Nucleate is a nonprofit organization that was started to empower the next generation of biotech leaders.
Together with BLUE KNIGHT™, we are excited to share the story of Glyphic Biotechnologies, a protein sequencing company that originated in academia.
Tell us more about Glyphic Biotechnologies and the impact you hope to make on patients and the community?
Although decoding the human genome through the invention of DNA sequencing has ushered in a new era of biomedical sciences, this genetic blueprint is not enough. We are defined by more than our genes: to understand the human body, we must understand the proteins that perform our day-to-day functions — and malfunctions. Glyphic Biotechnologies’ goal is decoding the human proteome through full coverage, de novo protein sequencing at single molecule resolutions, advancing beyond the decades old technologies based on mass spectrometry and ELISAs. This platform may enable the development of novel therapeutics and diagnostics and, ultimately, a deeper understanding of human biology.
Tell us more about your journey with Nucleate and what the next big steps for your company were after you graduated the program?
Our journey with Nucleate was formative and is the origin story for Glyphic Biotechnologies. In December of 2020, Daniel Estandian (CTO) and Joshua Yang (CEO) met in the Nucleate program (formerly known as Activate Bio), with Daniel at the tail end of his PhD at MIT and Josh in his second-to-last quarter of business school at Stanford GSB. It was right in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, and thus the two of us met the only way strangers could meet — online on Zoom. Meeting at Nucleate’s founder matching speed-dating event, we quickly realized we had complementary strengths and backgrounds, with Daniel having invented the underlying approach for Glyphic’s next-generation protein sequencing technology and Josh having prior experience launching biotech startups and having done research in proteomics and single-molecule biophysics.
Less than a month later, we agreed to partner and by March 2021 we formally incorporated Glyphic Biotechnologies. While in the Nucleate program, we attended numerous workshops ranging from storytelling to business operations. We were also assigned multiple mentors from the broader biotech ecosystem who included a representative from our now lead investor from the Seed Round and a representative from our now corporate legal firm. With the connections and resources of the Nucleate program, we started and finished fundraising even prior to the end of the program — we raised our Seed Round of over $6 Million before the final presentation day!
After we graduated from the Nucleate program, the real work began! Fundraising is an essential, but only small part of running a biotech startup. With funds secured, we had to procure lab space that could accommodate our rapid expansion plans, start hiring key scientists and support staff, and lay down the organizational infrastructure, ranging from HR to finance to IT — all in the pursuit of achieving our technical milestones for demonstrating the viability of our potential protein sequencing technology and thus enabling the next phase — hardware development and Series A fundraising.
What are some of the obstacles you’ve faced as a startup and how have you navigated them?
Running a biotech startup is not easy! We have faced a number of challenges and obstacles since our inception just ~1.5 years ago. One of the biggest challenges we have faced is rapid growth. In just a year’s time, we have grown from a team of four employees to a team of 30 employees. This rapid growth has presented a number of logistical challenges, including the need to move our laboratories three times to accommodate our expanding team and operations.
Another challenge we have faced is the coordination challenges of being a bicoastal organization. We were fortunate to win a New York State Biodefense Commercialization Fund Grant and thus have moved our headquarters and substantial laboratory operations to New York, as BLUE KNIGHT™ residents at JLABS @ NYC. Now with locations both in New York and in California, it can be difficult to ensure that all team members are on the same page and that communication is seamless. We have had to put systems in place to facilitate cross-coastal communication and collaboration, including the use of video conferencing and project management tools.
In addition to these logistical challenges, we have also had to set up the organization’s HR, IT, finance, and other departmental infrastructure from scratch while simultaneously scaling up our operations. This has required a lot of time and effort, as we have had to establish processes and procedures that are subject to frequent change, hire and train staff, and ensure that all systems are running smoothly. Despite these challenges, we have been able to navigate them successfully by remaining agile and adaptable. We have embraced the changes and challenges that have come our way, and have worked hard to find solutions that allow us to continue to grow and thrive as a biotech startup. We are especially grateful for our investors and fellow entrepreneurs who provided recommendations about service providers and infrastructure solutions that we could adopt to streamline our operations.
How do you see the inclusivity of the life sciences community shifting and what remains to be done to ensure a more equitable future?
The life sciences community has been making strides towards inclusivity in recent years, as evidenced by initiatives such as Biocom California’s DE&I Member Pledge and Johnson & Johnson Innovation’s CLSA Inspire QuickFire Challenge for Diverse Innovators. Early-stage biotech investing has seen a shift towards “founder-led bio”, with younger scientists coming from academia founding and leading their own startups as compared to VC-founded approaches with senior management recruited to join newly formed biotech startups. However, we feel there is still a long way to go in order to ensure a more equitable future for all stakeholders. From the lack of diversity in leadership positions to the lack of equitable access to resources, for us it’s clear that the life sciences community has a long way to go before it can truly be considered an inclusive and equitable space.
One of the biggest issues we feel is the lack of diversity in leadership positions. Even though female and gender non-confirming, BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and younger individuals make up a significant portion of the life sciences workforce, they are still vastly underrepresented in leadership roles as co-founders or management teams. This is a major problem, as it means that the perspectives of these groups are not being heard or taken into account when it comes to decisions that affect the entire community. In order to ensure a more equitable future for the life sciences community, I believe it is essential that organizations take steps to address these issues. This includes building diversity of representation at the Board of Directors and C-Suite level, partnering with associations, groups, and minority serving institutions (e.g., HBCUs) to identify and promote BIPOC and other underrepresented talent, and providing resources for life sciences career opportunities, such as startup formation to institutions outside the usual “elite” coastal universities.
What advice would you give to an early-stage entrepreneur who is looking to take their concept to the next level and to those graduating or entering the Nucleate community?
In science or medicine, you would be skeptical of an experiment or clinical trial with an n of 1 — so why would you trust advice from other entrepreneurs, whose advice is largely anecdotal and based on singular experiences? You, as an early-stage entrepreneur, know your own personal situation and business context better than anyone else, and so trust yourself to know when you can rely upon yourself and when you need to bring on outside input or support. In the context of programs such as Nucleate, which provide an abundance of resources and connections, this means picking and choosing what events to attend and opportunities in which to partake.
You do not have to do everything — you should not do everything. There is not enough time to do everything, despite any feelings of guilt or obligation you may hold. But you should focus on the resources that you believe will best suit you and your startup’s needs.