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The Visionaries Behind the Awards: Meet the Nucleus 2020 Honorees

For decades cracks in our foundation have led us to the groundswell of this moment. Infectious diseases and racism are by no means new problems facing society, but we now find ourselves at the crossroads of a global pandemic and a long-overdue reckoning on systemic racial inequity and injustice. Coding is not a novel field, but it’s increasingly and widely considered necessary curriculum for maintaining competitiveness in a 21st century workforce.

In a year that has left us with more questions than answers, we can’t help but ask ourselves how much of this we should have seen coming.

Here at the Science Center, we hadn’t intended for our 2020 Nucleus Honorees to fit nicely within a pre-packaged theme. But through the conversations below and when studying their respective bodies of work and achievements, their incredible foresight emerged as a common thread.

For years, Benjamin Doranz, Aurora Archer and Sylvester Mobley challenged conventional thinking, built and led impressive and dynamic teams, and overcame unique sets of challenges to, respectively, help commercialize treatments and vaccines for pandemics and endemics from HIV and Ebola to Zika; convene us for the uncomfortable and sometimes painful conversations on racial inequality that would push us to grow; and provide students from underrepresented communities with the kind of tech education that will cultivate a more equitable future and talent pipeline.

Which leaves us with one more question to ponder: who gets to call themselves a “visionary?” Our three honorees might be the last to refer to themselves as such but, unaffected by inertia, they’re powering progress, determined to do the necessary work to move us towards where we should be. And perhaps that’s where the answer can be found.

Learn more about their incredible journey and join us on September 22nd for Nucleus 2020, presented by CSL Behring. Registration for free tickets can be found here.

Benjamin Doranz, PhD, MBA

President and CEO of Integral Molecular

Commercialization Award, sponsored by NewSpring

What inspired you to launch Integral Molecular?

Myself, Sharon Willis, and Joe Rucker launched Integral Molecular based on our work as scientists and virologists at the University of Pennsylvania. We recognized that viruses can be used as scientific tools and there was a commercial need for biomedical solutions that could tackle difficult research questions and diseases.

You were a founder of the company and have been growing alongside it for the last 20 years. How has your role as co-Founder and CEO evolved over that time?

The exciting thing about Integral and my job is that every few years it changes. We have evolved as a company from research to manufacturing to sales to marketing to business development, and every step of the way has been an opportunity to learn, for myself and everyone that works here.

Integral Molecular works with partners around the globe. Why have an office in Philadelphia?

The Philadelphia region and the University City Science Center enabled Integral Molecular to start – without them we probably wouldn’t be here. Philadelphia provides us the scientific connections to Universities, employees, and pharmaceutical companies that enabled us to start and grow. The Science Center provides us with the location, infrastructure, and community that enables our supportive team culture.

Integral has been doing research on vaccines and therapies for years – including HIV, Ebola, Zika and now COVID-19. How is this current work different?

Our mission in virology has always been to support the development of viral therapeutics and vaccines through industry and academic collaborations. We have been collaborating with such partners for over a decade, helping bring new therapeutics and vaccines into the clinic and publishing over 70 peer-review manuscripts that advance our understanding of these viruses. The COVID-19 shutdowns and work environment changes have affected all of us directly, making our work on this virus all the more difficult. We keenly feel how connected we all are to the entire world in the fight against viral threats. However, our mission has remained the same for COVID-19 and, as a result of the remarkable dedication of our scientists through the pandemic, we have managed to launch new products and collaborations that support the development of COVID-19 vaccines and drugs.

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

I don’t think I had that kind of long-term vision when I was 5, but if I could go back and give some advice to myself I would tell him to figure out how to put a dent in the universe, as Steve Jobs once said. Think about how you can make a difference in the world, how you can change people’s lives for the better, and go for it.

What is your superpower?

Creativity, especially when it comes to solving problems. The best part of my job is sitting in a room with others at Integral and brainstorming solutions, answers, and sometimes even the questions themselves. If you put a group of people at Integral together in a room with a difficult problem, we always find the solution.

Favorite thing about Philadelphia:

Philadelphia’s got everything – it’s big enough to have its own culture, small enough that it’s not overwhelming, close enough that you can get anywhere, smart enough to have thousands of curious students, and humble enough to never stop aspiring.

Aurora Archer

CEO and Founder of Bellatrix Group
Co-founder and Cohost of The Opt-In Podcast

Convener Award, co-sponsored by PFM and Tri-State Capital

What does the concept of “convening” mean to you?

To me, it’s “community.” You heard it come through in Kamala Harris’s message at the DNC convention, and funnily enough it’s our theme for Season 3 of The Opt-In podcast, which kicks off September 8th. We spent a lot of time over the last several months recording conversations about what “community” means and how community and convening is such an embodiment or core of who BIPOC people (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) are.

