As an emergency medical technician on call around the clock in Telluride, Colo., in the 1990s, James Rosen (MBA ‘06) invested his time helping people through search and rescue missions and giving medical care to trauma victims. His work was varied: avalanche and swift-water rescues, helicopter evacuations, wilderness and urban missing-person searches.
Now Rosen invests his time in helping businesses that help people. As a partner with Intersouth Partners, a Durham-based, $780 million venture capital firm, Rosen works with startup and early-stage research and development companies involved with pharmaceuticals, therapeutics, diagnostic tools and health care-related software.
“Millions of people could be impacted if some of our companies are able to develop these technologies. It’s not like we’re rappelling out of a helicopter at 100 feet, but it’s exciting — and safer,” says Rosen, who also has a master’s in public health from UNC. “The EMT work was thrilling. The primary thing that made it great is we were doing it to help people. That’s probably the reason I’ve stuck with health care. We’re investing in companies that help people,” he says.
In working with Intersouth’s life science firms, Rosen meets with entrepreneurs to understand the markets and applications of their technologies and assess technological viability and commercial value. “We don’t just have to understand what the customer wants today. By the time the products we invest in go to market, things may have changed dramatically” with technologies, he says. Rosen thrives on the challenges. “I see lots of opportunities. It’s hard to identify which ones we think have the highest probability of success. When you’re working on something no one’s ever done before, you don’t know what challenges you’re going to face. We have to be comfortable with all of those risks.”
The risks have produced successes. One of Intersouth’s companies makes drugs for antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections. Another company is developing a stent, or tube, that will stay implanted in a patient for three months and then disintegrate. “It’s cutting-edge, revolutionary technologies we have a chance to be involved with,” Rosen, 41, says. “They teach you in business school to have big, audacious goals. My big, audacious goal is to be involved in a billion-dollar outcome for a company we invest in because they’ve had a high impact in the community.”
Rosen’s preparation at UNC Kenan-Flagler gave him more than business fundamentals. The school’s core values — ethics, teamwork, integrity, leadership and community — also helped. “I believe UNC Kenan-Flagler stands for all those things, and I learned a lot about each of them when I was there,” he says.
Through UNC Kenan-Flagler’s Carolina Venture Fellows program, Rosen’s year-long internship at Intersouth led to a full-time position. Before Rosen, a New York City native, moved back east and pursued graduate school, he co-founded and ran a real estate appraisal and financial consulting firm in Telluride. “People say being an entrepreneur is a character trait. It’s not just a one-off thing that you do,” he says. “Now, being close to entrepreneurs is the next best thing to being one.”