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Texas Innovator Summer 2008

The In
Crowd

Innovations and innovators come in all forms. In each issue of Texas Innovator, The In Crowd will help bring you a little closer to some of Texas' brightest innovators, their perspective on why Texas is ideal for new approaches and even tips on fueling the creative mind inside us all.

Matt Winkler, Ph.D.

Asuragen Inc. – CEO

Matt Winkler, Ph.D.

A key component to successful innovation is combining a sound business plan with ideas a little out of the ordinary. Many ideas don’t work, says Matt Winkler, chief executive officer of Austin-based Asuragen Inc., but the few that do help drive success.

“It’s not single innovative flashes that lead to success, but rather creating an environment where innovation flourishes,” says Winkler. “I try to hire scientists who have been innovative in the past and encourage people to try off-the-wall ideas.”

In 2006, Asuragen continued the work of Ambion, Winkler’s previous entrepreneurial venture, by studying miRNAs (micro Ribonucleic acids) and their applications in treating and diagnosing cancer. Scientific interest in miRNAs had risen sharply between 2001 and 2007, prompting Winkler to look closely at a shift in his team’s efforts. Winkler sold Ambion for more than $270 million, plenty for most to retire, but not Winkler.

“Would you retire if you had a chance to make an impact on cancer?” he says.

Winkler’s companies have produced a test that identifies which mutation a cystic fibrosis patient has and, most recently, the first validated miRNA test, which allows physicians to differentiate pancreatic cancer from chronic pancreatitis. His newest venture, Mirna Therapeutics, will develop new cancer treatments.

Winkler came to The University of Texas at Austin as a zoology professor from Cal-Berkeley. The comforts of being a tenured professor at UT made it difficult to leave and explore new territory with Ambion, but Winkler recognized that such exploration was the right path for him.

“Austin is a great place to create new companies,” he says. “Its national reputation for being a vibrant city makes it easy to recruit talented people.”

Winkler says he is often asked for advice on launching new companies or ideas. He advises hopeful entrepreneurs of the challenges and potential pitfalls they will face.

“Great companies are formed by being able to bring great people together,” Winkler says. “I tell (entrepreneurs) about the problems they’ll face trying to start a new business, about all the ways they can fail or how they likely won’t have enough capital. If they still are interested after I try to discourage them, then they probably have the right temperament.”

For more information, contact Asuragen at contact@asuragen.com, (512) 681-5200, or visit www.asuragen.com.

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