Penelope Shihab, an international biotech entrepreneur, has made a remarkable journey from the Middle East to Wyoming, where she is now spearheading entrepreneurial efforts at the University of Wyoming. Her story is one of resilience, ambition, and a commitment to driving economic development.
Wyoming may not be the first place that comes to mind when you think of celebrities or biotech entrepreneurs. However, Penelope Shihab is breaking the mold. Born and raised in the West Bank of Palestine, Shihab’s journey has taken her from the turmoil of the Middle East to the picturesque town of Laramie, Wyoming. With a background in science and entrepreneurship, she is now leading the charge in fostering innovation and inspiring the next generation of entrepreneurs at the University of Wyoming.
Palestine and Jordan:
Growing up in a region plagued by conflict, Shihab’s childhood was marked by instability. Despite this, she had a loving family and a drive to pursue her aspirations for the future. However, societal expectations dictated that she stay in the region for her education. At the age of 18, she had the opportunity to go to Jordan for further studies, a decision that proved to be life-changing. Although she initially wanted to become a journalist to showcase the positive aspects of her region, her family encouraged her to pursue medicine. Undeterred, Shihab earned degrees in laboratory medicine and biotechnology while working for an international biotech company.
Entrepreneurship in the Middle East:
In her 30s, Shihab realized that she wanted to start something of her own in the Arab region. Despite facing doubts from friends and family, she embarked on a risky venture to create a successful research and development company. Collaborating with scientists and navigating the uncharted territory of government regulations, Shihab’s company, MonoJo Biotech, focused on cancer and tumor marker research. Through innovative approaches like using camels to produce unique antibodies, the company developed promising products and gained international recognition. Shihab’s entrepreneurial journey was marked by perseverance, learning from mistakes, and adapting to new ideas.
Coming to Wyoming:
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Shihab made the difficult decision to leave her company and care for her father, who was battling cancer. During this time, she learned about an opportunity in Wyoming through her connection with UW President Ed Seidel. Intrigued by the vision to foster entrepreneurship at the university, Shihab took on the role of directing the University of Wyoming Center of Entrepreneurship and Innovation. Her passion for inspiring students and building a robust business ecosystem in Wyoming led her to collaborate with state leaders, faculty, and business owners. Shihab’s efforts have included teaching a course on proposing business ideas and organizing tours of innovative industries across the state.
Penelope Shihab’s journey from the Middle East to Wyoming is a testament to her resilience, ambition, and commitment to driving economic development. Her story serves as an inspiration to students and entrepreneurs alike, showing that with determination and a supportive ecosystem, anyone can make a difference. As she continues to lead the charge in fostering innovation at the University of Wyoming, Shihab’s impact will undoubtedly extend beyond the borders of the state.