Selected Students and Faculty

Maria Vasco (’20 Environmental Science)

School for the Environment major Maria Vasco is the first-ever recipient of UMass Boston’s Entrepreneur Scholarship. In addition to the scholarship, she is being mentored by the scholarship’s founder, Dan Phillips, for the next two years. Phillips, an advisor in the Venture Development Center, recently sold his 6-year-old company, CloudHealth Technologies, to VMware for $500 million. “That’s exactly what I needed – someone with experience to give me advice.” Vasco says the award is just as critical to her growth as a budding entrepreneur. “It’s going to help me pay for my next semester, and that actually gives me a lot more free time to focus on school and on my business interests (opening a store with compostable products in plastic-free packaging). Before, I worked to help pay for my tuition, and now with this scholarship, that takes a lot of weight off my shoulders.”

Visit Maria Vasco

Hacer Demiroers (’11 Management)

Hacer Demiroers has carved out an impressive niche on the Sales Operations front lines — helping a series of businesses build revenue-generation machines. Today, she is the director of Sales Operations at Datadog, which has emerged as one of the hottest startups in the tech industry. And someday, she would like to try her hand at running a business of her own. While at UMass Boston, she took advantage of work done by the VDC’s first entrepreneur-in-residence, Dan Phillips who steered her and 125 other students into careers they never knew existed. “My internship at OutStart played a huge role in my career.”

Roland Price (’19, Information Technology)

When the New England Venture Capital Association (NEVCA) partnered with the VDC to launch Hack.Diversity in 2016, they did so with the goal of addressing the underrepresentation of high-skilled minority employees in Boston’s tech industry. After selecting 10 UMass Boston students to represent their 2018 fellows, NEVCA moved forward with this goal. UMass Boston junior Roland Price said he was “ecstatic” when he found out that he was chosen as one of the 2018 fellows. “Not a whole lot of opportunities existed like this before Hack.Diversity.”

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Jill Macoska, Professor of Biology, Alton J. Brann Chair

Jill Macoska, a Boston Business Journal Women to Watch in Science and Technology, is the founding director of the Center for Personalized Cancer Therapy, an ambitious translational research venture with the Dana Farber Cancer Institute which has leveraged over $40,000,000 in NIH research funding. “When I first got to the VDC, I was surrounded by startups, and I was really learning how startups are formed, how they become sustained, the kind of business models they have to develop to be competitive, how they get their funding, all of that stuff. I got a better understanding of how to commercialize the biomarkers the center is developing.”

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Alexander Winnett (’16, Biochemistry)

Alexander Winnett is now an MD/PhD candidate at the University of California Los Angeles. While at UMass Boston as a biochemistry major, he put himself through school through scholarships and internships. One arranged by the VDC, a 17-month PreClinical Research Internship at Visterra Inc., helped him find his path, researching new ways to treat infectious diseases. There, he helped engineer a humanized anti-dengue virus monoclonal antibody. He received the John F. Kennedy Award for Academic Excellence, the highest honor given to UMass Boston graduates.

Kimberly Hamad Schifferli, Associate Professor of Engineering

Hamad-Schifferli and her team developed a paper strip similar to a pregnancy test to rapidly detect the outbreak of infectious diseases. This breakthrough was published in the journal Science Translational Medicine. Hamad-Schifferli needed to win an internal grant to work on the next steps toward commercialization of these tests. A few practice presentations with her and graduate student Cristina Rodriguez is all it took. “It will take about a year to get the test out on the market in Zika-impacted areas.”

Marc Pomplun, Professor of Computer Science

“My industrial experience in software engineering is rather thin, and so I’d be very grateful if you could help make the course (Introduction to Software Engineering) more current and more relevant to real-world software engineering,” Pomplun says modestly. Enter VDC entrepreneurs Itzu Chen (PillPack), Lere Williams (GitHub), Nam Chu Hoai (Wellframe), and Srinath Vaddepally (RistCall) who built a new syllabus and lectured in the course with Dr.Pomplun.

Visit Marc Pomplun

Haydy George, Emal Lesha, Jurgen Poci and Rebeca Cortazio (’16, Biology)

Luhan Yang’s first request upon arriving at the VDC from the George Church’s lab at Harvard Medical School was for talented and highly skilled interns. UMass Boston biology students Emal Lesha, Haydy George, Jurgen Poci and Rebeca Cortazio helped her with a publication in Science. Her startup, eGenesis, has since raised $38 million from ARCH Venture Partners after successfully using the gene-editing tool CRISPR to knock out a key virus in piglets, a move that could lead to pig-organ transplants for humans. Emal remarked: “I always attribute my success to you helping me get that internship at eGenesis.”

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