Professor of Bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania. There, he leads the Machine Biology Group whose goal is to combine the power of machines and biology to study, detect, and treat infectious diseases. Current application areas in the lab include developing novel approaches for antibiotic discovery, building tools for microbiome engineering, and creating low-cost diagnostics.
He has been recognized by MIT Technology Review in 2019 as one of the world’s top innovators for “digitizing evolution to make better antibiotics”, as well as the inaugural recipient of the Langer Prize (2019), the Nemirovsky Prize (2020), and the ACS Infectious Diseases Young Investigator Award (2020). In addition, he has been named an ACS 2020 Kavli Emerging Leader in Chemistry (2020, a Boston Latino 30 Under 30 (2016), a Wunderkind by STAT News (2018), and a Top 10 MIT Technology Review Innovator Under 35 (Spain) (2016). His scientific discoveries have yielded over 80 peer-reviewed publications, including papers in Nature Communications, PNAS, ACS Nano, Cell, Nature Communications Biology, and multiple patents.
Learn more about César de la Fuente’s work on BIOS Frontier Science:
We sat down with César de la Fuente to ask his viewpoints on everything from entrepreneurial lab culture, what he looks for in new research topics, to advice on building companies…
What advice would you give to founders working with University Tech Transfer looking to spinout out a company?
“Fluid communication regarding the status of the invention. Make sure the eventual patent is broad.”
Can you describe your process for vetting new ideas to pursue in your lab?
“We try to fail fast. We are not afraid of pursuing entirely new areas and unusual ideas. Most of them don’t work but the ones that do have the potential to be breakthroughs.”
How do you establish an effective entrepreneurial lab culture?
“We love publishing scientific papers but that is not all we want to do. We aspire to develop technologies that will help improve the world. To achieve this, to take anything into the real world, we need a vehicle and entrepreneurship acts as that vehicle.”
What advice would you give to professors trying to entrepreneurialize their labs?
“Work on concepts, ideas, and projects that have translational potential.”
Outside of academia, what is one seemingly random activity that helps make you a better researcher?
“I love to read books and play soccer semi-professionally, among other things. Books help me expand my horizons, and soccer helps me value the power of teams.”
How do you identify the point at which a scientific discovery is ripe for commercialization?
“Once you have published an impactful and meaningful paper demonstrating efficacy and safety data in vitro and in animal models and have filed IP through the university (Penn Center for Innovation).”
What advice can you give to academics raising their first round of venture funding?
“Believe in yourself and your idea. If your idea addresses a real problem in the world, funding will most likely follow.”
What advice would you give to business professionals looking to get in contact/help commercialize startups spinning out of academia?
“Establish relationships early with academic labs of interest. A lot of innovation is taking place in academia, but oftentimes is overlooked, and could constitute the foundation for a new company.”
What advice would you give to professors in balancing founding a company and continuing to pursue academic research?
“I would say compartmentalization and time management are key!”
What has been the most helpful piece of advice you received throughout your career as an academic entrepreneur?
“ Never give up.”
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❤️ Thanks Andrew Yashar for your help in putting this together :)
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