2021 Best & Brightest MBAs: Clinton Bourbonais, University of Michigan (Ross)

Clinton Bourbonais

University of Michigan Ross School of Business

“An ambitious, hardworking, and compassionate team player looking to make a difference in patients’ lives.”

Hometown: Ann Arbor, MI

Fun fact about yourself: My college hockey team won the NCAA Division I Ice Hockey Championship in 2013 (my junior year of undergrad).

Undergraduate School and Degree: Yale University, BS Biomedical Engineering

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? QurAlis – Neuroscientist developing therapeutics for ALS

Where did you intern during the summer of 2020? Summer Associate at Sanofi Ventures in Cambridge, MA

Where will you be working after graduation? Sanofi Ventures

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School: Volunteer youth hockey coach

* Member of non-profit MichBio

* Zell Scholar for exemplary academic standing and strong entrepreneurial activities

* Deal Flow Manager for Zell Lurie Commercialization Fund a student-led venture capital fund

* Member of Healthcare and Life Sciences Club

* Member of Entrepreneur and Venture Capital club

* Teaching Assistant for FIN629: Financing Technology Commercialization: A Venture Capital Practicum

* Yale Mentor for undergraduates

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? Over the past 14 months, I have been working as a consultant for a biotech venture capital firm in Cambridge, MA focusing on a unique company creation project. This project originated through a realization about the challenges facing new neuroscience-focused biotechnology companies: the exorbitant amount of capital and resources needed to successfully build these startups. To solve this, we created a suite of precision neuroscience biotechnology companies that operate under one umbrella, sharing resources and expertise, while retaining the autonomy to design and operate as a nimble and gritty biotech startup. After 14 months of work with our three-person team, our company has been incorporated, in-licensed multiple scientific assets, and hired 3 full-time employees. This is my proudest extracurricular activity because I was able to apply my learnings from business school in an industry that I am passionate about, while also driving therapies towards patients affected by debilitating neurodegenerative diseases. I am extremely proud of the internal team and I look forward to the potential innovative therapies coming from our therapeutic pipeline.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I am most proud of the progress the team at QurAlis has made in the development of their innovative Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) drug that is entering clinical trials in 2021. Our small four-person team began with a vision to bring medicines to ALS patients and driving our lead program into Phase 1 clinical trials is a major milestone towards our goal of obtaining an FDA approval. I wish the QurAlis team all the best in their pursuit of the first curative ALS therapeutic.

Why did you choose this business school? I chose Ross because of the experiential learning component of the curriculum and extracurricular activities. When deciding between business schools, the possibility to get hands-on experience in the biotechnology startup and entrepreneurial ecosystem in Ann Arbor was a strong selling point for Ross. There is a budding biotech ecosystem in Ann Arbor and having access to the innovative technologies spinning out of the Office of Tech Transfer has been an amazing experience. Moreover, the student led venture fund, ZLCF, has given me relevant experience in the venture capital sector.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? My favorite professor is Dr. Michael Johnson, an MD/MBA with a background as a biotech venture capitalist at Flagship Pioneering. Flagship is a prominent biotech VC firm in Cambridge, MA that invests in startup ideas that are created via an internal innovative company creation model. Dr. Johnson is also the faculty advisor for ZLCF (student-led venture fund) and has been instrumental in my development as a biotech investor. He challenges his students to be hypothesis-driven and formulate independent viewpoints prior to larger group discussions. The ability to prepare individual ideas allows for greater diversity in problem solving discussions and is an important lesson moving forward in any professional career, specifically in the biotech investment space.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? Because Ross offers such an amazing collection of elective courses taught by world-renowned professors, I would have tried to waive out of more core courses so I could take additional electives. The number of entrepreneurship, healthcare, and venture capital courses I wanted to take outpaced the number of course credits I had available. Good thing Ross offers the lifetime promise for graduates to audit any Ross course!

What is the biggest myth about your school? The biggest myth about our school is that it is hard to recruit to Boston from Ross. Boston is a growing destination for Rossers and we have seen an uptick in people recruiting and living in Boston post-graduation. It is great to see this increased trend and I look forward to being an avid alumni ambassador back in Beantown.

