The New Genius

Innovation

Daniel DiLorenzo

Daniel DiLorenzo was so busy studying for his MBA, his Ph.D. and his MD that he apparently never got the message that one of these careers would have been enough. Even his father suggested he might choose: Be a hotshot entrepreneur or an MIT-trained engineering Ph.D. or even a Harvard/MIT-educated neurosurgeon. Pick any one, son, because they're all fine.

If only DiLorenzo, 33, had listened. Then MIT might not have singled him out as one of the most promising young inventors in the nation. Last year, DiLorenzo won the $30,000 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize for being an innovator and a role model for young inventors. His work centers on medical electronic devices that help people with neurological problems function more effectively. One project he worked on at MIT, for example, involved implantable microelectrodes that enable artificial limbs to communicate with nerves in the arms of amputees.

Hence the need for the triple-threat education: "Each part of my background has been important to understanding how the pieces intersect," says DiLorenzo. "From the medical side, I'm learning a great deal about everything from patient concerns to surgical issues. From the engineering side, I've learned how to approach and solve problems. And from my business training, I understand the importance of issues such as reimbursability." Without a certain depth of education, DiLorenzo maintains, "there are a lot of failure modes."

As DiLorenzo completes his first year of neurosurgical residency at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, he admits his path hasn't been the shortest route to success. "I have friends who are worth tens of millions of dollars because of entrepreneurial ventures they've already formed," he reports. But if DiLorenzo stays on track, he'll collect dividends as well.

"I believe that if you're addressing a big problem, there's going to be a financial payoff," he says. "And if this work results in viable and efficacious treatments for people with spinal cord injuries and other neurological problems, the personal payoff will be huge."

DiLorenzo's course of study isn't in the cards for most entrepreneurs. But he believes his approach to learning and innovating can be. "By far, persistence is the most important factor to achieving your goals," he says. "One should sense a destiny and relentlessly pursue its realization, despite its perceived impossibility." What seems unlikely may be nothing more than living up to your potential. Hey, it's business, engineering and neurosurgery--not rocket science.

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This article was originally published in the January 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: The New Genius.

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