Vishnu Rachakonda ENG’18 interned at OpGen in Gaithersburg, MD

2015-2016 Startup Internship Award winner, supported by the Sutton Entrepreneurial Intern Fellowship fund

My name is Vishnu Rachakonda and I am a sophomore studying bioengineering. This past summer, I interned at OpGen, a biotech startup in the Washington DC metro area. OpGen focuses on the issue of antimicrobial resistance, a hugely important area in medicine and biotechnology.

How did you find the position? My goal in my search was to find a startup that would allow me to adequately explore my interests in both the business and the research sides of biotechnology. Coming from the DC metropolitan area, I knew that there was a very active biotech entrepreneurship community in the region. I looked at the major academic hubs, like Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland, and their tech transfer offices for inspiration in finding promising startups. I emailed all of the ones I found, and received some interest from a few. I also leveraged my personal network, and a friend of my father’s suggested I look at OpGen, which had recently IPOed and was making waves in the DC biotech scene. I sent my resume and a cover letter to some senior people there, and they gave me a call a week before summer started. It was a very lucky end to a long hunt.

My personal suggestion to people looking to find startups in the biotech sector is to definitely look at academic centers spinning research off into startups, but to also look at industry specific publications that spotlight and discuss biotech startups, like Xconomy and FierceBiotech. Reading these can provide inspiration on companies to apply to.

What was your motivation for working at a start-up this summer? I wanted to work at a startup because I wanted a holistic understanding of how biotech works on both the research end and on the business end. Biotech and healthcare are obviously very unique industries. As a bioengineer with a business interest, I wanted to get a good feel for how both aspects were addressed, and I felt a startup would be the best environment. In the end, I felt that working at OpGen absolutely fulfilled what I was looking for. More than any specific project I completed, the time spent hanging around and thinking on new company initiatives with top level executives really helped me get a feel for the industry and for how biotech businesses work. I often spent time with SVP for R&D and the Chief Information Officer. In talking with them so much, I learned about the dynamics of the business and the industry.

What advice would you give to students interested in working at a start-up this summer? For those interested, I would advise one to start reading about startups and your target industry as much as you can, as early as you can. This will allow you to not only have useful information when working at your startup internship, but it will also allow you to contextualize your experience. At the end of the day, all of what you do fits into broader industry movements. Understanding those can allow you to leverage your present position into a great internship or full time position the following year. My other advice once you actually get an internship would be to try and be extremely proactive in how you work at the internship. Ask questions of your superiors and try and figure out how you can contribute without them telling you exactly what. See how you can add value to the business in your own way. An internship should be rewarding for both parties!