TheraCea Pharma

The men behind TheraCea Pharma were one of many student ventures on display.

After spending the better part of a year working with a group of his peers in the McGuire Center, a part of the University of Arizona’s Eller College of Management, creative biological chemistry PhD student Iman Daryaei said he feels more than ready to take a journey, and tackle the trials and tribulations of the professional landscape.

“The McGuire program took me out of the lab,” he said, “gave me a backpack full of granola, water and a map that said ‘Okay, now you are ready to take this adventure,’ and I am.”

While they may still spend more time in a lab or in professional environments than trekking through the great outdoors, Daryaei and his fellow McGuire students and business partners, Javier Castillo-Montoya and Atul Patel, have combined their individual skills to craft an impressive product.

Together, the three form TheraCea Pharma, a startup company developing therapeutic medicine for individuals suffering from neurological disorders. As of now, the group is focusing on a treatment first discovered from a compound developed by two U of A professors to combat dyskinesia, a common side effect of Parkinson’s disease medication, levodopa. Dyskinesia causes involuntary muscle movements and creates difficulty with routine action. 

Daryaei, who serves as chief scientific officer, said the group has worked for more than six years and raised almost $100 million in grant-funding to take their idea and transform it into a marketable product. 

Though Daryaei, Castillo-Montoya and Patel have been working for years, they just began to expose their work to the public eye - alongside nearly 100 fellow McGuire students making up 21 different student ventures – at The McGuire on the Mall event March 31 on the U of A campus.

“The McGuire Program is​ an experiential academic exercise,” said Randy Accetta, mentor in residence, communication at the McGuire Center, “where the students develop their learning based on the real-world, practical experience of trying to start a company. We are not a series of classes doing typical business school coursework; we are a 90-student program with all students helping one another develop real solutions to real problems.”

According to Accetta, educators are working to prepare students for the real world, and that McGuire Entrepreneurship program is the real world. He said that students spend a year working in preparation to launch a real company. The students then participate in a series of public events to show their ideas to the world.​ Instead of just working within the academic environment, the students receive real customer and potential investor feedback.

“In some ways,” Accetta said, “we’re like virtual reality. Students can experience the depth and breadth of starting a business without actually falling off the cliff or getting eaten.”

Whether demonstrating a drone app development software, new donor analytics technology, biometric security systems or immersive mobile app tours of family-oriented attractions, the extensive vetting process at The McGuire Center is producing the next generation of cutting-edge technology and industry practices.

As for the men behind TheraCea Pharma, Patel, an MBA student specializing in entrepreneurship and the company’s chief financial officer, said he is glad to be surrounded by experienced business owners and other burgeoning entrepreneurs.

“This is a long standing program” he said, “and they know what has failed. So the best thing about it is that they will tell you, ‘This will definitely fail,’ like you may think something is a great idea and you think this and that and you know how to do it, but they know it better than you.”

Working within the McGuire program doesn’t limit the student ventures to resources within the center. Castillo-Montoya, chemistry PhD student and TheraCea’s chief operating officer, is a Technology Transfer Fellow and has collaborated with Tech Launch Arizona to get their idea off the ground.

Regardless of what the product is, being able to translate an idea into a marketable good or service is a long and arduous process. While attaining a high-level education is often beneficial to success, Daryaei said that participating in the McGuire program has been a very enriching experience because of the amount of interdisciplinary exposure. With his new understanding of business, Daryaei said he and his partners are prepared for the business world.

“The McGuire Program in general has a lot of great programs and resources; they put you in contact with different people that give you feedback on your venture, the different Desert Angels or people from other business areas in Tucson...I think that in general, working in The McGuire program definitely gives you a different perspective than what you are getting from your PhD program or your MBA program.”