University of Arizona Alumnus Harry Wilcox Empowers Student Entrepreneurs through FORGE Program

Feb. 13, 2024
Student entrepreneurs with Harry Wilcox

Student entrepreneurs Isaac Kailat, Abhiman Gupta, and Sydney Arriaga meet with Harry Wilcox to present their venture concepts

To be an entrepreneur, a blend of passion, innovation, and resilience is needed to fuel the journey from idea to impact. At the forefront of fostering this spirit is the FORGE Student Startup Residency program at the University of Arizona. The program awards financial grants to students to develop their venture concepts from premise to pitch-ready through a summer boot camp program. The program also provides student employment opportunities. The Student Startup Residency has expanded and is currently accepting new applicants here. This initiative received a significant boost from distinguished alumnus Harry Wilcox. 

Wilcox is a seasoned professional with a diverse background spanning finance, healthcare, and venture capital. He is the CEO of Your Bio Health Inc. and a General Partner at Flagship Pioneering, a life sciences venture capital company investing in biotechnology, life sciences, health, and sustainability companies, including Moderna, Indigo Agriculture, Inari Agriculture, and Novomer. Wilcox supported FORGE in developing the Student Startup Residency program, recognizing the critical need to help the next generation of leaders and innovators. Wilcox's journey, marked by an insatiable curiosity and a willingness to embrace challenges, serves as a beacon of inspiration for aspiring entrepreneurs navigating the complex landscape of startup ventures.

Reflecting on his collegiate years, Wilcox admits to traversing various academic paths before finding his footing in finance and eventually pursuing an MBA. "I ended up having a bunch of different majors at the University of Arizona, and I think to finally graduate, I ended up with a finance major, and then I went and got my MBA," said Wilcox about his start at the University of Arizona. "To be honest, I didn't really know what I wanted to do." His journey underscores the uncertainty that often accompanies early career exploration—a sentiment familiar to many students grappling with their future paths.

Upon entering the professional realm, Wilcox embarked on a trajectory characterized by a thirst for diverse experiences and a penchant for tackling complex problems. "At various times, I've been the CEO of a neuroscience company and the CEO of a cell therapy company. I was doing all these different things from a science point of view where I was way over my head, but I was willing to learn," said Wilcox.

Through his support of FORGE, Wilcox extends a guiding hand to beginning entrepreneurs, offering insights gleaned from decades of navigating the startup landscape. His commitment to nurturing entrepreneurial mindset underscores a broader ethos of giving back and paying it forward—an ethos deeply ingrained in the fabric of the University of Arizona community.

Gupta presents his concept

Student entrepreneur Abhiman Gupta presents his venture concept to an audience of mentors, supporters and professional venture investors.

The impact of Wilcox's support is palpable in the stories of three remarkable students—Sydney Arriaga, Abhiman Gupta, and Isaac Kailat—who seized the opportunity afforded by FORGE to transform their entrepreneurial visions into tangible realities during the summer of 2023. From developing innovative solutions to address mental health challenges to pioneering smart contact lenses for disease detection, these students exemplified the power of ingenuity and perseverance. They worked hand in hand with experienced mentors and presented their venture concepts to Wilcox and other industry professionals. 

"I went through new pitches for my startup and the pitch deck I was planning for the different milestones, and every week, I received feedback, which made me rewrite the decks again and again. This really helped me become resilient and develop an entrepreneurial mindset," said Gupta. The experience changed Gupta, giving him the confidence to speak about his concept authentically and bring his personal experiences to an audience.  "I learned that entrepreneurship wasn't just about companies. It was about who I was as an individual."

The Student Startup Residency program, made possible through Wilcox's generous support, fosters innovation and entrepreneurs across diverse disciplines. This year, the program will be able to quadruple the number of students it accepts for biomedical venture concepts. Through additional contributions from the Arizona Commerce Authority, the program will also expand to bring in students with AI and semiconductor concepts. Students interested in applying to this year's program to receive up to $5,600 in grant awards can sign up for an info session and apply here.

As FORGE expands the program to take on new students, the vision of empowering the next generation of entrepreneurs takes on new dimensions. Through immersive boot camps, expert mentoring, and real-world pitching opportunities, up to 30 students will embark on a transformative journey of growth, learning, and discovery—a journey fueled by the support of alums like Harry Wilcox. 

As Wilcox and countless others continue to champion the cause of cultivating entrepreneurial mindset, they not only shape the trajectory of individual students, but also catalyze a movement toward a world of endless possibilities and potential.