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Humans of the Science Center: Tiara Durham

Tiara Durham is on a mission to help others succeed. Over the course of her career, she’s assisted families and small businesses in building wealth through sound strategies in investments and savings, led impact investing initiatives aimed at diverse founders, did product marketing for Fortune 100 companies, and now in her role as Director of New Ventures at the Science Center: she’s equipping startups with the skills and knowledge essential for long-term sustainability and growth.

Read on to learn about Tiara’s role, what she hopes to accomplish in the next 12 months, and her favorite thing about Philadelphia.

What are your goals for the next 6-12 months as Director of New Ventures?

As I step into my new role focused on early-stage life science companies, my goals for the first 6-12 months encompass not only guiding these companies through the intricacies of commercialization and capital acquisition but also designing and implementing comprehensive programs that provide the support they need along their journey.

I am focused on designing tailored programs that cater to the unique needs of early-stage life sciences. These programs will be structured to address various stages of the commercialization process, from refining their product concepts to launching and securing capital. Central to these programs will be the integration of mentorship and expert guidance. I will build on the Science Center’s existing connections to curate a network of seasoned industry experts, successful entrepreneurs, and professionals who can provide hands-on mentorship, share insights, and offer practical advice to the companies. Workshops and training sessions will be a cornerstone of these programs. Designing programs that assist companies in validating their products and services within the market will be paramount. This could involve helping them gather customer feedback, and refine their offerings based on real-world insights.

Recognizing that capital acquisition is a pivotal step, our programs will guide companies through the intricacies of investor engagement. Collaborative partnerships can significantly accelerate the commercialization journey. I will design initiatives that facilitate connections between the companies and potential partners, research institutions, healthcare providers, and other stakeholders that align with their goals.

Understanding that each company's needs may evolve, it's important to have an iterative approach to program design. Regular feedback loops and ongoing evaluations will allow the team to refine and adapt the programs to ensure they remain relevant and effective.

Ultimately, these programs will aim not only to guide companies through the immediate challenges of commercialization but also to equip them with skills and knowledge that foster long-term sustainability and growth in the life sciences industry.

Tiara at Venture Cafe

You started your career at a few big pharma companies and transitioned to working with startups. What inspired you to support entrepreneurship?

Throughout my career, I've followed a path that reflects my passion for helping others succeed. My journey began with a focus on financial planning and assisting families and small businesses in building wealth through sound strategies in investments and savings. This experience acquainted me with the dedication and resilience often found in entrepreneurs who utilized their small businesses to establish financial independence and create lasting legacies.

Although I transitioned to roles within the pharmaceutical industry and gained expertise in areas such as life sciences marketing and product management, my dedication to supporting entrepreneurship never wavered. My time within Fortune 100 and 500 companies provided me with invaluable insights and skills that I now leverage to assist early-stage life science startups in bringing their visionary concepts to fruition. This shift allows me to combine my deep-rooted enthusiasm for helping determined individuals achieve their goals with my honed expertise in commercialization strategies.

In essence, my career trajectory showcases a continuous commitment to aiding entrepreneurs and innovators, utilizing the knowledge I've amassed to empower startups in the life sciences sector.

You have experience in impact investment from your previous role at Founders First Capital Partners. What are some important lessons you learned from the investment side?

My experience in impact investment during my tenure at Founders First Capital Partners has provided me with valuable insights that extend beyond financial considerations alone. One of the key takeaways I've gained is the critical importance of intimately knowing the financial health of a business from the ground up. This knowledge goes beyond surface-level financials and involves a deep understanding of cash flow, revenue streams, and cost structures. This insight enables informed decision-making and helps identify potential growth and improvement areas.

Knowing what makes a business model unique is paramount. This principle applies universally, regardless of whether the goal is financial returns or positive social outcomes. Identifying and articulating the distinct factors that set a business apart not only attracts investors but also resonates with customers and stakeholders. This uniqueness might lie in a disruptive technology, a novel approach to a longstanding challenge, or a commitment to sustainability and social responsibility.

To that end, understanding the value proposition from the customer's perspective and articulating how the offering addresses their needs or solves their problems is equally important. Whether pursuing financial returns or positive impact, communicating this value proposition effectively is fundamental to attracting both investors and customers.

There are so many valuable considerations and lessons learned. These are truly just a few!

Tiara with colleagues at Quorum
Tiara with Gladys Vonglahn owner of Gladys Cleaning Service LLC and a Founders First Bootcamp Accelerator Alum

What is the work that still needs to be done to support diverse founder-led businesses?

Supporting diverse founder-led businesses is a critical endeavor that requires ongoing commitment and strategic action. While progress has been made, there are several key areas where work remains to ensure these businesses receive the necessary support and opportunities they deserve.

One of the foremost challenges for diverse founder-led businesses is equitable access to capital. Many minority entrepreneurs face difficulties in securing funding due to systemic biases and lack of networks.

Offering comprehensive education and training programs tailored to the unique challenges faced by diverse founders is crucial. Entrepreneurship education should cover not only business fundamentals but also topics such as pitching to investors, negotiating contracts, and building strong professional networks. Providing access to mentorship and coaching opportunities can empower diverse founders with the knowledge and skills needed for sustainable growth.

Diverse founders need to see themselves represented in leadership positions and as role models. This representation helps break down barriers and encourages aspiring entrepreneurs from underrepresented backgrounds to pursue their ventures with confidence. Creating inclusive ecosystems where diverse voices are valued and included can foster innovation and creativity.

Advocacy for policies that promote equity and inclusion in entrepreneurship is crucial. Governments, industry associations, and nonprofits can play a role in shaping policies that level the playing field for diverse founder-led businesses.

Regularly tracking and reporting diversity metrics within entrepreneurship and investment ecosystems is essential. This data can highlight areas of improvement, demonstrate the impact of existing initiatives, and hold stakeholders accountable for their commitments to diversity and inclusion.

There is clearly an impetus for a multi-faceted approach that encompasses access to capital, education, representation, policy changes, advocacy, and reporting. By addressing these aspects, we can foster a more inclusive and equitable entrepreneurial landscape that benefits individuals from all walks of life.

What is your favorite thing about Philly?

I love the culture of food in Philly! There are always great authentic restaurants to choose from. It’s one of my biggest budget lines!

What is your superpower?

Problem solving. Tools to problem solving are key. However, a simple decision matrix can do wonders for a problem.

Tiara with Candace Matthews Brackeen CEO of Lightship Capital and Hannah Colton