The Virtual C-Suite: A Novel Model for Nurturing Start-Ups from Idea to Series A

Dr Julian Atim

Impact of the Virtual C-Suite: A Fellow’s Perspective

Photo moment for panelists of the C4 session: From Left to Right, Julian Atim, Michael Famighette, Nele van Desele, Peter Reinhardt and Karen Utgoff  (Photo credit: Narayan Sampath)

I was honored to speak on a panel at the recent Deshpande Symposium on Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Higher Education. My presentation highlighted my experience as a Business Innovation Fellow at the Institute of Applied Life Sciences.  Here is a summary of my talk about my experience as a business innovation fellow in the UMass Amherst Virtual C Suite at the Institute of Applied Life Sciences.

Selecting MBA Programs

When I was considering business school, my goal was to select a program that would create the best value for my future career goals. 

  • I was looking for a program from which I would learn through hands-on experience while creating impact. 
  • I preferred a program that would place me in a position/situation that mimicked  the real world professional life experience that would help me acquire the necessary talent for my career ambitions. 

The opportunity of serving as a fellow at the Institute of Applied Life Sciences as part of the MBA program at UMass Amherst gave me an MBA+ (i.e. an MBA with two solid years experience serving as a C level executive to a wide range of companies and startups).

C level Decision Making 

Anytime I was faced with decision dilemmas or problem solving situations, one of the key questions I asked myself was that “what resources or information I required to make a decision or solve a problem?” and “what would a CEO decide?” These questions were important because the typical CEO makes decisions and puts in effort to realize gains for a company and create impact for the people it serves. I suppose you want to know how I became a CEO.  Consequently, I learned to have the general view of a company while understanding the deep underlying issues that could enable a company to realize its long term strategic goals. 

The program gave me an opportunity to serve different roles of the C suite such as CMO, CMO, BD, CTO among others. I also got exposed to all the various aspects of product and venture development such as regulatory affairs from my colleagues who came from various professional and educational backgrounds. This created me an opportunity for cross functional team and leadership development. 

With all this learning, I provided business advising services to entrepreneurs who could not afford these priceless efforts working collaboratively with teams from diverse backgrounds and disciplines. For instance, I worked with Mary Donhoffner who had just completed a PhD in Neuroscience from UCLA, Brian McCarthy who had just completed his degree in Engineering, and Kaitylin Cahill who came to the program with enormous experience in the U.S healthcare industry. The skills my colleagues brought to the fellowship enriched my learning. 

The program exposed me to key stakeholders in the innovation ecosystem and I got deep understanding of who served in the ecosystem, in what capacities they served, and their respective strategic goals and interests. We engaged and networked with key institutions such as MassBio as well as industry. The mentorship and training we received from experts in venture development further enhanced our learning.

Next Steps After Serving in the Virtual C Suite 

The skills acquired made us competitive for the job market. For example, in interviews it held more value to say that I applied what I learned in finance to help a company to assess return on investment for prospective investors or being able to assess make vs buy situations that helped some of the companies we worked with make better production decisions. 

My colleagues have joined top companies and consulting firms. Interviewers and the people we networked with had great regard for the knowledge and skills we demonstrated, and what value we could bring to our professional work. 

The global health field where I have enormous experience has embraced Innovations and health technologies to improve quality of health in low to medium income countries. The program prepared me to have meaningful conversations with professionals from various industries. I have had great talks with industry, medical and innovations units in the Boston area. It appears there is a thirst for improving healthcare using learning from industries that have been disrupted in the past decade. 

I have been able to integrate my past experience and education in medicine, public health and now business and entrepreneurship for my dream roles. I am confident that I received an MBA plus top talent status with two solid years of C level experience in the Virtual C Suite making me ready for life after school. I look forward to applying my skills in innovations and market access for technologies in global health.

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