The support of family means everything in business and life, says Matt Mitcho (MBA ’06), co-founder and CEO of Gemelli Biotech Corp.
He grew up part of an Italian-American family in New Jersey, with parents who were a grade school principal and nurse, and his brother. “We were close and supportive of each other,” he says. “That foundation allows you to take greater risk because someone will always be there to take care of you.”
Today, Mitcho has a family of his own and he counts on their support in his career, never more than since he made the transition from working at corporations to founding a startup.
He is leading Gemelli Biotech, a specialty biotechnology company exploring the potential of the microbiome, a collection of the microbes that live in and on our bodies. It offers diagnostic tests to patients who suffer from gastrointestinal related issues.
Founded in 2018, the private, U.S.-based company raised initial seed capital of nearly $4 million. It commercialized the first diagnostic test, ibs-smart™, a second-generation blood test that helps doctors diagnose diarrhea predominant and mixed-type irritable bowel syndrome (IBS-D and IBS-M). IBS is a disorder that affects the lower gastrointestinal tract, including the small and large intestine. It can cause cramps, gas, swelling, bloating and changes in bowel habits.
What makes the test unique is that – until now – IBS was a diagnosis of exclusion, he says. Doctors rule out what a patient did not have to reach the diagnosis of IBS.
It is the first test that lets doctors see causality related to IBS-D and IBS-M. It shows a food poisoning prediction; 60 percent of those with IBS-D have it as a result of a previous event of food poisoning.
What’s also compelling: The test is reasonably priced at $220 at a time when healthcare costs are rising at extraordinary levels. “It helps avoid invasive, expensive tests like colonoscopy, a win for patients, providers and payers” says Mitcho.
Now, Gemelli Biotech is licensing its second asset, a diagnostic test that allows doctors to see increased levels of gases associated with small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), and hope to launch it in 2020.
Ultimately, the Gemelli Biotech team wants to help underserved populations in places like Africa, where malnutrition and repeat infections influence health. In fact, the company’s name means “twins” in Italian, referring to the twin purpose of bringing healthcare tools to market and advancing a mission of philanthropy, Mitcho says.
But before aiming to do good and do well through his startup, Mitcho worked at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) as senior product manager. His mentor at the time warned him that being smart and productive weren’t enough to stand out at the company.
So Mitcho decided to pursue an MBA and enrolled in the Weekend Executive MBA Program while continuing to work at GSK.
“Attending the UNC Kenan-Flagler MBA program was an absolutely life-changing experience,” says Mitcho. “I grew up in life sciences. Being exposed to people in other industries was the biggest benefit to me.”
After all, seeing how people working in different environments approach common problems provides a new approach, says Mitcho. A Global Immersion Elective in China with Professor Mabel Miguel opened his eyes to conducting business in different cultures.
And the network he built at UNC Kenan-Flagler was of tremendous value. “You learn as much from your peers,” says Mitcho, “as the faculty.”
UNC Kenan-Flagler gave Mitcho the tools he needed to move forward in his career and eventually take on the startup. After GSK, Mitcho moved to Salix Pharmaceuticals where he was brand director for a number of products, including Xifaxan. Salix was acquired about six years later, with the sale based on Xifaxan, a medication commercialized for liver disease and IBS-D.
While at Salix, Mitcho developed a relationship with doctors at Cedars-Sinai’s Medically-associated Science and Technology (MAST) program in Los Angeles. The scientific team associated with MAST and Gemelli Biotech are pioneers in the study of the microbiome.
The doctors came to Mitcho with the idea for Gemelli Biotech and the company was born. Today, Gemelli Biotech is growing with most employees on the West Coast and more coming to Raleigh, and a scientific advisory board to support its expansion into new markets and offerings.
Some lessons Mitcho can pass onto others is surrounding yourself with good people and taking advantage of productive pressures to take action, such as optimizing growth and building a sustainable culture in an organization.
“You can make an impact on the world by taking calculated risks,” he says. “You work hard and be your best version of you.”
Of course, there’s more to Mitcho’s life than business. Family remains the centerpiece: He and his wife, Morgan, have three children. “We have our hands full but are grateful for our life,” Mitcho says.
But he wouldn’t have it any other way. Looking at his family and professional life, he wants to motivate others.
“If I can do it, anyone can do it,” says Mitcho. “You don’t know your own capacity until you put yourself in a position where you’ll either make it or not.”