It’s Been Real, Harvard.

From college to company

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This morning I took a pre-dawn flight to San Francisco. Tomorrow is my first day with the rest of the Nivien Therapeutics team at the IndieBio Accelerator.

Many of my friends and advisors think it’s crazy that I’m leaving Harvard one semester before graduation to build a cancer therapies startup that has a remote chance of success based on sector statistics. Young would-be founders in every industry are told to join an established firm before taking a shot themselves. In biomedicine, they’re also told to get an MD, a PhD, or both.

I knew early on that I wanted to translate scientific research into applied technologies. I also knew that I wanted to start with the life sciences, where the potential for positive impact on human health and happiness is so significant. I loved my company formation work at RA Capital and I wanted to found my own biotech startup — eventually.

Before Nivien, I had prepared to spend five or six years doing a PhD, presumably followed by at least a couple years as a postdoctoral fellow or an employee at someone else’s company. I figured that even then, scientists and investors in their 50s and 60s would look at me and say: “He’s too young. What has he done? How can we expect this company to succeed?”

And through all that, what would I have learned?

The science, absolutely. Without a strong scientific team in a science-based business you’re dead in the water. But beyond the science, what else?

What about how to license intellectual property from Harvard Medical School? About how to plan preclinical studies with the FDA? About how to negotiate a million-dollar risk-share partnership with a multinational contract research organization?

What about how to hire expert scientists to work with you towards a shared vision for a better way to treat cancer?

No other opportunity, no graduate degree or entry-level job at any company in the world, can prepare you for that. I believe that sometimes — when you know exactly what you want to do in ten years — you should just do it now.


This post is part of a series of short essays about student entrepreneurship, VC, and translating scientific research into applied technologies. If you enjoyed reading this post check out the others below and feel free to get in touch!

Update: Nivien closed after 2 years. Read our story in The Washington Post.

Written by

Biotech VC. Director or Observer on the boards of six RA Capital companies. Former CEO of Nivien Therapeutics. My writing does not represent RA Capital.

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