Endowing Innovations for a Better World
Sam Tetlow ’93 believes life happens for him, not to him. In this vein, WPI afforded the best opportunity for his undergraduate education. He was attracted to the flexibility of the academic program, as well as the university’s overarching mission of harnessing the power of engineering, science, and technology for the good of society. That WPI ideal is one he has carried forward in his own life and career, and it is one of the reasons he recently endowed a fund in innovation and entrepreneurship at his alma mater.
Upon graduating with an honors degree in aerospace engineering, Tetlow joined General Electric’s Technical Leadership Program. After his training program, he joined its elite Corporate Audit staff and completed global assignments at Power Systems, Aircraft Engines, GE Capital, and Appliances, where he gained a breadth of experience in sales, financials, and mergers and acquisitions.
“It turns out, GE was a good place to have worked,” he says.
Having grown up with his parents as entrepreneurial role models, Tetlow eventually decided to turn back to his roots. He started a small consulting firm and then worked at a venture capital firm for seven years while earning his MBA at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
After graduating, he joined the firm full-time, focusing on life sciences. It is clear to him that the 21st century is about biology and the life sciences while the 20th century was about physics. In his role as a life science–focused venture capitalist, he delivered on the full cycle of early stage investing from finding great deals through successful exit. While there, he generated excellent investment returns. “I learned along the way that I loved being inside and managing companies. I really wanted to build companies.”
Since 2007, Tetlow has built seven companies as either CEO or lead director. Maintaining his focus on innovation and technology to improve society and save lives, his current organizations include Grant Engine, which helps biotech companies earn grant funding from entities such as the National Institutes of Health and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) with the mission to help save lives through creating innovative healthcare delivery devices and products. Another is Prime Neuro, which is developing functional MRI technology to predict, as early as six months of age, whether a child will progress to the autism spectrum.
Tetlow values his WPI education: the intangible lessons that came from working in teams, studying in groups, working on projects in a team environment—and the very tangible lessons of how innovation and technology impact society that came from his Interactive Qualifying Project experience evaluating the marketing plan for GM’s first electric car, the GM Impact.
“I learned along the way that I loved being inside and managing companies. I really wanted to build companies.”
The importance WPI places on the humanities also stands out for him. “It was a clear signal that it’s about being a well-rounded person.” He has taken that lesson to heart as well, pushing his own mental and physical boundaries to achieve his personal best. He meditates daily and is a competitive runner and triathlete who competed in Iron Man Germany in 2001. He is also an avid expedition explorer who is planning a summit bid for Mt. Everest in May 2021 following a trip to Base Camp in May 2018.
Whether leading a company or on a mountain expedition, Tetlow is not afraid to push beyond what may seem possible to achieve new innovations and achievements. He remains driven by his passion for innovation and entrepreneurship and hopes his endowed fund will inspire and support future generations of WPI students.
“It’s about paying it forward,” he says, “so that others can have the same experience of that incredible growth.”