January 27, 2020

Azadeh Khanicheh: Founding her way as a medical device entrepreneur

Azadeh Khanicheh spent more than a decade working for mid-sized and large medical device companies in Massachusetts. She led multiple innovation programs on different portfolios of medical devices and evaluated new technologies during this period. The purview of working in industry provided Azadeh significant experience working with physicians and better understanding clinical needs for endoscopic surgeries. Working within the Massachusetts life sciences ecosystem enabled her to realize she could launch a startup with the potential to meet those needs by developing innovative solutions.

“In Massachusetts, you have so many resources, even at the onset of starting a company, to tap into,” said Azadeh. “Moreover, from the periphery, as an individual entrepreneur, you witness many others taking the leap in starting their own company. These are companies of one or two people, which helps shake any initial fear and to realize that path is possible for you also.”

Azadeh is the Founder and President of EnVision Endoscopy, Inc., which is developing a novel suturing device for use in procedures that have traditionally required intensive care, long and costly hospital stays, and high rates of morbidity and mortality.  According to the World Health Organization, there are over 3.4 million new cases of gastrointestinal (GI) cancer diagnosed every year worldwide, which is approximately 20 percent of all new cancer cases. Endoluminal surgery is a less invasive endoscopic alternative to surgical resection of cancerous or pre-cancerous lesions. The therapeutic site, accessed with flexible endoscopes through natural body orifices without incisions, can result in faster patient recovery, reduced number of days at the hospital, and an overall reduced cost of care.

EnVision Endoscopy was one of five, women-led companies to receive $87,500 in funding and access to a network of executive coaches for a year as part of the second round of the Massachusetts Life Science Center’s (MLSC) Massachusetts Next Generation Initiative (MassNextGen). The program identifies promising women-led life sciences companies and provides critical funding and access to a robust panel of executive coaches to ensure that they have important resources to succeed.

Azadeh strongly credits MassNextGen toward sustaining the progress of her medical device startup. Shortly after becoming a MassNextGen awardee, EnVision Endoscopy also received a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant. The combination proved essential in building the company’s prototype. Azadeh and her team are hopeful for a first animal study this coming spring.

“MassNextGen was the first entity to take a chance on us,” said Azadeh. “Very similar to many other startups, we had the solution, but needed the funding. If this funding didn’t come through, I do not know how much longer we could have continued to pursue this idea.”

In a short amount of time, the company and its founder have come a long way. Azadeh also has high praise for the executive coaching component of MassNextGen. The MLSC has leveraged the region’s substantial network of seasoned entrepreneurs, investors and life science experts to create an executive coaching network. MassNextGen coaches are passionate about diversifying life science entrepreneurship and generously donate their time to coaching sessions throughout the year.

The coaching and expanded networking opportunities were vital for Azadeh, who already had access to a network of physicians and engineers from her time in industry, but this was not the case for the investment community. It also allowed her to gain the confidence as an entrepreneur and leader of a company.

“For me the mission is always more important than who is CEO,” said Azadeh. “So one of the first things I was willing to do was bring someone else in to lead the company. However, hearing from seasoned entrepreneurs, who in some cases were in my shoes previously, reassured me and empowered me to understand that I know this field and have the qualities of what this company needs to succeed.”

Massachusetts has proven an ideal location for EnVision Endoscopy with programs and initiatives provided by the MLSC and other organizations such as the Massachusetts Medical Device Industry Council (MassMEDIC). Azadeh also credits the Commonwealth’s network of hospitals, home to key opinion leaders and pioneers in the field, and an essential partnership piece for any medical device enterprise.

“I did not realize how good Massachusetts is until my own journey,” said Azadeh. “An organization like the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center and its programs and resources does not exist in other parts of the country. In the end, this ecosystem is big. Yet when you get into it, you realize everyone knows each other and the opportunities can open up new potential and possibilities.”

The Commonwealth’s life sciences ecosystem, entrepreneurs and investors alike, benefits from a larger pool of diverse leaders with talent and bright ideas. MassNextGen aims to move the Massachusetts ecosystem visibly in that direction. With the help of sponsors Takeda, King Street Properties, and Sanofi, at least $437,500 of non-dilutive capital is available for the third year of the program. The deadline for the current application round is February 14, 2020.

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