Inspiring Biomedical Entrepreneurs

Jon Schimmel

Jonathan J. Schimmel, PhD Fellowship Established

“One of the most meaningful moments in my life was getting my PhD at Tufts,” says Jonathan Schimmel. After completing his doctorate at the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences in 2000, Schimmel held leadership roles at several biotechnology companies and is currently Vice President of Global Support and Sales Operations at 10X Genomics, in Pleasanton, CA. He credits his success to outstanding GSBS training, along with self-directed learning in business and management. “The GSBS is extremely good at training scientists,” he notes, and skills like “being data driven, being curious, being a self-starter, are extraordinarily valuable no matter what you do.”

In December 2020, he created the Jonathan J. Schimmel, PhD Fellowship, supporting doctoral students who hope to augment their scientific training with business and management competencies such as accounting, biomedical manufacturing or intellectual property law. His hope is to prepare recipients for biomedical leadership and entrepreneurial careers.

The most profound lessons of Schimmel’s doctoral training came from mentors. “In many ways, my success is the sum total of their efforts, and their sharing of experience.” His adviser, Dona Chikaraishi, is the model of his own management style, and inspired him through her intellect and curiosity. Suzanne Roffler-Tarlov helped him hone his scientific writing, among many skills. Ralph Isberg modeled the “internal drive and fierce determination” that powers Schimmel’s work, and Linc Sonenshein is “a life-long mentor.”

At the GSBS, Schimmel was among a small group of students interested in business and management, who “found each other” and cultivated those interests. At Boston University, he took managerial accounting and microeconomics, giving him essential “vocabulary.” “Understanding the language of accounting,” for example, “has been absolutely invaluable, because that's the circulatory system of a firm.” Like GSBS Dean Daniel Jay, Schimmel believes that nurturing these skills is a benefit to individuals, and the organizations they’ll lead, and the Schimmel Fellowship can help the GSBS recruit “the best and brightest.” To describe that value, he uses a term from the world of business: “usefully differentiated.” What sets an individual, company, or school apart is not simply “excelling in your field, but offering a useful difference.”

These are exciting times in biomedical science, says Schimmel. One example is recent work from 10X Genomics on tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes within individual tumors, that has “changed the paradigm of how we look at the body’s response to cancer.” Another is the development of mRNA COVID-19 vaccines from concept to approval in record time. “That’s the kind of impact you can have,” in this field.

“The best part of my job today is the hiring process,” he says, “when you’re sitting across the table from a young person, and thinking, ‘You are going to be amazing,’” As a mentor, he can help to cultivate that talent, “and it blossoms into this amazing career.” Likewise, the Schimmel Fellowship is a way to share his good fortune, and prepare a new generation for the challenges of biomedical science. “If I can do something to help create those future leaders, that means more to me than anything else.”

This story was written by Kris Willcox.