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Meet the Ecosystem Builders: Our Nucleus 2019 Awards Honorees

Throughout the years, our annual fundraiser, Nucleus, has evolved and shifted to reflect what’s happening with at the Science Center (3675 Market Grand Opening party, anyone?). This year, we are debuting the inaugural class of Nucleus Award honorees, recognizing excellence in the three pillars that shape what we do – commercialization, convening, and cultivation – and are sustained with the help of our generous supporters. Not to worry: there will still be plenty of time for networking and celebration at Nucleus 2019 next week. And in anticipation of next week’s celebration, we sat down with our three award recipients: Mihir Shah and Matthew Campisi of UE LifeSciences, Kiera Smalls of Philly Startup Leaders, and Wil Reynolds of Seer Interactive.

Read on to learn about their career aspirations when they were younger, advice they’d give their younger selves and of course, what their super powers are.

Commercialization Award, Sponsored by CSL Behring

UE LifeSciences

Mihir Shah, Founder & CEO / Matthew Campisi, Founder & CTO

“As a proud partner of the University City Science Center, CSL Behring is pleased to sponsor the Nucleus 2019 Commercialization Award and we congratulate UE LifeSciences for bringing the promise of early cancer detection to women globally,” said Bill Mezzanotte, Executive Vice President and Head Research & Development, CSL Behring. “CSL has a growing presence at our operational headquarters in King of Prussia and we continue to invest in local, innovative collaborations to help deliver on our promise of discovering, developing and delivering new medicines that save and enhance the lives of people around the world.” Bill Mezzanotte, Executive Vice President and Head Research & Development, CSL Behring

What inspired you to license the technology from Drexel to commercialize under iBreastExam?

Mihir Shah: In 2007, my mother-in-law had been diagnosed with breast cancer. In fact, the year I got married she wore a wig to the wedding because she was going through treatment. Matt was going through a very similar family experience that is unfortunately very common; his mother in law had also had breast cancer. When UE LifeSciences was formed, we committed ourselves and our professional future to developing a solution that would dramatically increase access to early detection of breast cancer for women in the developing world.

We started to think about the requirements that would be necessary for a technology to really scale; it had to be usable by community health workers as opposed to specialized doctors, it had to work with battery power as opposed to wall power, it had to be very portable so that it could go to places where women are, as opposed to women coming into one central place.

As an entrepreneur-in-residence at Drexel at the time, I had the chance to work with the inventors of the iBreastExam and started the conversation about our interest in licensing the technology. With a lot of nervousness, we took a big entrepreneurial leap based purely on the vision it presented. We took that sliver of a chance that if we can build this into a portable, easy-to-use device that requires minimal training, that can pick up tissue lumps in the breast at any early stage in the developing world, we’ll change the landscape.

UE LifeSciences has grown significantly since it was founded in 2010. How has your role as co-Founder & CEO evolved over that time?

Matthew Campisi: When we first started it was just Mihir and I, so we both had about every role in the company. As we hired more people and underwent typical company development, we organically grew into CEO and CTO. There are now 75 of us across seven offices in three countries.

Mihir: Looking back, we were free-ranging entrepreneurs. Now we are responsible for a growing team that are all bringing their A-game every day, and you realize once you cross 60 employees, that there are so many functions and decisions to make, from company culture to human resources. Whether it’s making sure that people don’t get stuck in the middle of flooding in Mumbai, or keeping your employees safe while traveling, there are things that come with scale and you are constantly in realization of that fact. It’s incumbent on us to shepherd the ship in the right direction. We used to take decisions much more quickly and with only gut-feel, now our decisions are not without gut feel but definitely also not without data and consensus with the broader team.

UE is a global company with operations in 3 countries, and business/sales in 12 countries. Why have an office in Philadelphia?

Mihir: Because this is the hotbed of science and innovation and where we hope to continue growing in terms of R&D, innovation, science and access to incredible human potential. Matt and I plan to continue working with the Science Center, area universities and medical institutions where we do clinical studies, validation studies, and have found everything from interns to partners that have helped us with product design and other facets of our products and innovations. Philly’s unique in that context.

Matt: I can’t tell you how many “backside of the napkin” ideas we had at the Science Center. Those 10,000 quick decisions and top-level plans we think of, most of which probably start off in the Philadelphia office, grow to reach the rest of the company and the rest of the work we’ve done around the world. I’m not from Philadelphia, but at the same time I recognize the work we’ve done there as being the top of the pyramid of the downflow of ideas and things we’ve done in the company.

Mihir: And then the word that comes to my mind is “ecosystem.” We’ve really benefitted from the proximity to the Science Center, Drexel, Penn Medicine and more. This whole access to entrepreneurship, engineering, medicine, is all in one place. I have been a resident of Philly since 1996 when I migrated to the U.S. to attend Drexel. I’m so proud to be so closely knitted to the city and feel a sense of belonging even though I wasn’t born here. You can get lost in a city like New York and L.A., but you never have that feeling in Philly.

