Chase Million has an entrepreneur’s name. But it’s the mindset that matters more to him.
“I don’t like working for people,” he said, laughing. “I think that’s the entrepreneurial sickness.”
Million, 34, shared it with the 11th graduating class of the Ben Franklin Technology Partners TechCelerator on Tuesday night. Five teams, including his, made their pitch to judges in a “Shark Tank”-style contest, with $10,000 up for grabs.
It was a healthy “affliction,” one that could help fight a real disease. Such was the case of winner Peconic, a Penn State-founded startup that is developing more granular tools for diagnosing cancer.
“Just being willing to learn,” said Don McCandless, the TechCelerator’s director. “That’s what we look for.”
Million’s company, Million Concepts, was the only one without a product, a fact he pointed out in his presentation. During the course of the 10-week program, his team realized its self-propelled endoscope would be too expensive and complicated to bring to market. He didn’t expect to win, he said.
But he stuck with the program. In a world where half of new businesses go under within the first five years, failure is part of the process.
“I knew there was a chance we wouldn’t ultimately have this product,” he said. “But my goal with the program was to learn the process, and this product was a McGuffin to do that.”
Yanming Wang, a professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at Penn State, agreed. His team, Helios, is trying to tackle cancer via small molecule inhibitors that target a related enzyme.
Curing cancer is complicated enough; building a viable business on top of that requires another level of resolve.
“It’s basically a different world,” Wang said.
Outside of the ivory tower, a once-gilded idea can quickly lose luster.
That’s what Million noticed. As he told the crowd about it, he drew laughs and applause.
“But that’s a win for us,” McCandless said. “Because what people learn with the next time or next idea they have, and they understand especially trying to take an idea out of research, is that there’s a customer out there.”