Joe Beggs ’19 and a seat at the table

Dec. 14, 2023 — After a Rosenfield Program event during his first year on campus, Joe Beggs ’19 noticed there was an empty seat at the table where the presenters were eating. Beggs, now the CEO of two biotechnology start-up companies, sat down.

Joe Beggs ’19
   Joe Beggs ’19

That open seat helped put him on the path to where he is today. 

“It’s the only reason I knew about an internship at Northwestern University with Michael Ison ’93,” Beggs says.  

After seeing Dr. Anthony Atala’s 3D-printed kidney TED Talk in 2011, Beggs wanted to pursue a career in biomedical engineering. The Northwestern internship was a natural stepping stone. Beggs applied for donor-supported funding from the Center for Careers, Life, and Service (CLS). These gifts – contributed by alums and friends of the College – made it possible for Beggs to spend the summer surrounded by lab-grown kidneys and livers.

“If it wasn’t for the CLS, I certainly wouldn’t have been able to afford it,” Beggs says. This support permitted Beggs to focus on the important things like finding out what exactly a liver does.

“The folks in the lab said, ‘How did you get here?’ and they handed over a textbook,” he recalls with a laugh. He soon met his goal of “being a little bit helpful to someone in that lab” and learned a valuable life lesson (in addition to the liver’s vital importance). “People don’t necessarily expect you to know everything in the beginning. The key thing is that you’re willing to learn by the end of the experience.”

The second key internship came during the summer transition between leaving Grinnell and starting the final two years of his 3-2 engineering program at Washington University in St. Louis.

Joe Beggs ’19 and Mark Peltz
Joe Beggs ’19 and Mark Peltz, Daniel and Patricia Jipp Finkelman Dean of Careers, Life, and Service, reunited at Young Alumni Weekend in 2022.

Michael Lawrence, director of the CLS Business and Finance Career Community, recommended that Beggs apply for a start-up internship at investor Michael Loeb’s venture capital collective, At the internship, Beggs did a bit of everything from working on automation projects to writing software programs and marketing materials. He was no stranger to this kind of set-up after having worked as a pizza cook in the Dining Hall, a CLS intern, a physics teaching assistant, a tutor, and a research assistant in Associate Professor Keisuke Hasegawa’s physics lab at various times.

Beggs now serves as the CEO of two growing start-ups, HIVE Medical and GenAssist. HIVE Medical produces an internet-of-things sensor called IVsight, which allows doctors and staff to monitor IV infusions, collect real-time data, and send alerts if an infusion is forgotten or a medication error is detected. IVsight has been patented. The idea came from Beggs speaking with a physician friend who lamented that some of his home IV antibiotic patients were getting worse, not better, when released on home monitoring. 

Gen Assist was founded by Beggs and his high school friend, Gabriel Haas. Haas grew interested in biomedical engineering after hearing about Beggs’s internship experience at Northwestern. Haas founded a laboratory at St. Louis University with a focus on growing muscles and began developing the technology.

Joe Beggs ’19
The CEO of two growing start-ups, Beggs presented at the 2023 Medtech Innovator Summit.

“I came to WashU just as these amazing results were coming in,” Beggs says. “We started the company at the same time as HIVE Medical.” GenAssist aims to use “biomimetic sponge” implants to induce muscular regeneration. The technology, called MyoMatrix, has also been patented, and testing in pigs is set to begin early next year with grant funding support from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Sometimes the CEO role pulls him in multiple directions. “I don’t know how to reconcile being content with ambition,” he says after mentioning he’s trying to mediate more. “I’ll go for a walk or a run, notice the little things, and focus on the present moment. Later in the day, I’ll be painting a story for an investor and talk about nothing but the future. Investors are looking for a person with an unwavering vision where nothing will stop them,” he says.

Biotech start-ups inhabit a particularly competitive world where certainty is required, and failure is best thought of as a thing of the past. Beggs tries to see things from both the investor’s perspective while also remembering that “the most interesting failures are the ones that are happening right now,” Beggs says, “because you can correct those and learn from them in real time.” 

Both HIVE and Gen Assist offer internships, and Beggs hopes Grinnellians consider applying for their own seat at the table.

“A Grinnell education” Beggs says, “is never about having everything figured out, but being open to new possibilities, following them wherever they lead, and learning all your life.”

— by Joe Engleman ’14

For your information

Watch a TED Talk Joe Beggs gave entitled Can Scientists be Businessmen too?

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