For EMBA Alumna, Yale SOM Was Key to Launching Biotech Firm

The timing couldn’t have been better. When Wendy Davis ’14 enrolled in the Entrepreneurial Business Planning course during her second year in Yale SOM’s MBA for Executives program, she had just found a medical technology that she wanted to use to launch a new company, and she needed a business plan—fast.

“Maureen Burke’s business planning class covered the nuts and bolts of building a plan and performing all the due diligence required,” Davis says. “My whole academic background was science, so I really needed the direction.”

Davis’s company, GestVision, was developing a simple urine test, based on the work of former Yale School of Medicine professor Irina Buhimschi, M.D., that can detect preeclampsia in pregnant women more accurately than current methods. Characterized by symptoms of high blood pressure and urine protein, preeclampsia is potentially a very serious, even fatal, condition. GestVision’s inexpensive test could greatly improve detection of preeclampsia, impacting high rates of premature births in the U.S. and maternal mortality in the developing world.

In the Entrepreneurial Business Planning course, Davis pulled together a strategy for the new venture, and she entered Rice University’s 2014 Business Plan Competition. “We received tremendous feedback,” Davis says. “The story was resonating.”

And it kept resonating. Later the same year, GestVision received $100,000 in seed funding from the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute (YEI) Innovation Fund; won the CTNext Entrepreneur Innovation Award, which came with a $10,000 grant; and received a UConn-DECD Accelerator Fund grant of $50,000. The seed money is being used to fund the creation of a prototype test, says Davis, GestVision's CEO. “We’ve had terrific reactions from physicians, who will be able to use this simple test right in their offices,” she says. “Our hope is to improve diagnoses, cut unnecessary hospitalizations and unnecessary premature deliveries, and ultimately lower healthcare costs.”

The executive MBA program helped me fill in the gaps in my education and put me in touch with the incredible resources for entrepreneurs at Yale.

Davis already had experience in the biotech sector when she came to Yale SOM. She was vice president of intellectual property and portfolio management for HistoRx, a Yale startup that was acquired by Novartis in 2012, just as Davis was starting the MBA for Executives program.

“I knew I wanted to start a new company, but I knew that I first needed solid business skills,” she says. “The executive MBA program helped me fill in the gaps in my education and put me in touch with the incredible resources for entrepreneurs at Yale.”

At Yale SOM, Davis wanted to build her financial, strategic planning, and leadership skills, she says. Through class projects and colloquia with leaders in the healthcare sector, Davis says, she was exposed to real business problems and ways of approaching them.

The connections Davis made at Yale have also been crucial. She learned about Buhimschi’s preeclampsia research through YEI and the Yale Office of Cooperative Research. “I knew it was the right research at the right time,” she says.

Davis then tapped the talents and experience of her classmates to assemble the GestVision team, which includes Rob Martin ’14, Beth DeStephens ’14, Blake O’Shaughnessy ’14, and Belinda Ker ’14. “We put together a great team with a great diversity of skills sets,” she says. “And a couple of professors still serve as advisors.”

To survive in the biotechnology field, Davis says, you need not just the right product, but the right mentors and leadership. “GestVision couldn’t have happened without Yale,” Davis says. “We are deeply tied to the university.”