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Startup Chemistry: How the Founders Fellowship Catalyzes Entrepreneurial Success

One year to transform your life science concept into a business reality.

That’s the premise of the Science Center’s Founders Fellowship, which helps prepare founders for success in their commercialization efforts. Fellows receive hands-on training, guidance from industry stakeholders, a $50k stipend, access to facilities at CIC labs (a sponsor of the Fellowship), and more.

Last week, five fresh Founders Fellows started their 12-month journey – while three others wrapped theirs up and became program alumni.

Here’s what our three graduating fellows have been working on:

Yazmin Feliz’s startup Sono makes pregnancy monitoring affordable and accessible for all. It empowers expecting mothers, especially those from underserved communities, to capture their own sonograms - and aims to place pregnancy monitoring directly into their hands.

Daniel Baker has been working on revolutionizing the treatment of cancer by engineering a patient’s own cells. He is working to unite the fields of cellular therapy and longevity to treat chronic disease.

And Aravind Krishnan’s company ToxiSense is using genetic engineering to develop more sustainable and cost-effective bacterial contamination tests for screening medical products and diagnosing sepsis. ToxiSense engineers plant cell-based biosensors to yield a more rapid, accurate, cost-effective, and sustainable alternative.

One of the tenets of the Founders Fellowship is that it teaches fellows to think not just like scientists, but entrepreneurs and CEOs.

This is important since many life science founders excel in the science aspect of their work but may lack a foundation in business-building essentials like IP protections, customer discovery, and the complexities of bringing a product to the healthcare marketplace. Learning from industry experts and participating in other Science Center programs like Capital Readiness helps prepare founders for the challenges ahead.

Aravind:

“A key takeaway from the Founders Fellowship program has been how to effectively structure R&D efforts to position the project ideally for going to market, including obtaining regulatory approvals, IP protections, building a team, and raising funding. Oftentimes, my approach to basic science is a curiosity-driven continuous desire to uncover a deeper level of fundamental mechanisms and underlying principles, so it has been crucial to understand how to balance these interests with product development priorities.”

Daniel:

“The fellowship is structured to support founders at various stages of development. The first 6 months sets a solid foundation for business principles that are very important but often not considered by academics.”

Yazmin:

“The weekly instructional sessions had a guest speaker and subject matter expert who shared expertise on a range of topics including IP strategy, insurance, regulatory pathways, team formation, and fundraising. It was great having access to follow up with our speakers to ask more in-depth questions about our business and receive open feedback. Observing the Capital Readiness Program helped me understand the challenges that more advanced companies have faced, as well as how to prepare for future discussions and negotiations. We delved into the details and learned how to evaluate term sheets and make informed decisions as Founders.”


Some of the biggest hurdles life science startups face is a basic lack of time and resources to test and build on their ideas.

Investors often want to see a proof-of-concept to invest – but entrepreneurs often need capital to produce it. The Science Center seeks to move promising startups away from the valley of death by providing basic funding, lab space, and expert guidance. The founders discuss the difference this has made in their experience.

Aravind:

“One of my biggest challenges in starting the research behind ToxiSense while in high school was finding a lab to provide space and support with the research. Continuing in college, the Fellowship has been instrumental in providing lab space, funding for R&D costs, and connections with mentors to support ToxiSense, all of which have been vital to its growth. Having these resources has certainly catalyzed ToxiSense's development, allowing me to continue experiments to improve our test kit's performance, build a team, and begin translating our findings from the lab into a real-world ready test kit.”

Yazmin:

“Having access to a support system has been key to propel me forward. That came in many forms, such as meeting with mentors, visiting the Science Center and CiC in person, and interacting with an exciting community of innovators, mentors, and investors. Their energy and startup spirit are truly contagious!”

Innovation rarely happens in a vacuum, and a core principle of the Founders Fellowship is collaboration.

The Founders agree that the connections they’ve made during their time in the fellowship have helped push them forward on their entrepreneurial journey.

"The Founders Fellowship is an opportunity to transform yourself from a rising scientist of tomorrow to a real-world changemaker of today."

Aravind Krishnan, Science Center Founders Fellow
Yazmin:

“Being an entrepreneur is in many ways a lonely road, but having access to an amazing support system has been invaluable. This has allowed me to learn from other Founders and those more experienced in the space and to keep up to date with networking, events, and funding opportunities.”

Daniel:

“The fellowship afforded me the opportunity to meet people I otherwise would have never met. Most importantly, it gave me a reason to foster deeper connections with those I already had some connection with. Most people are really open to talking, but without a reason to reach out, those conversations can be harder to start. The fellowship provided a great starting point for conversations with several people who have provided invaluable input.”

Aravind:

"The connections I have been able to make through the fellowship have been transformative for ToxiSense's growth. Firstly, the other fellows in the program, who are at later stages in their scientific training than I am, have been incredible mentors and have always been willing to share their insights and suggestions. The different guest speakers who were invited also brought in a range of expertise, from basic science research to scaling a biotech company on the regulatory, IP, funding, and team-building fronts."

The 2023/2024 second cohort of the Founders Fellowship has now ended.

The founders share their final impressions of what the program has meant for their journey – and what they would tell potential future fellows about its transformative impact.


Yazmin:

“It's a safe place to innovate as a first-time founder. I made mistakes, even with my approach to incorporating my company. Still, I had guidance during the Fellowship to understand how to correct those, and more importantly - a direct contact to work with to make corrections and avoid future pitfalls. The prior cohort of Founders Fellows was also happy to make themselves available to us, and overall, it felt like a family of innovators.”

Daniel:

“It was great to have formalized and structured time to focus on developing a plan to bring these therapies to patients... The last 6 months is highly specific to a founders own development of their company. I think a defining feature of the fellowship is the ability to personalize the experience to your own needs. Since the cohort of individuals is small you really can personalize the curriculum, the capstone, and the independent building phase to areas that are most relevant to you.”

Aravind:

“The Founders Fellowship is an opportunity to transform yourself from a rising scientist of tomorrow to a real-world changemaker of today. As a field that moves at a breakneck pace, the best time for a new innovation was yesterday, and the second-best time is now. Through the Founders Fellowship, you can finally create the real-world impact you have always been wanting to make with your science—the Founders Fellowship is the key that unlocks that potential.”