Sutton Guldner (MBA 2022), Director of Partnerships for Nucleate Eco, and Jesse Lou (MBA 2022), Co-Founder of PicoGreens, 2021 Nucleate finalist, spoke with BEI about NucleateEco and how it supports eco-focused entrepreneurs.

Congratulations to the 2022 winners!

  • Eco Track Final Prize: Atacama
    • Paloma Gonzalez, Jose Dominguez - MIT Climate & Sustainability Consortium
      • New naturally compostable plastic film with multi-use applications.
  • Eco Track Program Award: Wild Microbes
    • Timothy Wannier, Ben Kramer - Church Lab, HMS
      • Non-model microbes to drive next-generation bioproduction.
  • Eco Track Audience Choice Award: Reel Seafoods
    • John Ahrens, Beverly See, Rob Weeks - Lewis Lab, Harvard
      • Cell-based seafood with 3D bioprinting to improve texture and scale.
  • Eco Track JDEI Award: Sun Serum
    • Ying Sun, Sophie Levin- Salk Institute
      • Sustainable alternatives for growth factors leveraging the diversity within the plant kingdom.

What is Nucleate Eco? What are the requirements to apply?

Sutton: Nucleate Eco is a student-lead, no equity, accelerator for student companies focused on applying life sciences principles to sustainability challenges. Starting just between Harvard and MIT, it now has gone fully national and looks to expand to even more US cities next year. Our founding goal was to help take university research out of the lab and help form startups around it to tackle real-world problems in sustainability. Our teams are focused on a huge diversity of fields including gene editing for crop resistant plants, novel biofuels processes, and alternative meat production. This year we’ve further expanded and even have a few non-life sciences teams in our cohort, working on industrial waste recycling and recyclable packaging materials. Every year, we pair PhD students with MBA’s, both from schools across the nation, to create a cohort. Then over the spring give them mentorship, workshops, and resources they need to create a functioning company. The dream is that by the end of the program, the teams we make are able to turn to the VC’s we’ve connected them with to raise a seed round. We work closely with Nucleate Bio, who seeks to do the same thing, only they are focused on human health rather than sustainability.

As an HBS MBA student, you’re free to apply, whether an RC or EC. You don’t need to have an idea in mind, one of the first parts of the process is a matching section where you’ll meet and greet with the PhD’s working on the technologies first-hand. We’ll have info sessions and information coming out in the early fall, so be on the lookout for that. Only passion and drive are required!

What is value proposition for participants?

Jesse: As someone looking to work on tech-based solutions to fighting climate change (and especially in an entrepreneurial way), getting to partner with a scientist doing breakthrough research is the biggest value proposition that Nucleate brings. And as a team, we got to bring our respective areas of expertise to the table, and learn from each other.

More broadly from a climate perspective, I think programs like Nucleate are playing a critical role in accelerating the timeline for impact of new technologies. Though not every company built on a breakthrough technology is going to pan out, the opportunity for business folks to support scientists in the early stages of deploying their research dramatically increases the number of ‘shots on goal’ we collectively get to tackle climate change.

What is unique about the program?

Sutton: Several things! First off, we’re entirely student lead and run as volunteers, thus we take no equity or fees. With that, we’ve also all been in the position our cohort members are in: confused, yet curious about entrepreneurship. We’re well connected personally with the faculty members inside many of the university’s we work with, and they are more trusting of us as students. Covid also offered us a unique opportunity. By requiring the programming to virtual, we’ve already been able to go national, involving teams from west coast schools and across the country!

What was the program like, and what specific resources did you get access to?

Jesse: The most valuable resource that Nucleate provided was facilitating conversations between our fledging team and folks in industry – whether it was potential customers or investors. First, it was valuable to gather real customer feedback on our hypotheses, and also served as a source of serendipitous ideas for new markets that we didn’t even have on our radar. Second, it was a forcing mechanism for us to rapidly iterate on our go-to-market narrative, and clearly communicate both the opportunity and distill the value of our technology to an audience from an array of backgrounds.

What resources does Nucleate offer?

Sutton: High level, our goal is to prepare the teams to raise a successful seed round, and that means addressing many of the topics they know they don’t know, but also making them aware of the “unknown unknowns” that come with first-time entrepreneurship. The first thing we do that’s already been discussed is the pairing work, where we find and match PhD candidates with MBA’s to create the cohort of teams for the year. Then, we’ll reach out to find mentors for the teams. Some of these mentors are from the investment community, while others are sustainable entrepreneurs themselves. Over the spring, we have a workshop series where we cover all sorts of topics from experimental roadmaps needed to prove out the tough tech concepts we work with, how to tell your sustainability story while fundraising, how to incorporate DEI principles while growing a company, and more. We end the year with a final pitch showcase, in which the teams compete in front of industry judges and VC’s for a cash prize. In the background of all of this, the student teams are meeting each other, industry experts, sources of funding, and beyond, all for informal networking and mentorship.

What’s the coolest thing you got to do as a part of the program?

Jesse: My most valuable takeaway from the program was meeting other climate-focused entrepreneurs, and getting to nerd out about new technologies that could change the world. My experience through Nucleate then allowed me to immerse myself in the Boston community of scientists, policy experts, and entrepreneurs, and build meaningful friendships in the process. As an HBS student, it’s still hard to find ways to cross paths with PhD’s and post-docs who are world experts in their field, and Nucleate plays a key role in facilitating these interactions.

Courtney Fairbrother (Associate Director, BEI), Elise Clarkson (Community Manager, BEI), Angela Son (MBA 2023), Sutton Guldner (MBA 2022), Henry Tao (MBA 2023), and Jesse Lou (MBA 2022) at the 2022 Nucleate Final Pitch Showcase: