“Microbes, like humans, are stronger together than they could ever be alone”

Beyond the PhD recently had the pleasure of hosting Dr. Jared Kehe, co-founder and Chief Scientific Officer (CSO) of Concerto Biosciences, a company focused on creating microbial ensembles to rehabilitate poorly functioning microbiomes with impacts from human health to the food industry. Dr. Kehe pulls on his foundational background in bioengineering, particularly his PhD work developing the kChip, to lead his startup toward discovering microbes working in concert.

Dr. Kehe spoke about the process of taking research and technology developed during his graduate work and turning it into the basis of his company. This transition from academic work into the industrial sector imposes a mindset shift for the whys and hows of research. One of the key shifts is the incentive structure: the focus of research shifts toward where a market need is seen and it is necessary to adapt from basic scientific concepts to a true demand for a product. Within this shift, there needs to be a consideration of the gap in the market where current products fail and a new, better product can be introduced. Dr. Kehe shared this valuable insight while discussing his own shift from the development of a high-throughput microfluidic screening device (kChip) to answer basic questions surrounding microbial interactions toward using this screen to discover microbial “ensembles”—combinations of microbes that can be deployed as therapeutics against diseases like eczema, a condition that lacks a safe and efficacious long-term solution. 

As a CSO, Dr. Kehe interfaces with many individuals. He provides the expertise in regard to technology and vision of the company to potential investors and serves as the point of contact for vendors and contract research organizations to effectively communicate the development of the science and technology. Additionally, Dr. Kehe points out that in the rising field of microbiome research, industry is highly collaborative, so talking with CSOs, CEOs, and scientists at other companies is a normal task. 

In our discussion, Dr. Kehe emphasized the importance of teamwork in industry: from day one of a startup, it is all about strategic delegation of roles and responsibilities across the team. Unlike academia, where collaboration and teamwork is beneficial but not necessary to accomplish your research, industry, and in particular startups, rely on the proper support structure of the team behind the company. When asked how one should go about building the startup team, especially finding people fit for roles such as business advisors, Dr. Kehe spoke of the crucial role networking plays in meeting the right people. One of the pivotal networking opportunities that aided in building his own startup team was through Nucleate (https://nucleate.xyz/), a program geared towards educating and mentoring the next generation of bioentrepreneurs. Nucleate has several locations around the country and offers resources and training to biotech founders. Outside of this program, Dr. Kehe suggests looking for workshops or clubs in your area that teach about entrepreneurship and offer networking events to kickstart the move into industry. 

Lastly, a big question and potentially a concern for people thinking about creating a startup is where funding is going to come from. Dr. Kehe gave great examples of how to kickstart funding: grants through the NSF or NIH, local competitions for startups, angel investors, and venture capital firms. Highlighted in his talk was the Activate Fellowship (https://www.activate.org/home/), a two year fellowship that provides mentorship and funding to help turn a technology concept into a product. Currently under this fellowship, Dr. Kehe spoke of the immense benefit this program has had in creating Concerto Biosciences and providing support to him as a co-founder. If looking to undergo your own shift from academia to creating a startup, Dr. Kehe’s take home advice is to look for resources to educate you about entrepreneurship, and to further look into some of the resources highlighted in this piece.

To learn more about Dr. Jared Kehe and the exciting work of Concerto Biosciences, listen to the full interview under the “Videos” section of our website or check out the company website at https://www.concertobio.com/.

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