Rising Stars: Tracking the Trajectory of Former Lefteroff Interns

by | Nov 2, 2023 | Fogarty Innovation, Lefteroff Internship

For the past decade, Fogarty Innovation has hosted the Lefteroff summer internship, drawing a group each year of enterprising young men and women  eager to delve into the dynamic field of medical innovation and related careers. The program was created to honor former board member and avid supporter of Fogarty Innovation, the late Tracy Lefteroff, an influential leader in venture capital-funded life sciences companies who was known for his commitment to mentoring and educating the next generation of students, entrepreneurs and innovators. 

Students in the internship participate in an intensive hands-on program that includes immersion with Fogarty Innovation startup companies, exposure to medical professionals and clinical medicine, and interaction with the Silicon Valley innovation ecosystem, supplemented by a core curriculum designed to introduce them to what it takes to develop medical devices. 

“Each year we are impressed with the passion and engagement we see from our interns,” said Gretchen Berstler, who manages the Lefteroff program at FI. “In addition to the exposure to the medtech ecosystem, they build bonds that keep them closely connected, and we revel in the camaraderie they maintain as they come back to celebrate successive graduations and visit with their host companies. We are always delighted to share their successes as they advance in their careers.”

Recently, two Lefteroff graduates shared their latest achievements with us: 

Emma Rens, Lefteroff Internship Class of 2022

Emma Rens had already created an impressive track record as class valedictorian and founder of her San Diego-area school’s annual hackathon. Currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering from Northwestern University, Rens was recently honored as a top BME senior student, receiving the Lyle Mockros Outstanding Student Award for her commitment to research, design and community building during her time at Northwestern. 

While with the Lefteroff program, Rens worked with Eclipse Regenesis, a Fogarty company that is developing the first tissue regeneration therapy for short bowel syndrome (SBS). She was involved in a variety of projects, including designing benchtop testing protocols and analyzing data on the spring device release profile and force curves.

As part of the internship, Rens was looking into the idea of refeeding when an infant’s intestinal tract isn’t functional, currently done manually and often only in hospital settings since it is too laborious for parents. When researching whether anyone had developed an automated product, she discovered that the existing ones are only for adults, sparking the idea to develop one for infants, targeting babies under the age of two. She asked Eclipse Regenesis CEO Andre Bessette if she could pursue this project at Northwestern, and after receiving his approval, she is now the development chair and design team leader on the project. “We’ve been following the Stanford Biodesign approach, which I learned during the Fogarty internship, beginning with the needs statement, followed by stakeholder interviews, including parents with a child with SBS and physicians,” Rens explained. 

Since the concept of manually pumping to feed isn’t well-known throughout the nation, the team has also traveled to local clinics and lectured on the importance of this tool to help prevent atrophy of the rectum and lower half of the bowel. While at Fogarty, she also learned how to do tissue testing, which has been very helpful in the prototype development process. The ultimate goal, she says, is to find a company that can help bring this pump to market for the patients who really need it. 

“When I started my internship at Fogarty, I didn’t know much about the industry, and the program really helped me understand how to tackle the difficult process of getting a device to market. Because of my time with Eclipse, I’ve been able to learn the functional test process and how to brainstorm effectively, which has been critical in helping us develop this pump,” Rens said.

John Mills, Lefteroff class of 2021 

A Bay Area native who received a bachelor of arts in biology with a minor in data science from Washington and Lee University, John Mills brought a strong foundation in leadership to the Lefteroff program. He was president of his high school senior class, president of Connolly Entrepreneurship Society and a member of the men’s varsity lacrosse team. 

During the internship, he worked with Enspectra Health, a Fogarty company that is leading a digital transformation in skin cancer pathology. His involvement included researching and recommending a path forward for its commercialization strategy, which included identifying the best FDA-approved gel to use with their device, establishing a testing protocol and investigating reimbursement strategies. 

“This experience was formative as an initial and thorough introduction to the industry,” Mills said. Among the highlights were the one-on-one mentorship provided by Enspectra CEO and president Gabriel Sanchez and COO Bill Beasley, and the friendships he developed with his fellow interns. He also appreciated the hands-on learning about compliance and other business-related subjects. “We had a really wide-ranging exposure to so many different aspects of the medical technology industry, through a diverse array of external speakers and from the Fogarty team,” he said.

Recently, Mills joined the Boston Consulting Group, and as a first-year associate, he has the opportunity to delve into all the different fields they represent before choosing where to concentrate. “We are exposed to so much during this first year that it’s a lot like my internship at Fogarty,” Mills said. “It’s exciting to have the opportunity to better understand a variety of different aspects of the field, including medtech, global health, biopharma and the larger healthcare system, in addition to other topics in different industries. Because of my time at Fogarty, I was a step ahead in understanding how complex the field is and how many different players are involved in getting a product to market. I am excited to continue exploring the industry and being part of helping improve the lives of patients and their families.”

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