Rochester Rising’s first event, Women’s Demo Night, was meant to demonstrate the emergence of entrepreneurs in Rochester and highlight the strong female leadership the city can look towards. Demo nights are usually tech-centric events, where entrepreneurs walk through how their product works to provide an innovative solution. While the four female entrepreneurs who spoke at Women’s Demo Night may not have all been fully in the tech field, they completely represented the diversity and range of Rochester’s innovation community right now. This is another step forward in sharing the stories of the people taking risks in Rochester and demonstrating that people are stepping forward and starting things in this city. These are the stories we feel need to be told.
Shruthi Naik, Founder and VP, Comparative Oncology at Vyriad
Vyriad is an expanding biopharmaceutical company in Rochester that’s utilizing technology developed in the Mayo Clinic’s Department of Molecular Medicine to treat cancer. Vyriad’s oncolytic viral therapies are delivered through Vesicular Stomatitis Virus and measles oncolytic platforms. Patients receive the treatments intravenously, allowing the virus to selectively infect and amplify within tumor cells. Infected tumor cells are eventually killed by the virus and the resultant tumor fragments cleaned up by the immune system to eradicate the cancer. Vyriad partnered with Mayo Clinic for preclinical studies of their therapies. The company’s products are currently at the clinical stage. Vyriad has several clinical trials running or soon to launch treating patients with a variety of cancers including: solid tumors, multiple myeloma, T cell lymphoma, and lung and bladder cancers. Many of these trials will be run at Mayo Clinic. One patient, Stacy Erholtz, has been particularly vocal about her treatment experience with Vyriad therapeutics. Erholtz battled multiple myeloma for ten years, received two bone marrow transplants, and failed every available therapy. She participated in a clinical trial as a last resort, receiving a single high dose of the Vyriad measles platform. Erholtz went into remission following treatment and has been cancer free for three years.
Brittany Baker and Amanda Steele, Owners of MedCity Doulas
Doulas offer physical, emotional, and educational support for women during pregnancy, birth, and post-partum. Doulas are distinct from midwives and receive no medical school training. Instead, they can work to make the birth process a positive experience through things like holding the mother’s hand and offering words of encouragement. Post-partum doulas can aid mothers anywhere from six weeks to two years after birth. These doulas provide education, especially for first time mothers, and work to complement the support and parenting style already in place. Post-partum doulas may also make meals, grocery shop, do laundry, and provide any other help a new mom needs. Baker and Steele founded MedCity Doulas in July 2016 as a doula agency to help decrease the doula burnout rate- which is two years outside of the agency model- and elevate other women in the profession. Steele has been a doula for six years and has a Health Education background. Baker has a background in design and learned about doulas during her second pregnancy, where Steele was her doula. MedCity Doulas is currently in the building and education phase. Only 5% of mothers currently receive doula care. Baker and Steele hope to increase that number to 40% over the next five years. Now, they’re tasked with educating their market and explaining how all mothers could benefit from a doula.
Alaa Koleilat, Founder of GoAudio
Twenty percent of Americans report some degree of hearing loss. However, they are often unaware of the full degree of hearing reduction due to low screening rates in the United States. Hearing tests are performed in elementary school children, but hearing threshold levels in adults are not examined until noticeable loss occurs. Once hearing is damaged it cannot be regained, making hearing loss prevention pivotal. Mayo Graduate student Alaa Koleilat and her team of Mayo Clinic specialists hope to solve this problem with GoAudio. Koleilat’s graduate research centers on genetic hearing loss; she looks to take her passion to patients with GoAudio. GoAudio uses iPad technology and noise cancelling headphones to provide portable, accessible hearing screening. The GoAudio app examines hearing threshold levels in users, asking them to press down and hold a button until a certain tone can no longer be head. The higher the threshold level recorded, the more challenging it is for the patient to hear that tone. The GoAudio team aims to have their screening tool implemented as part of an annual physical exam. The product is still in the early developmental stages, with the major focus on functionality. GoAudio hopes to soon launch a pilot study at Mayo Clinic comparing results from the app to hearing tests administered by audiologists. Koleilat says there are numerous applications for this product, perhaps even a suite of medical screening tools.
Tessa Leung, CEO of Grand Rounds Brewing Company
Grand Rounds CEO and Stewartville native Tessa Leung has been an entrepreneur in Rochester for a long time. Leung has a BSN/RN degree and worked as a nurse for several years at Mayo Clinic. However, she always dreamed of being a chef. After six years in medicine, Leung attended the Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts and studied to become a level two sommelier. In 2006, she opened a restaurant called Sontes in downtown Rochester and runs a wine shop, called Tessa’s Office. When Sontes closed its doors, the 150-year-old space was revamped and reopened as Grand Rounds Brewing Company on April 15, 2015. Most readers have (hopefully) tasted some locally brewed craft beer. But how much do you know about the brewing process? As Leung explained, beer is an alcoholic beverage that’s made from malted cereal grain- called barley- gets flavored by hops, and is brewed by slow fermentation with yeast. There are two types of beers: ales and lagers. Grand Rounds primarily brews ales, using a warm fermentation system and top fermenting yeast. Several key ingredients go into making beer, including: water, roasted barley, hops, and of course yeast. Water is highly regional and can really make or break a product. Rochester’s water has some of the highest mineral content in the US, which Leung said can be problematic to brew certain styles of beer. Hops, which Leung says are getting increasingly more difficult to source, provide flavor, bitterness, and smells to the beer. The Grand Rounds brewing process begins bright and early, at 6AM, and includes equipment like a boil kettle, wort chiller, and mash tun. Grand Round’s fermentation chiller, the place where the yeast is added, is actually a white wine fermenter. Leung explained that the normal conical beer fermenters would not fit with the shape of the building, so they had to get creative “because that’s what entrepreneurs do.” The ingredients are crushed, boiled, separated, extracted, pumped, fermented, and carbonated to get to the final product. Leung recommends consuming craft beer within four to six weeks after carbonation for the freshest taste.