Article

Nucleate: Empowering BioTech Founders

We sat down with Michael Retchin, a graduate student in New York and the co-founder of the Nucleate program, a student-led, entirely nonprofit educational organization that helps academic trainees start companies. Digitalis is an early partner of Nucleate, dedicating time and resources to the program and its students. 

Digitalis: Michael, tell us a bit about you and your research and how you became involved with Nucleate.

Michael Retchin: I'm so delighted to be sharing our story with your readers! I am a second-year PhD student in John Chodera's Lab at MSKCC; for my work in the lab, I am trying to automate and improve small molecule therapeutic development with machine learning. I had always been a builder and organizer throughout undergrad, so when I got to graduate school, it felt inevitable that one day I would attempt to build a biotech startup accelerator. Not long after this thought occurred to me, I received an email from one Soufiane Aboulhouda, who had been organizing what was then called Activate Bio. We quickly put our heads together and realized the potential to scale the program and network to New York—and beyond.

DV: What is Nucleate and why did you feel it was needed where you were?

MR: Nucleate is a student-led, entirely nonprofit educational organization that helps academic trainees start companies without ever needing to give up equity or to pay any fee. It breaks down barriers across the biotech ecosystem, across campuses, geographies, and disciplines. Typically, a scientist with a great idea or a business-minded student (could be MBA, MA/MS, PhD, or postdocs) meet each other through Nucleate and then gain a playbook, resources, network, legal advice, and non-dilutive funded fellowships. Then, they're off to the races, as a new startup is born.

New York is particularly siloed, because each university administrator mostly has a mandate to open opportunities within their own campus, rather than between them. We believe that Nucleate is on the cusp of unlocking the next great biotech hub, New York.

DV: You had a regional ambition for the program when you started thinking about it, why the national expansion?

MR: We're also excited to see the results of pooling mentors, resources, and know-how across our nationwide network. Already, the capabilities and benefits of Nucleate's national scale are astonishing, to an extent that is hard to express. Ultimately, we are running a grand experiment, and our hope is that the new ties we are bridging across the ecosystem will uncover a new, viable path for students to make practical venture progress on their most promising ideas, without compromising their academic plans.

DV: How can people get involved with the program? If you are a student? An advisor? A VC? A large Biotech?

MR: If you're a student, please apply—or nominate a friend! If you would like to advise or otherwise help out with Nucleate, please fill out this form. If you're a larger biotech company, you should email so that we quickly get back to you with a proposal for partnership. Thank you very much for your interest!