SARASOTA, Fla. (Feb. 20, 2018) – A recent USF Sarasota-Manatee graduate student says a chance meeting during one of her classes a year ago now has her chasing her dreams.
Sarah Kitlowski, a 2017 MBA graduate, was taking a finance class in late 2016 when Tom Gardner, CEO and managing investor of Sarasota-based Omeza, a biotech research company, gave a presentation and sought the students’ input about growing the startup.
Sensing an opportunity, Kitlowski and classmate Michael Nemecek offered to draw up a business plan. Hundreds of hours later, the two dropped an 85-page tome on Gardner’s lap. They also enlisted support from two more graduate students and went on to make the company the focus of their capstone project.
Impressed, Gardner and business partner Griscom “Chip” Bettle, chief innovations officer, sought to bring Kitlowski and Nemecek on board after they graduated, first as consultants then as fulltime employees as the company neared roll-out of its product line.
Kitlowski jumped at the chance, calling it “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
“I put blood, sweat and tears into my MBA and to have Omeza on the other side of it makes it completely worth it,” she said.
Now Omeza’s sales and marketing director, Kitlowski says she couldn’t be happier. She acknowledges the risk of leaving a steady job at Bealls’ corporate office to join a startup, but she sees the potential after nearly a year alongside the company’s owners.
“The risk can be different depending on who the founders are and how viable the product is,” she said. “The people launching this, Tom and Chip, are giants in the industry. They have a long history of experience in health care. Tom launched Tylenol to the consumer markets.”
Omeza works with omega fatty acids to promote healing of skin lesions, ulcers and other sores. Its bandages are infused with fatty acids to speed up healing. Nursing homes, hospitals and specialized wound treatment centers are among its target audience, but the product has potential for podiatrists and dermatologists, as well, and might also appeal to handicapped individuals for home use.
Kitlowski, who received USFSM’s Webecke award for academic excellence in the MBA program, said another reason accounts for her decision to join Omeza. She wants to be part of an emerging company and watch it grow and she’s convinced Omeza is that company. Its bandages, which are produced locally, are expected to hit the market at the end of the quarter.
“It’s exhilarating,” she said of her decision to join Omeza. “I’m getting to use everything I’ve learned in college. This is the reason I went to business school.”
Dr. James Curran, dean of the College of Business, said the college is always looking to partner with local organizations to bring the business world into the classroom to prepare students for their careers.
“Tom Gardner and Omeza presented our MBA students with a wonderful opportunity to learn from an actual startup business,” he said. “Sarah and the others on her team did an incredible job creating a business plan for Omeza and the quality of their work was confirmed when she joined Omeza full time.”