W Benton Swanson, a DDS-PhD Candidate (School of Dentistry) pursuing a Graduate Certificate in Entrepreneurship and Innovation, believes his career will never be stagnant and the skills he gained at U-M will help him make meaningful contributions to the field of Regenerative Medicine Therapeutics. 

Ben’s “naturally curious’’ mind has always been eager to understand the world around him, build things and create ways to share them. Growing up, he admired his dad who was an entrepreneur in the world of plastic manufacturing. He was inspired by his grit and tenacity to work. He had seen that being an entrepreneur was not at all easy but he was inspired by his enthusiasm for work, ability to solve problems creatively, and his excitement about being able to walk around Home Depot and point to a product that he worked on and was brought to life from a small manufacturing company in upstate New York. 

He developed a career interest in Dental Medicine. However, he was quickly drawn toward scientific innovation in dentistry.

“What will be a game-changer in five years, ten years? How do we get there? Who has these ideas? Can we do this better? These questions led me to pursue a joint DDS and Ph.D., combined with the CFE Graduate Certificate in Entrepreneurship and Innovation, with a translational focus on developing next-generation regenerative medicine therapeutics,” said Ben.

Starting his Ph.D., Ben was excited by the idea that world-class innovation happened on campus. He had heard about past stories of projects which led to patents, startups, and commercial success. He quickly wanted to find out who those people were and how he could learn from them.

“I took a shot in the dark to attend an evening event early in my first semester. I met Matt Gibson who was the director at the time, and shared with me about a (then) new program specifically for graduate students who wanted to understand the implications of their scientific and engineering training in the realm of innovation and entrepreneurship, to develop practical skills.”  After meeting with the team at CFE, he approached his Ph.D. program about enrolling in the certificate as a way to formalize his eagerness to gain this skill set, and take advantage of the resources offered by CFE. 

“One of my favorite aspects of the CFE courses was that the faculty are technical entrepreneurs. Most of them have a Ph.D. and deep technical experience, and have doubled as entrepreneurs, founders, advisors, and investors to startups, bringing a wealth of knowledge to the course,” said Ben.

Those classes, along with the entrepreneurship hour seminars and other events, allowed him to refine his passion and truly envision himself in entrepreneurial roles related to next-generation regenerative medicine technologies for the first time, adding to his “toolbox” of skills to take into his career. They also helped him to understand better what it takes to bring an idea all the way to the market, and use business as a vehicle for democratizing access to technology.

As he enters the final year of his seven years of study at the University of Michigan, he is excited to defend his Ph.D. and finish his clinical DDS work in the coming year. He will be applying to a clinical residency in periodontology this summer, a dental specialty that has pioneered tissue regeneration technology, and he looks forward to developing his clinical and technical skill set toward bringing exciting new therapeutic options to the clinic.

‘’The hardest part is starting – I would encourage anyone who is slightly curious about the CFE to get involved by attending guest lectures, sitting in on a class, or attending office hours. CFE really helped me to identify a niche, a community, and my passion,” said Ben.

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