In a recent Opt-In interview with Colette Pichon Battle, my co-host, Kelly Croce-Sorg asked, “What is the difference between BIPOC and white people as it relates to community?” Her response was that, “When we get disconnected from the root of who we are, aka our family, our heritage, our beginning, it separates us from this entire union with everyone around us and everything around us.”

One of the things that was highly encouraging was when she said, “I think it’s critical that we all go back and visit where our ancestors came from.” She was talking about how it’s just so critical for us to come back to our roots because when you understand the connectivity between us, you embody the responsibility for others outside of just yourself. It is in service to others, not simply a service to self.

We talked to another phenomenal thought leader Dr. Kelsey Leonard, a Shinnecock Indian Nation citizen and environmental leader, about this notion of community. There was a word she grew up with her entire life – mamoweenene - a Shinnecock word that embodies community, which translates into “we move together.” I think it’s these tenants of care and moving together for the good of the collective. I think we get distracted by things called capitalism, individualism, and rugged individualism but I think at our core it’s who we are.

We are conveners, we are oriented towards community, we are oriented towards belonging and we are oriented toward others. I know specifically as a definition, convening means “meeting” but to me it’s togetherness, it is coming together.

What does real equity and inclusion look like to you?

It looks like mutuality. There is a deep and clear recognition that “I am you, and you are me” and there is no hierarchy of value. One of the things we’ve been discussing with clients is the word “inclusion.” It's actually a word I struggle with. My question is always, “inclusion to what?” And who is deciding? It’s perched on this notion of “someone is actually including me.”

I don’t believe that the language of the past actually appropriately defines where we need to go, and “inclusivity” to me is one of those words.

Because it’s still placing something or someone in the position of choosing inclusion, versus a mutuality that says, “you don’t have to actually label it because it just is.”

I think “inclusivity” has served its time and served its purpose. And I’m not here to poo-poo anyone and any effort that came before us, because God knows we’ve needed every single instance and effort. But I think we are being offered an opportunity to evolve it. I am not sure that we, or I, have figured out what word to use instead, but to me it is about an…openness to all.

What are you most proud of in your career?

One of the biggest things I’m extraordinarily proud of is the growth. The growth literally in me. And for me that growth came more through the setbacks, the challenges, and some of the most difficult moments in my career. It has given me the ability to look back and be proud of “her,” be proud that she stayed in integrity, she dug deep to learn the lessons, to heal the wounds, and to truly be of service to others.

None of that happened without the incredible group of people that I had the privilege and the honor to work with. It is so clear to me when I look at every single team that I had the opportunity to be a part of, to lead, and to support. Each time I’ve kicked off a new team or a new organization, I would bring everyone together and ask them to look around at each other and recognize that us being there in that moment in time wasn't a mistake. Every single person in the room was divinely orchestrated to be there. And to me all of that, as a leader, has always been incredibly humbling.

The awe of being in the room with individuals and their talents, their superpowers, their gifts, and the opportunity for us to be in a moment in time together to create something new, to reimagine something in a better way is never lost on me. I’m proud of the opportunity to have brought people together, to serve them, to support them. And I know I didn’t always do it great, but I did my best at that moment in time and I have reverence, respect, and much love for everyone who’s walked the path with me in my career.

I’ve been in four very different industries in corporate America - retail, technology, pharmaceuticals, and publishing/media, before deciding to become an entrepreneur. That’s 38+ bosses, 9 companies, and living and working in five continents. There’s a ton of privilege, pride, and honor in having traversed that with so many incredible human beings. And I think as females, and for me as caregiver to my parents for over 20 years with two children and a husband, along with my career in corporate America, there is no way I could have achieved balancing everything without an incredible village of people.

The Opt-In podcast has been instrumental in leading some important and overdue conversations on race. How have things changed since recent events or how have they not?

When Kelly and I embarked on this journey over two years ago, I think many people didn’t understand what we were trying to do. Many people asked, “why can’t you guys just talk about something cute, something sweet, something fun?” I think people felt that we were poking a bear that probably didn’t need to be poked. I’m very grateful to say that two seasons in we’ve delivered 23 episodes and I’m grateful for the growing audience that is choosing to Opt-In with us.

We did this on our own and self-funded the podcast. We couldn’t get an advertiser or a brand to sponsor us because we were talking about race. Now we look back at the events of the last 19 weeks and there’s just been a spike in listeners - there’s been this awareness, this awakening, and this urgency, and we were thrilled that we had an offering to support white people’s journey of learning.

