An Open Letter from our Founding President

Nucleate
7 min readJul 31

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To the Nucleate Community,

The time has come!

I write this open letter with a mix of emotions, and with the official news that following a 6-month training and evaluation period, our Board of Directors unanimously voted to finalize Sammi Sison’s and Michael Retchin’s appointments as the next Co-Presidents of Nucleate. This also means that mine and Oliver Dodd’s terms have concluded.

As I sit here at the Wyss Institute where it all began, I find myself reflecting in a strange new way — what did we accomplish, and what am I proud of? At the same time, I also ground myself in the familiar comfort of the uncomfortable — What’s next, and how do we continue to be better? So with this letter I hope to accomplish a few goals: (1) Express my gratitude for the opportunity to lead Nucleate (2) provide a short reflection of my experience (3) acknowledge those who have helped me along the way (4) convey my trust in our appointed leaders to move Nucleate forward.

Serving as Nucleate’s Founding President these past 5 years has been a formative experience, and I feel an overwhelming sense of privilege and gratitude for the opportunity to experience leadership of this scale at such a fledgling stage of my career. It’s an experience that has come with great benefits and has also carried true responsibility that I have taken with an all-in commitment. Balancing this while simultaneously working on PhD has been a demanding challenge, requiring early mornings (sorry for those energetic/aggressive 5am texts/emails — IYKYK), late nights, and weekends to ensure we did what we said we were going to do. Reflecting on my tenure, I have learned invaluable lessons. I’ve witnessed the importance of effective communication and alignment, the power of collaboration, the significance of trust and mutual respect, and the need to execute with quality. I’ve also experienced the multiplicative effects of delegation and empowerment, the nuances of emotional intelligence and situational awareness, the compounding value of a growth mindset and conversely the eroding consequences of complacency, the benefits of being right more often than wrong but learning all the same regardless, and the necessity to surround yourself with smarter people who guide, push, and challenge you (sometimes annoyingly so). The list goes on and on, but without doubt, it has been the most rewarding experience of my career to date. One that as many others in the organization can appreciate, has pulled me through challenging moments of my academic days. Although I would love to continue this journey indefinitely, it’s the right time to finalize the necessary transition of leadership and empower the next administration. Undoubtedly, I leave with unfinished business — “jobs not finished”. But in the time that I had, I have given my all and today I truly believe it is just the beginning for our flourishing organization.

Nucleate’s gravity and our strong momentum exists because since inception, we have been driven by unmet needs. This dates back to 2018 where we noticed: (1) a lack of resources for aspiring life science entrepreneurs, and (2) a lack of collaboration within academia, across academia, and between academia and the life sciences industry. So we embarked on an experiment to build an inclusive, life science tailored, interdisciplinary, structured, risk-free program that lowered the activation energy (Hence our original name “Activate”) for innovators to evaluate the commercial viability of exciting research, and hopefully build new life science ventures as an outcome. Our premise was simple: Do it to build what we wanted to learn, do it with zero-strings-attached, and just do it better. We built our foundations within the longstanding GSAS Harvard Biotech Club (HBC) and operated successfully for 3 years to prove out our model, serving the Harvard and MIT communities. In the midst of the pandemic and with conviction that our model was differentiated, translatable, and scalable, we decided to expand! The pitch during the initial expansion was conceptually tight, but psychologically and sociologically complex: let’s build together not alone, because the whole is greater than the sum of all parts. So while today the majority of our expansion efforts stem from inbound requests, back then the concept of unification took a lot of outward convincing. But, I think it worked…

Today, we are a global organization delivering impact at scale. And through growth, our scope and mission also evolved. What started with a singular focus to help start new companies has now broadened to supporting people through diverse educational programs and leadership roles that provide a career launchpad and in turn fuel innovation and ecosystem development. In other words, we focus on the journey, not the destination. Collectively, Nucleate now represents the next generation of global life sciences talent that is, and increasingly will be, a source of solutions to the seemingly endless list of unmet needs in human and planetary health. We believe that by educating today’s academic trainees, we can empower tomorrow’s biotech leaders who will continue to advance the important work of this industry. And so I love to see a life sciences community that is increasingly embracing diverse, curious and ambitious young talent — including not excluding, mentoring not disparaging, enabling not blocking.

