Meet the Advisors

Dr. Ben Ward

Associate Professor, Chemical and Life Science Engineering

Ben Ward is Associate Professor, Chemical and Life Science Engineering, and Director of Project Outreach in the College of Engineering at Virginia Commonwealth University. Dr Ward is also PI for the Engineering Critical Patient Care VIP team. Prior to joining Virginia Commonwealth University, Ben had an industrial R&D, Engineering and Product Development career of over 33 years. This includes Hoechst Celanese from 1981 to 2000, and Filtrona (Essentra) Porous Technologies as VP of R&D from 2001 to 2013. He led successful product development activities in very diverse areas, such as ultra-high temperature resistant thermoplastics, gas barrier coatings for tires, moisture indicating wicks for pregnancy test kits, porous storage and ink release media for ink jet printer cartridges and absorptive components for endoscopic surgical instruments. He is inventor or co-inventor of over 28 US patents and foreign equivalents.

Garret Westlake

Executive Director, da Vinci Center

Garret Westlake is the Executive Director of the da Vinci Center at Virginia Commonwealth University. Through extensive work with Ashoka U, the Clinton Global Initiative University, the European Innovation Academy, and the Global Venture Lab, Westlake has contributed to award winning curriculum and programs for entrepreneurship and innovation education around the world. He has advised and mentored students whose projects have provided entrepreneurship education to South Sudan, brought greater awareness and services to the victims of sex trafficking, and improved the treatment of jaundice through new medical device technology. Westlake has supported and mentored student ventures accepted to Y Combinator, SXSW, and those receiving significant financial investment from the Resolution Project, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and private equity.

Dennis Cavender

Vice President of Sales, Cupron Medical Textiles

Prior to joining Cupron, Dennis spent eight years in business development in the energy industry, and eighteen years in sales and sales management with Medtronic – one of the world’s largest medical device/biologics companies. He also served as founder and managing partner of a medical device distribution company – bringing new and innovative medical devices from multiple manufacturers to the marketplace. Previous titles include; Regional Vice President, Managing Partner, and Area Sales Manager. Mr. Cavender received his M.B.A. and a B.S. in Engineering from West Virginia University.

Dr. Nickie Damico, CRNA

Assistant Professor, Vice Chair for Academic Affairs, VCU Nurse Anesthesia

Dr. Nickie Damico joined the VCU Nurse Anesthesia faculty in October, 2010. She is a proud alumnus of VCU’s Nurse Anesthesia program, class of 1999. She holds Bachelor of Science in Nursing, Master of Science in Nurse Anesthesia, and Doctor of Philosophy in Health Related Science degrees, all from VCU. Dr. Damico is a practicing anesthetist with Commonwealth Anesthesia Associates, providing anesthesia services at CJW Medical Center and Bon Secours St. Francis Medical Center. Dr. Damico’s research interests include patient safety, human simulation and the use of technology in didactic education.

Sean Higgins

Manager, Medical Devices, SPARK Product Development

Sean’s passion is innovating at the intersection of engineering and medicine. A Mechanical Engineering graduate from Virginia Tech, with a Biomedical Engineering Master’s from Virginia Commonwealth University, Sean is the go-to resource for all things medical.

Dr. Michael Mancini

Business Development Manager, VCU Innovation Gateway