Story: Tyler Strand, UI Center for Advancement
A UI College of Pharmacy alumna inspires innovation through funding an entrepreneurial program.
A willingness to adapt, take risks, and seek new solutions empowered Miekeleen D. (Turnmire) Hart (79BSPh) throughout a successful 30-year career in the pharmaceutical industry. The University of Iowa College of Pharmacy alumna is inspiring this same innovative spirit in current pharmacy students through the Hart Entrepreneurial Program.
The program provides opportunities for entrepreneurial-minded UI College of Pharmacy students to receive funding, support, and mentorship for their innovative ideas and projects—including using artificial intelligence to expedite drug discovery and supplementing or replacing medication through nutrition and exercise.
An Eye for Innovation
Hart experienced resistance to change as a pharmacy intern, which steered her toward a career in the pharmaceutical industry—and spurred her drive for innovation. “There were processes and approaches you did in community pharmacy because that was the standard of care at the time,” said Hart. “But as you experienced them, you knew they weren’t very effective. Trying to influence a change was challenging, and I did not have the ‘tools’ to influence other health care providers to try something different.”
Throughout her tenures with Eli Lilly and Merck, Hart was inspired by the complexity and ever-changing nature of health care as she sought new ways to improve patient care. In 2006, she founded MDK Consulting to provide strategy development and implementation consulting services to health care companies considering new commercial models. Hart’s experiences fostered her vision for an entrepreneurial program at Iowa, and she gained additional inspiration from fellow members of the college’s executive leadership board and Dean Don Letendre’s forward-thinking curriculum to modernize the College of Pharmacy.
“There was a need to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship within the college,” said Hart. “There’s a part of the college’s culture that needed to change in order to do that; you have to have stimulation, coaching, and reinforcement from faculty to encourage students to foster innovative approaches and take initiative to approach patient care differently.”
The Genesis of a Committee
In fall 2019, Hart, Kayla Sanders—the college’s alumni relations coordinator—and a seven-member advisory committee of recent pharmacy graduates with entrepreneurial experience from the college’s Genesis Board volunteered to provide that guidance.
Co-chairs Matthew Farley (15PharmD) and Dayton Trent (19PharmD) organized an online resource bank, developed an application process, and created a scoring system for the student projects. The committee began monthly meetings with Hart and Sanders, built off the successful principles of the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center’s Hawkeye Startup Accelerator program, including a mentoring system and networking opportunities, and established award money allotments.
“A lot of other programs tend to be essentially a grant,” said Farley. “We wanted this to be more about inspiring students to get into an entrepreneurial mindset in pharmacy and think about what they could do to institute change through innovative businesses.”
The program launched in January 2020, and applicants submitted an online application and short video detailing their business plan. This past spring, each applicant was assigned an advisor to help develop their plan before presenting a pitch deck to Hart and the committee. Two applicants received funding and will present their progress this fall at a showcase for current pharmacy students, Genesis Board members, and the college’s executive leadership board.
“This program provides unique business insight to students while augmenting their public speaking and communication skills,” said Trent. “These acquired skills advance students’ startups and their future careers.”
Redefining Health Care
Matthew Yeates and Aaron McDonough had a head start on their business idea.
They’d had many discussions about their passion for integrating lifestyle coaching into pharmacy, using exercise and nutrition to supplement or replace medication in treating patients. Both recently started a class, Sustainable Clinical Pharmacy Services, which required developing a business plan. “We’d talked about exercise and nutrition and how it relates to pharmacy,” said McDonough. “How it can lead people off medications as opposed to putting them on more and how that’s not discussed too often in pharmacy.”
The Hart Entrepreneurial Program provided a perfect opportunity to formulate a plan for their business idea, Rejuvenescence Life, which aims to empower patients in their health care.
“We want to take a preventative approach to health and medicine by implementing lifestyle changes and serving as a coach for our patients,” said Yeates. “We focus on making a journey that’s paved by the individual through techniques like motivational interviewing to help empower the patient to drive their own health care. People are more motivated to make changes that they thought of.”
...Exercise and nutrition ... can lead people off medications as opposed to putting them on more and ... that’s not discussed too often in pharmacy.”
Entering their final year of pharmacy school, Yeates and McDonough plan to pursue certifications in functional medicine and are developing another business plan to create a pharmacy that implements Rejuvenescence Life’s vision. This business plan was one of three finalists chosen by the National Community Pharmacists Association to present at its annual convention in October.
By submitting their application for the Hart Entrepreneurial Program, Yeates and McDonough gained a network of mentors, a sounding board, and the structure to develop their business plan. “There are so many opportunities and doors that can be opened for you, but you need to get to that door,” said McDonough. “Do everything you can as a student because these opportunities won’t always exist in the real world when you’re outside the university.”
Matt Stahl leveraged the guidance of the UI Pharmacy community before gaining additional support through the Hart Entrepreneurial Program. A former intern at NuCara Pharmacy, Stahl met with NuCara pharmacist Robbie Schwenker (12PharmD) to discuss his business idea and the two joined forces to create Steel Therapeutics, Inc. The business will use an artificial intelligence application for drug discovery, focusing on products with proven efficacy and patient use to increase patient access to life-changing medications for conditions, such as anal fissures, hemorrhoids, and anal sphincter spasm.
“It will drastically reduce the risk of pursuing FDA approval when patients are already demonstrating that a product is safe and effective,” said Stahl. “We just need to develop the clinical trials to prove this on a higher scale to achieve FDA approval.”
The funding gave me the opportunity to take a calculated risk to go all in.
Initial feedback from Hart and the committee helped Stahl develop his vision from a rough YouTube video into a structured and professional venture. “That was the turning point for me where I realized Robbie and I were on to something worth chasing,” said Stahl. Advisor Samm Anderegg (11PharmD) helped Stahl get his ideas on paper and provided insight for investor pitch decks, marketing and development, and networking.
Stahl and Schwenker recently finalized a partnership with a manufacturer for their first product and are working with a patent attorney to initiate its patent application development. They’re also contacting investors for funding and used their initial grant funds toward an intellectual property analysis to ensure their project is viable. “Miek and this program allowed me break the glass ceiling,” said Stahl. “The funding gave me the opportunity to take a calculated risk to go all in.”
This fall, the College of Pharmacy will launch the second year of the Hart Entrepreneurial Program. As it continues to grow, Hart hopes the program becomes more integrated and cross functional across health care disciplines, while also inspiring other alumni to fund additional entrepreneurial opportunities within the college and university.
As the College of Pharmacy enters its first full school year in a new building that’s designed to encourage collaboration and community, Letendre credits those same values in the creation and successful first year of the Hart Entrepreneurial Program.
“The tremendous efforts of Miek, Kayla, and our Genesis Board committee members has made the Hart Entrepreneurial Program a successful incubator for new ideas,” said Letendre.
“This program aligns with our college’s mission to advance education, patient care, and discovery by encouraging innovation and mentoring thought leaders in pharmacy."