February Alumni Spotlight - Anthony Napolitano PhD'07

February 1, 2019
Charlotte Merzbacher

Anthony Napolitano (PhD ’07) has balanced his interests in biomedical engineering and business for years. When asked how he incorporated entrepreneurship into his engineering studies, he says, “I tried to be well rounded in general, which is also a strength of Brown.” His undergraduate and master’s degrees at Columbia focused on engineering and mathematics, so when he got to Brown, he took classes in biology, physiology, and entrepreneurship. Even within his engineering classes, he looked for ways to combine research with business: “I took an artificial organs class that looked at all aspects of organ replacement: the science, the business, the regulatory and legal issues. It combined the business and translational aspects of research.”

While in undergrad, Dr. Napolitano considered going to medical school. Eventually, he realized research was the path for him: “It was senior year I sat down and was writing my medical school essays and applications and realized that I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be a clinician.” Instead, he did a masters’ degree and worked at a small tissue engineered skin company in Manhattan. “I got to work in both R&D as well as traditional engineering and
process development while I was there,” he says. “It was a great experience, but I knew I wanted to go back and do my PhD.” The time out also helped him decided to pursue a career in industry following his PhD. He found Professor Jeff Morgan, who had similar interests in tissue engineered skin, and applied to the program.

At Brown, he was a part of a startup commercializing a 3D microtissue culture platform. While he didn’t end up pursuing the company after graduation, the experience was a valuable one. “We ended up winning a business plan competition and my journey began: starting a business, writing a business plan, learning to do an elevator pitch, understanding how investors work, and so forth.”

Dr. Napolitano encourages engineering undergrads interested in business to pursue it. “A lot of risk that is associated with venture investments is scientific in nature or technical, so firms want someone who can actually understand the science and know the business very well.” He recommends learning basic financial math. “It’s important to understand the bigger picture. If you can do engineering, you can do finance.” He also advises students to start a business or join an early-stage startup: “One of the best really understand how to build and judge startups is to have some of the experience of an entrepreneur. You’ll learn everything else that goes into
taking great technology and making a business.”

Dr. Napolitano’s interdisciplinary education was facilitated by Brown’s collaborative culture. “My favorite part of being at Brown was definitely the collaborative environment, especially coming from an undergraduate experience where there was definitely more competition than collaboration. Life – and success – is a balance of both. You have to win as a team.”