OwlSpark | Rice University Startup Accelerator | PeopleWise: Alejandro Tortoriello
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PeopleWise: Alejandro Tortoriello

Grit. A trait emphasizing passion and perseverance, grit is a difficult characteristic to integrate into one’s own life, but that’s exactly what Alex Tortoriello does.

Alex Tortoriello, Bio-Innovation Fellow at MD Anderson in Houston, has an impressive and extensive history of entrepreneurship and innovation. Growing up in Monterrey, Mexico, Alex’s career began with his job as a volunteer firefighter and EMT in high school. While diligently studying biology and physics, he spent his after-school hours saving families from blazes and going on ambulance duty. Following his high school graduation, Alex went to the best university in Mexico, Monterrey Tech. There he pursued engineering, all the while continuing to work at the fire department and studying anatomy. His passion for helping people eventually caught up with him, and Alex decided to change his major.

The following year, Alex was at medical school, and in the true embodiment of grit, he was simultaneously pursuing a bachelor degree in biosciences and community service. Yet, Alex was underwhelmed. The medical service programs simply weren’t challenging or interesting enough, so Alex’s answer was to propose an entirely new program of his own. In an underserved and underprivileged community, Alex implemented a science workshop program for middle school students, teaching them to use lab equipment and other applicable skills.

Fast forward six months, the principal of the school calls Alex to his office and asks, “What did you do with those kids?” It turns out that they were problem students and were projected to drop out before high school, and through Alex’s program, had become top performers and were instilled with a newfound love for learning and science.

This was the inspiration for Alex’s first startup: METAS, a social business that offers health workshops for children in an effort to solve public health issues from their core. The business helps more than 8,000 students, and invented the program “Workshop for Workshop,” where scholarships are given to students in need. His second startup, RIO Complex, was inspired after he noticed that his professors with private practices had very little business because they had very little functional space. RIO Complex leased and managed medical offices for private practice doctors.

Alex’s drive to achieve follows him internationally, when he went to MD Anderson for his final year of medical school. There, a new position was created, the Bio-Innovation Odyssey Fellowship. His role there is to help researchers and clinicians that have ideas with potential commercial value put them on the market. The primary focus of the fellowship is the NSF Innovation Corps (I-Corps) program, designed to increase the economic impact of the research dollars invested every year.

Here and now, Alex’s success in medicine, entrepreneurship, innovation, and technology commercialization leads him to his crucial role to OwlSpark’s founders teams as a lecturer and mentor. We hope that from Alex’s experience and mentorship, our teams learn and appreciate the value of grit this summer.

The most important thing is to learn from your mistakes. Identify them, grow from them, and make things better.
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