From Cancer Researcher to Medical Entrepreneur

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Stephanie Wisner

From Cancer Researcher to Medical Entrepreneur

Meet Stephanie Wisner. She was planning to become a doctor when she serendipitously signed up for an I-Corps short course.

What did you originally plan to do after graduating from Cornell University in 2016?

I earned a degree in chemistry and chemical biology and spent a lot of time researching anti-cancer therapies. I always pictured myself becoming an oncologist but was dragging my feet a little. Although I was interested in helping better treat human disease, I wasn’t sure that what I wanted out of life lined up well with the reality of what being a physician requires

What changed your plans?

I started to learn more about entrepreneurship and how it’s possible to solve huge problems through building businesses. By meeting several successful entrepreneurs, reading entrepreneurship books, watching online lectures and listening to podcasts, I began to imagine how business approaches could be used to bring new scientific ideas to market. This cumulated with my return to Cornell to attend an I-Corps Short Course. The instructor, Brad Treat, introduced me to entrepreneurial thinking for scientists. He encouraged me to continue to think about the problem of cancer through an entrepreneurial lens as opposed to a solely scientific approach.

Stephanie Wisner and Brad Treat
Stephanie Wisner and Brad Treat

What was your team’s innovation for the I-Corps Short Course?

My team created a technology to help oncologists select an effective cancer medicine for a particular patient’s cancer ahead of time. I didn’t move forward with it at the end of the course because I realized there were several existing ways to offer the same value proposition and many of the alternative solutions were connected to regulation and were more likely to be accepted.

What was the most valuable thing you learned in the I-Corps Short Course?

The course was life-changing because it helped solidify an entirely new way of thinking based on real-world problem solving. I was encouraged to be creative and think boldly about the problem, and then validate my ideas through a systematic approach. I was introduced to core principles like market segmentation, target market selection, and value proposition. Ultimately, all of these principles boil down to strategic thinking, which I realized through I-Corps, can be leveraged to treat human disease. Traditionally, academic science is kept separate from real-world application or commercialization, and I realized that entrepreneurship could be part of the solution.

What do you plan to do next with your I-Corps experience?

I am a part-time business student at University of Chicago Booth. I also work with scientific start-ups, helping to bring creative and bold scientific innovations to market. These new products could be life-saving, but they need to be brought to market strategically. I use the critical thinking methods that I learned in I-Corps daily.