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MEMP Alum Profile: The Making of a Serial Inventor-Entrepreneur

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Geoffrey von Maltzahn PhD ’10, Flagship Ventures VentureLabs Partner

In November 2014, Flagship Ventures announced Geoffrey von Maltzahn’s third company since joining the firm, his seventh, if you include the four he co-founded as a graduate student in HST’s Medical Engineering and Medical Physics (MEMP) PhD program. The company, Symbiota, aims to tackle a completely new space for von Maltzahn: agriculture.

Symbiota takes an industry that has focused for as long as anyone can remember on plant biology and the chemistry of the environments crops are grown in, and adds a third novel consideration — the plant’s microbiome— to improve plant health, resilience and yield. This approach of taking modern scientific advances, such as tools to understand and improve the microbes in and around organisms, and applying them where they are needed most is emblematic of von Malzahn’s work. “I’m putting my time toward forming companies that can create a new industry or fundamentally change a problem space,” he says. “Which means I don’t sleep much.”

After completing an undergraduate degree in chemical engineering at MIT and a Master’s in bioengineering at the University of California, San Diego, he went looking for a graduate program with an interdisciplinary approach to the study of biology that maintained the rigor of engineering. He found it in the HST program. “MEMP offers a medical curriculum for PhD students that is identical to the curriculum for medical students, yet without alleviating the expectations of excellence in scientific and engineering disciplines,” he says. “You have to master both.  

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