Many of the questions we got were, “What do I do? What do I say?” and we have two seasons of episodes to get grounded. Our start was slow, organic, thoughtful, and respectful of the conversation we were embarking on, and the events of the last 19 weeks just catapulted it. Our target audience is white people, with a skew towards white women, and there’s been a wake-up call that is ringing loud and clear.

We’re grateful for the opportunity to be in the arena, providing the guidance and experience to share our individual responsibility and accountability. For Kelly and I, it’s also meant a much deeper level of accountability and respect for what we are doing - we can take this moment and really support white folks in building the stamina that’s needed to stay in the change that is being asked of all of us at this time, and the healing work that is being asked of all of us at this time.

The other big change is that tactically we have built out a wider community. It’s now gone beyond the podcast and we are bringing this offering into a series of learning modules and webinars with our existing community, as well as developing a consulting service – The Opt-In Culture - to enable businesses to drive a transformative, heart-centered approach to racial equity within their organization. As a woman of color, I’ve been in this, because it’s my responsibility… Kelly dove into that responsibility and that digging way before it was on trend.

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

My mother always used to tell me these stories in Spanish, painting these images in my mind of being a warrior. She would say in Spanish, “Quiero que tengas una espada.” She would have me visualize having a spear in my hand and charging forward. As a Mexican mother, underpinned by indigenous philosophy and culture, I think she was breeding a warrior - someone that would honor who she is. My mother was always very big on knowing who you are and where you come from and using the strength and the power of that to lead. I remember her words so distinctly: “Tener una espada, mover adelante con todo lo que eres y tienes” (translation - “You have a spear – move forward with everything you are and have).” It was just a constant mantra that she shared with me.

What is your superpower?

The ability to identify patterns in chaos. That too, is very much akin to my background. I lived in multiple cultures with my Mexican heritage, spending summers in my grandmother’s home in Monterrey with the smells of her cooking, the vibrant colors, and the music, but also going to Sunday barbecues at my Black grandmother’s house, while growing up in Texas with my parents working for wealthy, white Texan families. I think my superpower is the ability to see patterns and opportunities in chaos, and to find the thing that connects us. When we talk about diversity and inclusion, that is at the crux of it for me. Everyone has value and the person that looks the most different from you brings the most value to you.

Favorite thing about Philadelphia:

I love so many things about Philadelphia. First and foremost, I’m going to say the thing that everybody says which is the proximity. We are so close in proximity to so many different experiences: the proximity to water, the proximity to mountains, the proximity to New York, the proximity to Washington. It allows us to bring the richness, diversity and uniqueness of it, and enrich the city.

What I love about Philadelphia as a convener is the tenant of brotherly love. I just think that this city exemplifies that, the origin of our founding. The creation of what has happened here is quite beautiful and meaningful and part of the energy of the city.

While we have lived in many places, Philadelphia is where we have lived longest in our adult lives. I love that it’s a city going through- its growth-pains of identity, of openness to all, and the creation of a community of opportunity. It’s a city that just has so much richness to offer in its history and all the new emerging things that are happening. And despite all the history that we have, we’re still young. We are at this beautiful inflection point that I hope catapults the heart of this city into its next evolution of beauty.

Sylvester Mobley

CEO and Founder of Coded by Kids

Cultivator Award, sponsored by Wexford Science + Technology and Ventas, Inc.

Why is cultivating the next generation of coders so important to you?

Cultivating the next generation of coders isn’t important to me. Cultivating the next generation of tech and innovation leaders is important to me, and coding is one small part of that process. Coding is the foundation for the highest paying jobs in tech. Often when we talk about black and brown children, or black and brown people in general, we prepare them for the lowest paying careers. The stepping-stone into the highest opportunities most typically is in programming, so coding is just the catalyst into these greater opportunities.

What do you wish someone told you when you started Coded by Kids?

How difficult it is to get people to buy into a long-term vision for black and brown children. When I started Coded by Kids, I assumed that asking people to invest in a long-term vision that would provide black and brown children with pathways to true equity would be easy. Unfortunately, I learned that many people are willing to get behind short-term fixes but unwilling to commit to the work it takes to address the roots of systemic inequity.

Can you talk about some of those short-term fixes, and what is the long-term vision for solving the problem?

Again, we as a society set low expectations for black and brown children, especially black children. We don’t think or believe that black children can do more. When we talk about black kids it’s always in the vein of, "if we just get them jobs, that’s enough.’ Why can’t they be more? Are you saying they’re not capable? Would you say that about your own child? So why would that be good enough for our kids? It was startling to me, and unfortunate, to find out how many people have that mindset. That’s why we teach our kids tech startup focus and entrepreneurship, because we don‘t want them to just understand software development, but also to understand how to start tech companies around the software they build.

