It took achieving success to teach Michael Schrader (MBA 2012) how to be successful. 

"Find something exciting and that you are passionate about that has meaning beyond just financial gain," Schrader, co-founder and CEO of Vaxess Technologies, urges prospective entrepreneurs. "To have the motivation that you are doing something that could be meaningful to the world helps you stick it out through the hard times." 

A mechanical engineer by trade who had worked in design for Honda and Toyota, Schrader came to Harvard Business School to gain the knowledge and tools to start his own company. But first he embarked on a couple of ventures that fell flat. 

"I started those companies for the wrong reasons," he says. 

Everything came together in 2011, when Schrader teamed up with Harvard Kennedy School student Livio Valenti, chemistry postdoctoral fellow Kathryn Kosuda and Harvard Law School student Patrick Ho in the Commercializing Science course at HBS. The course brings together graduate students from across Harvard University to build viable business ventures. 

Vaxess Technologies, a company working to make vaccines accessible to people in the developing world, was created based upon technology developed by Tufts University professors David Kaplan and Fiorenzo Omenetto. 

Kaplan and Omenetto's technique uses a protein found in silk to stabilize vaccines, making it possible to ship them around the world without refrigeration. 

"They can just be sitting out there on a pallet next to some two-liter bottles of Coke," says Schrader. 

In 2012, Vaxess was awarded $70,000 for winning the Harvard President's Challenge.

In addition to making the vaccines shelf-stable, Vaxess has employed a second technology, based on research done at MIT, to make the delivery system easier and more efficient. The vaccine is on a small patch "like a little piece of Velcro," says Schrader, which delivers the vaccine into the skin using microneedles, instead of using the traditional needle and syringe. This allows for self-administration of vaccines, or for lesser trained medical professionals to administer them. It also makes the vaccines more compact and easier to ship. 

What started as a four-person operation in 2011 has bloomed into an enterprise that employs 19 people and has raised $15 million.

Schrader says the funding raised by Vaxess is unique in that only $4.6 million came from investors, with the remainder coming from nonprofit foundations and grants, including $6 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.  

"They see the potential global impact this can have and that is really exciting," he says, adding Vaxess is the perfect case study of how Harvard supports entrepreneurs. 

Starting with the class that brought the four co-founders together, to being one of the first start-ups to land space in the iLab when it first opened, Schrader says the university has been behind the venture, now housed at the Pagliuca Harvard Life Lab, every step of the way. 

"We were given a wonderful footprint to work in every day and hold meetings at the iLab and won $160,000 in university contests," he says. "We won the HBS New Venture Competition as students and alumni – the first team to do that, well, because we didn’t raise any money and were able to win again." 

Schrader credits much of the company's success to the advisory board they were able to build from across the university, the tools they were provided, and the mentorship of recently retired HBS professor Vicki Sato. 

"The beauty of the HBS network are the formal and informal advisors and mentors you have access to, alumni and peers at various stages of their careers in building companies and in venture capital," he says. "It is all of the things you can’t possibly learn in a business class – the personal side of entrepreneurship and how to handle growth, payroll, taxes."

"Take advantage of everything offered," Schrader tells the budding HBS entrepreneurs of today. "Find some great mentors willing to support your effort."