My High-Impact Entrepreneurial Internship: StopCMV

Franco Zambra (MBA ’22) shares how he chose a high-impact internship path by creating StopCMV, an organization that educates about congenital cytomegalovirus (cCMV), a common virus that can impact newborns causing life-long health problems, including hearing loss, vision loss, developmental and motor delay, and seizures.

By Franco Zambra, MBA ’22

Why Did I Choose an Entrepreneurial Internship?
During the first year of the MBA, it is common to hear about the ‘highway’ and ‘dirt road’ paths to more traditional internships, but it was less clear how to pursue an entrepreneurial internship (the ‘jungle’ path), especially a non-profit entrepreneurial internship. That is why it is incredible news that starting with the Class of 2022, there is a formal alternative to more traditional internships that allows students to create an Entrepreneurial Venture, and design their own internship path by developing a startup.

This modality brings new challenges and opportunities to generate impact and put into practice the MIT motto “mens et manus”. This year, there are more than 30 entrepreneurs who chose to pursue this path to demonstrate that there are leadership spaces to generate value and flex social responsibility during the summer internship.

In my case, the motivation to start my own foundation with my wife, StopCMV, comes from our history. In 2019 our first daughter, Amanda, was born in Chile with a virus called congenital cytomegalovirus (cCMV). Although we did a full treatment and she initially did not show severe sequelae, in the last few months we confirmed that the virus caused her single-sided deafness, so we decided to move forward with a cochlear implant at Massachusetts Eye & Ear which should improve Amanda’s future development.

From our experience, we were convinced that an early diagnosis was a key factor in achieving optimal results given the possible scenarios, so we feel a social responsibility to educate and support families, and eradicate cCMV around the world.

The biggest problem is that there is practically no awareness of the virus, both worldwide and particularly in Chile, even though it is much more common than other conditions or congenital pathologies that are frequently tested for in pregnancy or newborns. In fact, it is estimated that in Chile at least 5 children are born every day with cCMV. At the same time, the main prevention measures are very simple and effective to mitigate the transmission of CMV; and are similar to the recommended protocols to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus. In this context, we started investigating the virus and talking with experts to develop our foundation.

Today we have an advisory board made up of the leaders within Chile’s health institutions and scientific associations and we are working on research, communication and support projects for cCMV families.

What is cCMV?
Congenital cytomegalovirus is the most common virus in the world and the main cause of non-genetic hearing loss in children. The risk group are pregnant women who have not been infected before, or who may contract another strain of the virus during pregnancy. Sometimes called the ‘older sibling’s disease,’ it is common for a pregnant woman to be infected by another child in the household by coming in contact with bodily fluids as part of daily caretaking. What is most important: the virus can be easily prevented in the pregnant woman and treated in the newborn with early diagnosis.

How does my startup, StopCMV, make a difference?
StopCMV seeks to prevent, diagnose, and treat cCMV, generating awareness about the impact of cCMV from pregnancy to the newborn stage. We want everyone to be informed about cCMV, the impact it has on society today and how an early diagnosis can save lives. We are convinced that the way to defeat this virus is through social support and channels of communication.

How did the MIT network and the entrepreneurship ecosystem in Cambridge support you in creating StopCMV?
As a consultant prior to starting the MBA, I immersed myself in many new industries and different subjects at MIT Sloan. In the spring semester, I started to learn more about entrepreneurship. In particular, the iECO4REAL course helped me to understand how entrepreneurship ecosystems work and who the main stakeholders are. In addition, Entrepreneurial Strategy helped me incorporate a coherent framework and make key decisions to develop an organization from scratch. Additionally, the supportive environment at MIT Sloan allowed me to connect with other students to learn about their entrepreneurship experiences, challenges, and recommendations.

Cambridge is a leader ecosystem in biotechnology innovations, including those to treat and prevent CMV. I have followed Moderna TX’s research efforts, confirming that they are planning for Phase III of a CMV mRNA-based vaccine. At the same time, there are experts in sensorineural hearing loss such as Michael Cohen, Surgeon & Director of the Multidisciplinary Pediatric Hearing Loss Clinic at Massachusetts Eye and Ear, who have guided us with technical advice and are committed with reducing the number of hearing loss cases in newborns in the US.

What are our next steps?
Our main goal is to eradicate cCMV from Chile and Latam through community support, communication and innovation. Our initial focus will be deep research about the virus in Chile and massive outreach to generate a solid base that will allow us to initiate significant changes in public policies to drive mass vaccination against the virus in the region.

What should Sloanies think about when considering a high-impact entrepreneurial internship?
The opportunity to develop high-impact initiatives is one of the key differentiators of the MIT Sloan MBA program, which is why I invite the new generations of MBAs to learn more about this new path of entrepreneurship and to ask themselves what their perfect internship is, since their decision can become the first step in changing the world.

Learn more about StopCMV: | Instagram: @stopcmv_chile

By MIT Sloan CDO