Leila Daneshmandi ’20 PHD (Biomedical Engineering), ’21 MS (Global Entrepreneurship)

Leila Daneshmandi

Co-Founder and COO, Encapsulate

Dr. Leila Daneshmandi is an Assistant Professor in Residence of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at UConn School of Engineering and within the Biomedical Engineering Department. She is the co-founder and COO of Encapsulate, a biotech startup in cancer precision diagnostics that has raised over 1M in non-dilutive funding and that is conducting preclinical studies in partnership with Hartford Healthcare. Encapsulate has received numerous awards and accolades nationally and internationally including the prestigious Technology-in-Space Prize for $653k from the International Space Station US National Laboratory and Boeing. Leila is a Women of Innovation finalist, selected by the Connecticut Technology Council and Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology; has been awarded the Entrepreneur of the Year for Scalable Venture Award by the Connecticut Entrepreneur Awards; and was invited to give a TEDx Talk on her professional and personal journey. She holds five patents and has authored over 12 peer-reviewed publications. Leila currently teaches Technology Innovation & Entrepreneurship I & II, an experiential entrepreneurship course open to all students in Engineering, Business, and Digital Media and Design, and develops programs for student and faculty entrepreneurial growth and development within the school.

Dr. Leila Daneshmandi is doing things WerthWatching:

  • Co-founder and COO of Encapsulate, a biotech startup offering a revolutionary technology in cancer treatment that grows patient-derived cancer cells outside of the body, and screens them against chemotherapeutic drugs so the oncologist can choose the most effective chemotherapy prior to treatment on an individualized basis
  • Received the Technology-in-Space Prize from the International Space Station US National Laboratory and Boeing
  • Awarded the Entrepreneur of the Year for Scalable Venture Award by the Connecticut Entrepreneur Awards

What got you interested in entrepreneurship?

I’ve always been curious, passionate about learning, and have had a problem-solving solution-seeking mindset. I think more than anything entrepreneurship is about having that problem-solving mindset and willingness to learn and grow. I took a course in entrepreneurship, the same course I’m teaching now, Technology Innovation & Entrepreneurship. There I was asked to form a team with students from different backgrounds to work on an idea, a company, which eventually grew to become Encapsulate.

What led you to cancer treatment technology?

Cancer is one of the leading causes of death in the US and worldwide. Approximately 40% of the US population will have cancer at some point in their life. That means one person per every household. At the same time, there’s been an increase in the number of drugs that are available to treat cancer. The issue in cancer treatment isn’t the unavailability of effective drugs. It’s getting the right drug to the patient, in time, to maximize their chances of having a successful treatment. 

Where do you find your inspiration? 

I get inspired by people, stories and working towards a bigger purpose.

Describe a time you took a risk. Did it pay off? If not, what lesson did you learn?

Well, if there’s a risk you want to mitigate it as much as possible so that the decision you make in the end is as informed as possible and not by chance. For the risks that I’m thinking of right now, at the time I learned as much as I could about the situation. Part of this is admitting what you don’t know and are not as well-informed in, so you can seek help from outside resources (books, people, peers, mentors) to educate yourself. It all falls under identifying and filling in the gaps for the “known unknowns” of the situation – things we know that we don’t know and trying to minimize the “unknown unknowns” – things we don’t know that we don’t know – by extending our knowledge on the situation as much as possible.

How did UConn prepare you for where you’re at today? 

I owe a huge part of where I am today to UConn. I’ve spent most of my 20s at UConn from when I first came for grad school, so it definitely has had an influence on who I am. I’ve met some incredible people here that have been mentors to me throughout my professional journey and I also started my start-up at UConn and begun my entrepreneurship journey here. My PhD definitely instilled a go getter attitude in me, to take on problems that come my way, and to do my absolute best to find a solution for them. I also learned a lot of hard and soft skills throughout my PhD, the courses that I took, and through building my own company including research, critical thinking, project and people management, resilience, empathy, independence and communication.

What’s your favorite UConn memory?

Favorite memory from UConn would be the graduation ceremony. We were fortunate to have an in-person ceremony this year where we got to wear our gowns and walk. I wasn’t able to attend my undergraduate graduation ceremony and so it was very special to me. Other than that, fun times in the lab with my lab mates.

What advice do you have for today’s students or emerging entrepreneurs? 

I would say be curious, have an open mind and question everything. Be willing to learn and grow. And stay humble. And kind.

Describe a professional moment you are most proud of, and why? 

Hmm, there’s a lot actually. Being awarded the Technology in Space prize from the International Space Station and Boeing was a proud moment at MassChallenge Boston, especially because of everything that went into putting the application together. I, myself, am proud of my TEDx Talk and how I talk about the human behind all these accomplishments and throughout this journey.

Which business tool or resource do you recommend to others, and why? 

Keep track of all your projects and goals, both long-term and short-term, prioritize and plan around them. Take notes from your meetings with mentors or peers who offer feedback on your work so you can go back to them. And use LinkedIn to reach out and extend your network. 

What are you passionate about outside of work?

Human rights, hiking, nature and woodworking.