With that, I want to take a little moment to recognize and share my gratitude for those who have helped me and Nucleate along the way! To Oliver Dodd, who within literally 3 minutes of me pitching Nucleate told me “Cool, I’ve heard all I need. Im all in”, and indeed he has been. To Marissa Pettit who unlocked the feasibility of the idea of Nucleate. To Mandi Williams who legitimized the Nucleate we all know today. No doubt that without them, Nucleate would not exist. To Sofia Guerra who founded our Eco Sustainability Initiative and led the improvement of our program in year 2 to show we could go back to back, and Matt Lanchantin, who led our first expansion by integrating the MIT community and took over the reigns of Nucleate Boston while I went on my expansion expedition. To Peter Kolchinsky who’s sharp and insightful early guidance pushed me to rethink and redesign the entirety of Nucleate (and lose a night or two of sleep in the process). To Peter Barrett, a force multiplier who provided the foundational support needed to get the dominos falling, and now provides support as a member of our board of directors. To John Maraganore who has been a mentor and role model not only to me, but to countless others in the industry. And to Mira Chaurushiya, Chandra Ramanathan, and Travis McCready — all incredible mentors and members of our Board of Directors. To Michael Retchin, Sammi Sison, Zach Cogan, Alex Kim, Anjali Ramaswamy, Heer Joisher, Manny Harb, Geraldine Ezeka, Hilary Schultz, Ashley Gleaton, Andrei Enache who have spearheaded foundational initiatives within Nucleate and enabled our operations at scale as a non-profit. And to the full HQ team past and present who have and will continue to centrally support the organization. To our regional managing directors fueling innovation in their ecosystems and playing a vital role in expanding our reach, I am immensely grateful for your leadership, the bidirectional transfer of knowledge, and our shared experiences. To our amazing Nucleate Dojo Undergraduate leaders who will play a pivotal role in increasing interest and access to the life sciences. To George Church, Jeff Karp, Angelika Fretzen, and Ayis Antoniou whose lab and institute cultures of outside-the-box thinking and open-door policies inspired the values of Nucleate and provided a safe place to learn and discuss ideas. And to the 1000’s of Nucleate volunteers, advisors, partners, mentors, experts, teams, participants, sponsors, and the wider ecosystem, who together define this vibrant community that fosters innovation and positive change. We’ve accomplished so much together, and importantly have laid the foundations for a future that will create value for decades to come.

Looking ahead, I share my full confidence in Sammi and Michael. They have demonstrated their capabilities and commitment to Nucleate, consistently delivering exceptional results and proving their readiness to take on the challenges that lie ahead. While I officially step away from the day-to-day as Co-President, I will remain closely involved as the Chairman of the Board and I look forward to the process of learning to serve in this new capacity.

It has been an incredible honor to serve as Nucleate’s Founding President and so although this chapter is coming to an end, I couldn’t be more excited about the possibilities that lie ahead.

Souf Out.

About Nucleate

With 23 chapters and participation from over 150 academic institutions globally, Nucleate identifies future biotech entrepreneurs, removes barriers, and helps founders concentrate on building transformational technologies. It is the largest biotechnology organization of its kind, commited to fostering a global community and providing open access to biotech education. Nucleate is supported by premier advisors, partners, and sponsors. Email contact@nucleate.xyz to get involved.

Nucleate’s programs are made possible thanks to our generous sponsors: (platinum) Alnylam, Genentech, Eli Lilly, Millipore Sigma, Pillar VC and BlueYard Capital; (gold) Alexandria LaunchLabs; (silver) Qiagen, Schrodinger, Cromatic; and philanthropic support from Schmidt Futures and Lyda Hill Philanthropies. For regional sponsors and more information, visit www.nucleate.xyz.

About Soufiane Aboulhouda

Soufiane is a Californian carrying out a PhD in the Church Lab at Harvard Medical School. In the lab, Soufiane co-leads the SomaCode project, using pooled in-vivo functional genomics to control cell homing throughout the body. Soufiane co-founded Nucleate where he served as the former and founding President, and is currently Chairman of the Board. Soufiane has also been the President for the GSAS Harvard Biotech Club (HBC), a venture fellow at RA Capital Management, and a consultant for the Amgen LabXchange initiative. Outside of work, Soufiane is a passionate basketball player of limited talent, an avid cook, and roasts his own coffee at home.

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