Who better to determine which fledgling technologies should form the basis of new venture-backed biotech companies than someone who’s helped develop significant new neurotechnologies and has firsthand experience with launching a revolutionary startup? In 2001, Mikhail Shapiro, still a sophomore at Brown University, cofounded a company called Cyberkinetics to develop implantable devices that would allow quadriplegics to control external devices with their thoughts. Shapiro, then 20, ran the business side of the company and helped raise its first $20 million in venture funding, which led to groundbreaking clinical trials. “His knowledge of the business world even at that young age was frightening,” says cofounder John Donoghue, a professor of neuroscience and engineering at Brown, who was chief scientific officer of the startup. Though Cyberkinetics has since folded, the results of its pilot trials proved that this type of technology could work, and they brought new funding and interest to the field.
Shapiro then earned a PhD at MIT, where he developed a noninvasive imaging technology for observing chemical messengers in the brain. Since joining Third Rock Ventures in 2008, he has led the venture capital firm’s efforts to evaluate neurotechnologies such as optogenetics, a method of controlling the brain with light. So far he has helped found two more companies, with combined funding of $50 million. One is focused on a new pain drug and the other on using personalized medicine to fight cancer. –Emily Singer