Jeff Welch joined the Duke Office for Translation and Commercialization (“OTC”) as Director of New Ventures in early 2021 after five years as Bioventus’ executive responsible for all corporate development activities. Jeff’s previous experiences include Smith and Nephew, Nanosyn, and Square 1 Bank, where he has participated in the development, financing, licensing, acquisition, and commercialization of innovative new technologies in multiple life science and healthcare fields.
He is passionate about new technology development and maximizing the odds new products will achieve their potential to improve human life through business success. Jeff received his PhD in Neurobiology from Duke University School of Medicine and his BS degree in Economics and Biology from Duke University.
1. What is in your pockets?
I just like to have my phone and keys and not too much else. Otherwise I started losing things.
2. What exciting thing has happened recently for you or your organization?
At a really high level, the purpose of Duke New Ventures is to have more startups coming out of Duke and to have those startups have a higher probability of success than has been the case in the past. It provides resources, which are mainly experienced people, to give a level of advocacy to the startup company. I think the university providing this resource, and being thoughtful about the fact that you have to stand up the companies carefully at the beginning, is great because we haven’t had that sort of resource at Duke before.
What’s most exciting is that we set out to rebuild the program post-Covid after it cratered for a variety of reasons at Duke. I had not been in academia or in the early-stage space for quite a while, and spent some time with the first two or three people that we hired, and it’s been building slowly since then.
The thing that’s pleasing to me is that the slow build seems to be sustained. The things that we set about doing at the beginning, and the different strategies that came out of it, are all moving forward. The outcome that that we can point to there and say we’re pleased about is that I see a number of the projects that started earlier on, advancing to the stage where we’re trying to raise capital, or we’ve attracted a CEO, or trying to find a CEO to pair with a technical founder. The more of the project portfolio at Duke that starts to have those as the key issues, the better I’m going to feel. That we’ve set the initial stages of the project to a point where attracting management and tracking capital is the right thing to do. I’m pleased with that.
3. What is your favorite coffee spot?
My favorite coffee spot is Mad Hatter’s. It’s a great spot for coffee, food, and to have a good conversation. And it’s also truly off-campus.
4. What keeps you up at night?
I would say the thing that keeps me up at night is wondering if we can continue to attract strong executive management and venture capital to the Triangle and or, develop those in the Triangle.
At a higher level, I do worry that as the world has evolved, is there so much partisanship at the political level that it becomes a struggle for the state government to support the startup economy. Obviously, that’s well outside my hands, but it is quite important. We want all political ingredients of success to be in place to keep the ecosystem evolving.
5. What is your favorite restaurant or happy hour?
One of my great pleasures of living in Durham is that there are many great restaurants and happy hours. I certainly like the bar at Mateo, if I was going to meet someone for a drink. If I was going to have a drink and bite of food, I’d head across the street to Pizzeria Toro.
6. What is next for you or your organization?
As I implied in the earlier question, we think fairly incrementally. I don’t think there’s any giant blockbuster things on tap.
We want to continue to get better at finding projects that have commercial potential as early as possible inside the University. By the time they get to the tech transfer office that can be too late, so we want to again shape these things as early as possible. We want to continue to expand our network of investors, both inside the state and outside of the state in all fields. If we don’t know investors that can fund these projects into a good state, it will be difficult for the projects to make it.
And finally, continuing to know as many potential CEOs and executive management of startup businesses that are available and interested in working with new burgeoning startup companies. It’s a massive networking exercise, but probably the single most important thing you can do for a startup project in the near term is to find a great business personality to pair with the technical founder.