What did your 5-year-old-self want to be he grew up?

Matt: I was actually very much doing similar things on a smaller scale that I do now. I always wanted to take stuff apart, break things, and tinker as a little kid. I was curious about why stuff works the way it does, so I feel like the engineer in me and the feeling you get when you get something to finally work has been a driver for me since then. Everybody has a purpose in life or their “thing” that they’re good at. I consider myself one of the fortunate ones to be able to do this everyday and realize my life’s passion into a career.

Mihir: I remember was being in awe of my grandfather and wanting to impress him and do something that would make him proud. I was not the first grandson in the family, but he saw himself in me and would spend countless hours with me He wanted me to be a doctor and I knew at some point in my life that I did not want to become a doctor, but the fact that my career turned towards healthcare and making an impact on people’s lives from the standpoint of bending technology to help people, I think that is something that would have given him a lot of happiness.

What is your super power?

Matt: One of the things I noticed when I first met Mihir was that he’s probably one of the most passionate people on the planet. When he truly believes in what he’s doing, he doesn’t take “no” an answer. Whether it’s business-related or family-related, the ability to not give up against very steep criticism and challenges along the way, is a super power that our company and people in general benefit from tremendously. I don’t know anyone that possesses that quality, to his level.

Mihir: Matt’s superpower is his uncanny ability to be an ally of the third degree. His ability to transform technology in a meaningful way that solves a complicated puzzle all at the same time. He can take a vision and translate that into a reality and offer incredible, unwavering support. He provides support that you can rely on like a rock and it’s been there on day one and it’s only more so today. If I had to summarize it, he’s a rock- for all of us in the company and I know that the same is true for his own family.

Favorite thing about Philadelphia:

Mihir: Matt’s answer is “Mihir.” I genuinely love the view from the top of the art museum, I think it’s priceless. I love that part of Philly, I’ve spent a lot of time there. And Lorenzo’s pizza.

Matt: Right after I get off the Jersey Turnpike on I-95 when I’m sitting in traffic all the way from that point down to the Science Center. I’m stuck there for a good hour or more, so that’s when I catch up on news radio, world events and make all my calls to people. Also, I was born and raised in Brooklyn, I’m a New Yorker at heart, but I like that Philadelphia is a smaller community of people. The first time in my life I was ever in Philly was to meet up with Mihir. Philly also reminds me of my New York, with a more intimate, homey feel.

CONVENER AWARD, Sponsored by PFM and TriState

Kiera Smalls, Executive Director, Philly Startup Leaders

What does the concept of ‘convening’ mean to you?  

Kiera Smalls: Bringing people together. I know that’s cliché but that’s the concept. Bringing people together in whatever way you can.

What does success look like to you?  

Kiera: In everything I do, I look to connect available resources to the people who need them most. Success for me- regardless of my title, demographics, etc - is bridging the gap between people and institutions who have resources, and people and institutions who don’t have resources.

What have you been most proud of in your career?  

Kiera: I’m proud that each position I’ve held over the years has allowed me to connect available resources to the people who need them most. The relationships and partnerships cultivated have been instrumental.

You just went through a rebrand with PSL. What are you most excited about tackling now that your new website, look and refined are complete?   

Kiera: We are looking to increase the number of startup entrepreneurs growing in the city of Philadelphia. Last year, we received feedback from people stating they needed a clearer understanding of what the organization does. During the rebrand, we spent a lot of time clarifying exactly what the organization offers and how it supports founders.

Philly Startup Leaders needs to be as accessible as possible to startup entrepreneurs of many industries, backgrounds, and stages.

What did your 5-year-old-self want to be when she grew up?  

Kiera: Interesting, I can’t recall a specific role. I was never like, “I want to be a doctor” but I definitely wanted to help people. Growing up in a low-income family and community, it was always in the back of my mind to figure out a way to help people who 1) look like me and came from where I came from 2) wanted to do good in the world.

What is your superpower? 

Kiera: I’ve come to rely on my ability to lead with empathy over anything else. It’s important to me to meet people where they are, listen to understand and have compassion. This is a constant practice and a topic that needs to be taught more in schools, homes, work, etc.

Favorite thing about Philadelphia: 

Kiera: The people. I really appreciate the pride that Philadelphians have for this city regardless of its struggles or outside opinions.

CULTIVATION AWARD, Sponsored by NewSpring

Seer Interactive

“In our experience partnering with growth-stage businesses in the technology sector, we know that creating a diverse, inclusive, and sustainable workforce is a critical component of a company’s success. The spirit behind the Cultivator Award aligns seamlessly with NewSpring’s mission as a firm to support innovative, forward-thinking, and lasting companies.  We are proud to support this Award, the Science Center, and the greater Philadelphia innovation ecosystem.” Mike DiPiano Managing General Partner and co-founder of NewSpring

Why is cultivating the next generation of technologists so important to the company?

