Esteem Spotlight: Grad Secures Funding for Her Startup, Torigen

Author: Notre Dame ESTEEM

Taking a new technology to market is not easy, which is why we are proud to offer our congratulations to Ashley Kalinauskas, an ESTEEM graduate who recently took one more crucial step to fulfilling her commercialization plan for a new veterinary product. 

The idea for her startup, Torigen Pharmaceuticals, was based on proprietary research conducted by Notre Dame's own Dr. Mark Suckow. Kalinauskas and two other students consulted with Dr. Suckow in the generation of a plan to apply the research, first, as a veterinary vaccine for canine cancer, the team dubbed Vetivax. The innovation could substantially lower the cost of treating cancer in companion animals, which now ranges from $10,000 to $20,000. 

Although Torigen began as a Capstone Thesis, it has become much more. If taken to market successfully, VetiVax could considerably reduce the cost of treating over 2 million companion animals that are diagnosed with cancer annually. That is a lofty goal for a CEO who was unsure she had what it took to be an entrepreneur. 

Like many of ESTEEM's students, Kalinauskas had an educational background in biology, but she lacked the business acumen and exposure to the entrepreneurial world. In an interview, she described how ESTEEM started to break through those initial psychological boundaries: “There were a lot of meetings with entrepreneurs and innovative companies -- and that allows you to think: ‘Hey, maybe I can do it, too,’” 

As her project took shape, it received the support and critical acclaim of her cohort: "The class really took it on as a project, to find the flaws in the business model and give suggestions of how we could move forward. That was a great learning experience.”

From the development, training, and momentum she picked up at ESTEEM, Kalinauskas went on to win capital through the McKloskey Business Plan Competition at Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business. The achievement was enough to move Torigen to the next phase and bring her before the Irish Innovation Fund (IIF).

The IIF recently announced it is willing to meet her funding target, giving her the means to conduct more experimentation and gather data that will be used to bring in the investment she will need for clinical trials.

The journey is far from over for Ashley and her team. However, we are excited to see the nuts and bolts of the ESTEEM program working in her favor – from the support and business education she started with – to the financial resources we are cultivating in the region. Our goal is to help scientists and engineers with vision fully utilize their skill sets and bring valuable technologies to market, so every step along that journey is a win. 

If you would like to see more information on Torigen's development, watch our video about VetiVax and the IIF.

We are also quite pleased to announce that Ashley will be joined in this honor by Shane McQuillan, CEO of his startup, Contect. See Part II to see how Shane plans to change concussion diagnosis with a new mobile app.