WashU entrepreneurs sparkle at Pipeline’s Innovator of the Year event

WashU grad Michelle Faits was named Innovator of the Year and three other WashU entrepreneurs were recognized at Pipeline Entrepreneurs’ capstone event.

The Pipeline Entrepreneurs program helps startup founders build high-growth companies.

On January 26, Michelle Faits, PhD ’16, was named “Innovator of the Year” at the group’s annual awards ceremony. She is the CEO of Pro-Arc Diagnostics in St. Louis. The company is developing a better way to monitor virulent and nonvirulent forms of the John Cunningham Virus, allowing patients to safely receive immunomodulatory therapies.

“When I was getting my PhD at Washington University, I saw all of the entrepreneurial activity that was happening in St. Louis and wanted to be a part of it,” Faits says. She served as a board member for BioEntrepreneurship Core, a networking group at the university that promoted entrepreneurship and scientific innovation. Plus, Faits started working with medical student Paul Gamble; Dana Watt, then a fellow PhD student in the Division of Biology & Biomedical Sciences and now a postdoctoral fellow at the Skandalaris Center; and James Sorrell, venture analyst at the Skandalaris Center, on commercializing a test for patients with multiple sclerosis.

The team won the 2015 National Institutes of Health (NIH) Neuro Startup Challenge, a biotech startup competition to commercialize promising brain-related discoveries. More than 70 teams competed.

With that win under her belt, Faits applied to be a Pipeline Entrepreneurs fellow in January 2016. Each year, Pipeline admits only a dozen high-potential entrepreneurs to their fellowship program, which blends workshops, mentoring by national experts, and networking to develop business leaders and innovators.

“My year with Pipeline was awesome,” Faits says. “The greatest part about it is having access to other smart, driven entrepreneurs who are starting their own companies. When I would go to Pipeline modules and see my fellows doing so many great things, I was inspired to continue improving (Pro-Arc) and making it the best it could be.”

Also honored at the Pipeline event was Ravi Chacko, an MD/PhD candidate at Washington University in St. Louis. Chacko was recognized as a Pipeline University Spotlight Entrepreneur for his work with Mindset, an app that improves mental health using wearables and mobile tech.

“We’re currently working on a grant to test Mindset’s effect in veterans,” Chacko says. “We’re also working with Jay Piccirillo, MD, professor of Otolaryngology at the School of Medicine, and two other translational research grant students, to test Mindset on tinnitus patients.”

Chacko is an alumnus of Internet entrepreneur Jason Calacanis’ Launch Incubator and a founding member of Sling HealthTM (formerly IDEA Labs), a student-run biotech incubator at the university whose companies raised over $4 million in three years.

WashU grad Sarah Mirth, founder of furniture company Artifox, was also honored, winning in the Top Pitch category.

Rounding out Washington University entrepreneurs represented at the event is Joe Fischer. Fischer was selected to be a fellow in the Pipeline program for his startup Greetabl, a personalized online gift-giving service.

According to Pipeline’s website, since the program started in 2006, fellows have gone on to raise more than $292 million in venture capital, their companies have generated nearly $1 billion in revenue and have created more than 1,000 jobs. St. Louis joined the program in 2014.