Wil Reynolds: It’s partially selfish. We’re a growing company dedicated to doing great work for our clients, and in order to do that we have to find great people. I don’t think it’s ever too early to start working with youth and people in the cities where we have offices to help establish that pipeline. We also feel that we have a responsibility as a company to try to have an impact on the people in the cities where we are located. So, any time we can be a part of taking a little bit of time out of our day to help people get exposure to this industry, we’re all for it.

What do you wish someone told you when you started Seer Interactive?

Wil: That it’s okay to just enjoy the work and not necessarily follow the advice of, “at some point you have to work on the business instead of in the business.” That’s very common advice. We put people in a position where they work really hard, they love what they do, and then over time find themselves running the business as it grows and they’re like, “damn, that’s not nearly as fun as back in the day when I did the work!” I wish someone had told me that earlier on, I had to self-discover that over time.

Also, the importance of repetition. When you’re a fast-growing company, 20% of the company might be new in six months. It’s important to consistently repeat the values of the company so that people know that it’s real and they “get it.”

If someone is interested in a tech career without a tech background, what advice would you share?

Wil: Accept no excuses. In most technical careers, there is nothing stopping you from building a website, getting certified in Google’s tools or watching YouTube and learning. Don’t allow yourself to feel like you have to take the traditional career path to get a crack at those opportunities. And if you’ve done the work to learn these things, don’t sit in an interview and allow somebody to make you feel lesser about yourself. Seek out companies that care more about what you’ve accomplished, than necessarily what pieces of paper you have from some university or organization.

You’ve got to keep your head up and keep your chest out and realize that your experience may give you a different perspective that they may not have, which could help you build better products for your clients and customers.

What can we expect to see from Seer Interactive over the next five year?

Wil: We’re going to stick to the same thing we’ve been doing: enjoy the journey, learn as we go and not create a plan so far out that it blinds us from enjoying the day to day. We might learn something today that might completely alter the trajectory of what we thought our five-year plan might be. I really want Seer Interactive to be a company that’s constantly learning, innovating, and tinkering. Alongside of all that, it continues to be a critical function of our company to be an active member of the communities in which we are located.

What did your 5-year-old-self want to be when he grew up?

Wil: A pilot. I wanted to fly fighter planes. My dad was in the air force and he crushed my dream because he’s like, “Son -you wear glasses. You cannot fly a plane if you wear glasses.” At the time I was much younger, technologies weren’t there to help correct vision, so that did not happen.

What is your super power?

Wil: I’ve had other people tell me it’s my ability to get out of the way of the success of our company. There is no ego with me when it comes to the fact that I don’t run the company anymore, and the ability to realize I was the wrong person at one point to run this company. When I talk to others who have gone on to have some level of success in their organizations, they can’t believe that I did that at the juncture that I was at. So many people tend to hold on to wanting to run everything. And my answer is, “Yeah, but I went to school to be a teacher, this isn’t what I expected. Why would I think that I could go on to run this entire company and have the skills to help it to thrive and survive?”

If you want to see your organization be successful and you don’t have all the skills to get that company there, it’s a no brainer. I’ve always been surprised at how many successful entrepreneurs think that’s a big deal. I might have been great to get SEER from A to B, and okay getting it from B to C, but when it comes to taking it from C to D, I knew I was the wrong person.

Favorite thing about Philadelphia:

Wil: I really love how Philly is the kind of city where no matter what your level of success, you’re no better than anybody else. Even with our tech community growing, there’s that humility and underlying sense of treating everybody with a certain amount of respect; and if you don’t, they’re going to tell you about yourself! This is one example or a microcosm: I travel to many cities, many might have massive tech booms or things of that nature, because we have clients all over the world. I was sitting in a café in Portero Hill in San Francisco, and at the coffee table next to me, somebody’s talking about “Sergey and Marissa and Eric.” They were dropping first names, like they personally know Marissa Mayer, Sergey Brin, and Larry Page and Eric Schmidt at Google! Get out of here, that’s just crazy! In Philly if you said that somewhere in a café, somebody would probably say “slow down and ease up bro!”

Our entrepreneurs and founders are also insanely accessible. I would say Josh Kopelman is probably one of the more successful investors and entrepreneurs anywhere in the country, period. If you bump into him, he will say, “let me show you my new office!” You see these people that have gone on to do big things in Philly and you can pick up the phone and call them or drop them an email. There’s a lack of pretentiousness and a little more of that, “Yo, we’re here to help and if we can be available or meet you for coffee or connect you to somebody, we will.”