Barry McNamara  |  Published April 04, 2022

Alumni Profile: Mitch Johnson ’12

Chemistry alumnus and co-founder of bioanalytical research company Veloxity returned to alma mater to discuss career opportunities with students.

MITCH JOHNSON: 2012 alumnus (seated in center) returned to campus March 29 to speak to students a... MITCH JOHNSON: 2012 alumnus (seated in center) returned to campus March 29 to speak to students about his new biolanalytical research company, Veloxity, and about how his Monmouth experience opened the door to his career success.MONMOUTH, Ill. – The drug discovery process is a lengthy one, typically taking more than a decade to go from early experimentation to a product that humans can take under federal approval.

Monmouth College chemistry alumnus Mitch Johnson ’12 is working to reduce that time span at Veloxity, a company he co-founded in Peoria, Illinois.

“At the end of the day, Veloxity is all about speed,” Johnson told Monmouth students during a March 29 campus visit.

Veloxity is a new bioanalytical contract research organization treating disease “one sample at a time,” said Johnson, who earned a doctorate from the University of Missouri. Veloxity is so new, in fact, that it was originally slated to open three days after Johnson’s visit to campus. However, it got an early start, launching in February.

If it plays in Peoria …

Veloxity’s lab space is located at Bradley University’s Peoria NEXT Innovation Center and features high-end liquid chromatography/mass spectrometry technology to support its bioanalysis capabilities.

EXPLAINING HIS COMPANY: At the end of the day, Veloxity is all about speed, Mitch Joh... EXPLAINING HIS COMPANY: "At the end of the day, Veloxity is all about speed," Mitch Johnson '12 told a group of Monmouth students during his March 29 visit to campus.Johnson said Veloxity offers bioanalytical services for both small and large molecules, accelerating turnaround times through its state-of-the-art VELO (Veloxity Electronic Laboratory Operations) system, which provides an automated and traceable workflow from first client contact through analysis.

“Bioanalysis is the foundation of drug discovery,” he said. “We identify pharmaceuticals that people might take one day to treat disease. Our reports on samples are generated in minutes, not hours or days.”

While Silicon Valley and Boston are usual hubs for companies such as Veloxity, Johnson said a conscious effort was made to launch in the Midwest.

“Bioanalysis is the foundation of drug discovery.We identify pharmaceuticals that people might take one day to treat disease. Our reports on samples are generated in minutes, not hours or days.” Mitch Johnson

“We don’t need to bring in new talent,” said Johnson, whose company has five full-time employees, with plans to double every six months for the next couple of ytears. “It’s really about harnessing the talent we have in the Midwest.”

During his presentation to Monmouth students, Johnson used a graphic to show how testing between 5,000 and 10,000 compounds eventually funnels into producing one new drug. He said Veloxity will work with testing on all stages of drug development in that funnel.

“It can be 12 to 13 years between molecular synthesization and a person taking the drug under approval,” he said of what has been, until now, the typical drug discovery timeline.

The cure for ‘imposter syndrome’

Today, Johnson is working with pharmaceutical companies to help speed the production of drugs that may one day cure a variety of medical issues, including cancer and heart disease. As he looked back for the students, he revealed that his Monmouth education was, in itself, a cure.

Johnson came to Monmouth from Ottawa, Illinois, first hearing about the school through the baseball program, which was led by Roger Sander ’78. The two-hour distance from home was in his sweet spot, and he said he immediately felt at home on the “gorgeous” campus.

After overcoming an injury, Johnson became a star for the Fighting Scots, making the All-Midwest Conference team as a junior and leading the team in hitting as a senior.

When he was an upperclassman, chemistry professor Audra Goach asked if he was interested in grad school.

“As a first-generation college student, I hadn’t really considered that option,” said Johnson, who eventually took the Graduate Record Examination and was accepted at the University of Missouri. Once there, “I had the sense of ‘imposter syndrome.’ A lot of the students were from bigger universities.”

It didn’t take long for Johnson’s affliction to be cured.

“There are no graduate students here, so if you have the opportunity to do research, you’re the one who’s designing the experiments, running the experiments, interpreting the data, hopefully writing it up and being among all the posters on the wall.” Mitch Johnson

“But as I made it through the first part of grad school, a lot of the skills I learned at Monmouth came out very quickly,” he said. “At the larger schools, it’s much more cookie-cutter. You’re thrown in with a lot of other students and are repeating very generic labs. You get so much more of a hands-on approach here.”

And he encouraged Monmouth students to embrace that approach.

“Take advantage of the opportunities you get here that a lot of people don’t get at a bigger school,” he said. “There are no graduate students here, so if you have the opportunity to do research, you’re the one who’s designing the experiments, running the experiments, interpreting the data, hopefully writing it up and being among all the posters on the wall.”

That latter step, in fact, was a prime example of the point he was trying to drive home – if you can create a poster, you’re not an imposter.

“Some of the students at Missouri were freaking out because ‘I’ve got to do a poster,’” he said. “But I’d done that before at Monmouth.”

As an undergrad, he not only created posters, but also co-authored a paper on his chemotherapy drug research with Goach.

“Our department is extremely proud of the success that Mitch has become,” said Goach. “As he mentioned to our students, the research program in the chemistry department is instrumental in guiding students down a particular career path. We’re grateful that he’s choosing to give back to the College by mentoring our students. He was able to really relate to them.”

Alumni Chats …

Mitch Johnson discusses how his Monmouth experience prepared him for a career as a scientific entrepreneur. 

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