If you look at social economic data for the city of Philadelphia, things aren’t getting better or changing and by some measures they’re getting worse; and we’re investing a lot of money into the problem. From a very objective, data-driven approach, this method of just sticking people in jobs has failed. These short-term fixes, are actually manufacturing poverty. Socio-economic downward pressure on black families is pushing them out of the middle class, and if you contrast that with the number of people who actually get moved out of poverty from the current programs in place- it's not enough people to offset that number; it boils down to addition and subtraction.

We do have a larger mission we’re pushing forward called, O.N.E Philadelphia; it stands for “Opportunity and Equity Philadelphia” and speaks to the fact that there isn’t one Philadelphia. Philadelphia looks very different depending on what you look like and the neighborhood you live in. We’re saying these short-term fixes don't work, and if we’re honest with ourselves and recognize that we’re trying to address deeply ingrained racial inequity, you're not going to do that with a six-month program. We have to be willing to commit to the difficult, long-term work that we’ve been resistant to doing, and it’s only going to happen if we’re working collectively with funders and partners. I acknowledge I'm over-indexing on tech and innovation as a sector, but that’s because it’s hard to point to another sector that has the ability to move people socioeconomically as quickly and as far as tech and innovation. Black people are already over-indexed in certain sectors, we’re just over-indexed in the wrong sectors.

Collectively as a city, let’s ask “what does it look like if we build a pipeline or a system where we take someone from kindergarten up to college, and into their careers, and then entrepreneurship if that’s the path they want to go on?” How do we take a very holistic approach, and what do we need to do as a city, to move someone from the very beginning all the way into viable careers in the innovation space that are not limited by low expectations, by the biases that we have about what a black child or adult is capable of, or by inequity? That’s what we’ve been pushing forward to address the long-term systemic issues and I understand there’s a lot of risk. I like to remind people; I have 12 years in the military. I'm a very realistic and practical person. The reality is that we’ve done up to this point isn’t working. Do we keep doing the same things that haven't worked because we don’t want to take a risk and try something else?

Now that Coded by Kids has been around a little longer and is more established, what are you most proud of?

When we get feedback from our parents or our kids, when I see kids who stick around, when I see kids who engage with us through a program, a competition, through one of the various touchpoints that we have in high school and then remain engaged while they are in college- that matters to me. High school kids are coming back on their own because they want to remain part of the organization and to see just how much value parents place in it and enjoy the program for their kids- to me that’s validation, that’s success, that’s when I know it’s working. Parents have a lot of competing priorities and things to choose from, so when they say “I picked this [Coded by Kids] over something else because this is where I want and need my child to be” to me that is what we’re going for, what we’re hopefully trying to do. When I see kids come back in high school, on their own, that’s the win. Because we can’t get to the long-term outcomes if kids aren’t engaged, so we place a very high importance, and stress over, how we can constantly keep parents and young people engaged.

What advice would you share with adults interested in a career in coding?

Focus more on learning how to learn than specific technical concepts. The specific technical concepts tend to be the easier things to learn. What is difficult is developing a mindset for continual learning.

What can we expect to see from Coded by Kids over the next five years?

Over the next five years, you will see us continue moving forward with our shift from focusing on programs to a focus on using programs to build truly equitable systems.

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

Five-year-old me wanted to be a soldier when I grew up.

And you actually ended up serving in the military, so that vision came to fruition. Has your career in the military prepared you or helped you with founding your own organization?

One thing I often say is, I learned leadership in the marines. I learned management or management practices in school, but I didn’t learn leadership in college. Having been in corporate environments long enough to see their leadership trainings, the marine corps might be by far the best training there is. Lessons I've learned in the marine corps are the same things that I still practice to this day. Dealing with the reality of getting up every morning and enduring difficult and challenging situations, that came from the military. Sometimes people see Coded by Kids as it is now- with revenue coming in, and our program that we run, and the staff- and they don’t know or see where it all started, when there was no revenue. To start an organization from nothing and contend with the well-documented realities that face black nonprofit leaders, like struggling to raise money, makes it difficult to get up every day under those circumstances when you know tomorrow is probably going to be just as bad as today. You just have to keep going every day and eventually something will give, and things will get better.

What is your superpower?

My superpower is all of the people around me who have committed to and support our work.

Favorite thing about Philadelphia:

The amount of potential that it has of becoming truly equitable in tech, innovation and business. Philly has the potential to get it right where a lot of other cities -whether it’s the Bay Area, Seattle, or DC- have gotten it wrong. The question is whether we will or not. We’re certainly at a point in time where we have that potential, and we haven’t gone too far down the road where we can’t start to make different decisions.

More about The Nucleus Awards