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Astronaut Harris Flying in VC Land

Dr. Bernard Harris Jr. has flown in space, logging nearly 440 hours and more than 7.2 million miles during his 11 years as a NASA astronaut. He was even the commander of STS-63, the first flight of the joint Russian-American space program. But, he says, the real excitement comes from working in the venture business. “Honestly, this is more exciting than traveling in space,” says Harris. “Where else can I meet with the brightest minds in shaping the next generation of innovation?” Harris is president and CEO of Vesalius Ventures, a Houston- based business accelerator that specializes in identifying early-stage opportunities in telemedicine and medical informatics and technology. Vesalius — named for Andreas Vesalius, a Belgian physician and anatomist from the 16th century — has not yet made any funding arrangements, but he says he and his team have looked at 165 companies for potential deals in the last year. Harris says that four companies that Vesalius has examined are going through due diligence and are in line for funding. The announcements will likely come in the next quarter, he says.

Guidant Corp. (NYSE: GDT) last year founded Vesalius in partnership with Vanguard Ventures and Fremont Ventures. In July, Timex Corp. also joined Vesalius’ investment board. The goal is for them to invest between $250,000 and $5 million in the early stage companies that Vesalius finds suitable for funding. Harris, 47, who earned his MBA after retiring from NASA in 1996, says there’s actually little difference between flying on the Space Shuttle and looking for new deals. “Venture capitalists are risk takers, just like astronauts,” Harris says. “They’re not blasting off into space, but they do take risks on investments and hope they pay off.” —A.G.