What surprised you the most about business school? I am most surprised about two things: 1) the personal impact and individual growth that happens in such a short amount of time; and 2) the caliber and breadth of experiences of my classmates. I came to business school hoping to grow and learn as much as possible. What happened was so much more. My perspective on the world has been completely altered. My ability to understand ambiguous and complex problems, digest those problems, and formulate solutions is a direct result of my Ross experience. Moreover, I am amazed at the backgrounds and perspectives of my classmates. Those same ambiguous problems often require different perspectives, and it has been amazing to learn about the wide-ranging thought processes of my talented classmates.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? During the application process, my wife and I did a lot of research on the business schools where we were interested in applying. This research enabled us to be well informed about the different clubs, extracurriculars, and classes that interested us. This allowed us to highlight these business school goals in our essays, interviews, and informational coffee chats. My advice to current applicants would be to research and speak to as many current students and alumni as possible to understand all the experiences these amazing institutions have to offer.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? The MBA classmate I admire the most is my wife, Corey Bourbonais (also a second-year MBA student at Ross). Corey is the reason I applied to business school and she has been an incredible partner to go through this journey with. She has been the sounding board for my crazy ideas and my rock during uncertain times. I cannot imagine my MBA experience without her, and I hope she knows how important she was in this journey. Additionally, I continue to be amazed by her involvement in a myriad of activities that influence our fellow classmates. Such activities include (but are not limited to) VP of Education for the Consulting Club (helping to prepare first-year MBAs for consulting recruiting), a FACT group leader (coaches a small group of first year MBAs through the consulting recruiting cycle), and a Peer Coach. I continue to be impressed by her drive to help others. When someone is having a tough week or did not receive a job offer, Corey is always there to support. Her passion for Ross inspires me to pay it forward as well. Thank you, Corey!

How disruptive was it to shift to an online or hybrid environment after COVID hit? COVID-19 arrived at the beginning of the fourth quarter of our first year of business school. At Ross, the fourth quarter is a Multidisciplinary Action Project (MAP) where a group of 5-6 MBA students are paired with a company from across the globe to work on a specific project outlined by the MAP program office and said company. My team was paired with Nurami, an Israeli biotech company, with travel plans to visit Haifa, Israel to work alongside the founding team to formulate a go-to-market strategy for a surgical sealant the Nurami team was developing. COVID-19 put an end to the travel, in-person working sessions, and changed how the world conducted business. First off, I want to shout out my amazing MAP team who did an incredible job of adapting to the changing environment and provided Nurami with a strong go-to-market strategy. Secondly, I want to highlight the administration at the University of Michigan, and specifically the Ross administrative team, for pivoting our MAP and classes to an online format. The transition was as seamless as possible, and I want to thank the Ross leadership for being transparent and receptive to feedback about the virtual learning environment.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? Pete Leone is a mentor who influenced me the most to pursue an MBA. Pete holds a BS in Engineering from Dartmouth and an MBA from Stanford. Pete and I met six years ago through a 6 a.m. biotech ice hockey skate in Boston and we quickly formed a mentor-mentee relationship. Pete and I would discuss his academic and professional path to becoming the CEO, COO, and CBO of several mid-size biotechnology companies. He would challenge me to think about my professional future and what my dream job would be. When I was deciding between pursuing a PhD or MBA, Pete was instrumental in this decision-making process. He helped shed light on why an MBA could help me achieve my professional goals.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list?

1) Help develop an FDA approved medicine.

2) Speak with a patient that has been cured or helped by a medicine I helped develop, market, or commercialize.

What made Clinton such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2021?

“Clinton is a problem-solver and a leader. I’ve been fortunate to see Clinton’s work across many contexts — as a healthcare innovation student, entrepreneur, Zell Lurie Commercialization Fund fellow / investor, Graduate Student Instructor in my Financing Technology Commercialization course, and Associate at an early stage venture capital firm. I’ve seen him work to solve all kinds of problems — from logistical challenges as a GSI to improving diagnostics for Alzheimer’s disease in my healthcare course. He is a person of deep intellectual curiosity — constantly learning and asking questions. He is a person who motivates others and helps bring a team together. He’s going to make a big difference in healthcare. I think he’s an outstanding representative of our great Class of 2021.”

Michael Johnson
Entrepreneur-in-Residence and Lecturer at the University of Michigan, Ross School of Business
Faculty Managing Director, Zell Lurie Commercialization Fund


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