These Three Pioneering Women in Bio Share Their Stories at First WIB HERstory Gala

January 3, 2019

Women In Bio (WIB) held their 1st annual HERstory Gala this past December 13th at VisArts in Rockville, MD.  With over 130 guests in attendance, and sponsorship from leading companies such as Emergent BioSolutions, Macrogenics, KAI Research and Qiagen, the event honored three pioneering women in the life sciences who have made an impact in the BioHealth Capital Region and in their field.

The honorees for this inaugural event included; Dr. Sachiko Kuno,the co-founder and Chair of Halcyon; Dr. Karen Nelson, the President of the J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI) and Margot Connor, the Chief Executive Officer of RoosterBio Inc.

WIB Leadership with HERstory Honorees

The mission of Women in Bio is to promote careers, leadership, and entrepreneurship of women in the life sciences. This event truly embodied that mission. Kayla Valdes, Ph.D., the current president of the WIB Capital Region chapter, opened the event highlighting the Capital Region’s other mission-oriented achievements from the past year.

Most notably, the WIB Mentors, Advisors, and Peers (MAPs) mentoring program that engaged over 100 women in the region for  2018. Young Women In Bio (YWIB) was also recognized for the collaboration with University of Maryland and National Institutes of Health (NIH) the resulted in several events for middle and high school students on STEM careers throughout the year.

The highlight of the evening were the three, keynote speakers who captivated the crowd with inspirational stories of their journeys as successful women in the bio field; hence the ‘HERstory’ theme. Zahra Motahari Ph.D., the Chair of HERstory Gala and Allison Hu, a YWIB representative had the honor of introducing these esteemed women.

Here is a snapshot of each of those three stories.

Dr. Sachiko Kuno is the co-founder and Chair of Halcyon, an organization dedicated to the power of human creativity and innovation. On her talk titled “Be a visionary; be a doer”, she spoke about her career transition into the business world. Dr. Kuno is a first-generation immigrant to the US, having founded her first company R-Tech Ueno in Japan.  She spoke about the challenges she overcame in starting her second company, Sucampo Pharmaceuticals once she had moved to the US. Sucampo was initially run out of a two-bedroom condo and turned to be a revenue generating million dollar enterprise. Her third company, VLP therapeutics, was founded in 2013 with a mission to develop innovative treatments and affordable medicine for unmet medical needs.  

When considering her path to achieving access, she said that having concrete goals and company mission were a large factor. Strengthening self-efficacy, facilitating serendipity, providing cross-pollination circumstances and having an open and diverse ecosystem are few key learning points from her success.

Dr. Karen Nelson is the President of the J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI). Her talk was titled “My menagerie and career aspirations”. Dr. Nelson grew up in Jamaica, surrounded and inspired by nature. She earned her PhD at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York and did post-doc work with Dr. Craig Venter. Throughout her career, Dr. Nelson has led several genomic and metagenomics efforts and led the first human microbiome study. When she recollects her experience, she said that Dr. Venter was an amazing mentor who helped to shape her career. She spoke about the value of good mentors, friends, family and colleagues all along her various paths.

As a person who saw the advent of several fields and their continued growth, she said it is critical to take responsibility and take or lead initiatives to move forward in a career. She believes in giving back to community, especially to young women. She added that “the future belongs to the next generation of scientists, and they can advance their field if they are trained effectively and critically”. She is fiercely passionate about mentoring and speaking to young women.

Margot Connor is the Chief Executive Officer of RoosterBio Inc. She gave a brief overview of RoosterBio and spoke about her experiences from technical sales specialist to CEO. Ms. Connor has a Bachelor’s degree in textile chemistry/marketing. Straight out of college, her aim was to get a job to work in lab and “create something”. In her first job interview, she felt comfortable about the position and was certain that she would be hired for the position. While the hiring manager wasn’t able to offer her the initial position, she felt that she would be a great role for a technical sales position. As a person who is not used to failure, this was hard on Ms. Connor, but she accepted the offer after having discussed with her mentors. She fondly recalled how the hiring manager invested a great deal of time in nurturing and shaping her skillset. She recollects an international experience she had in Switzerland as “priceless”. Adaptability and courage are two attributes that she thinks it is critical for success in an international environment. She also emphasized that it’s essential to surround yourself with supportive people and family.

Ms. Connor also believes in giving back to community, especially mentoring women. She gave advice on good mentoring and how to seek out mentors. She added that her mentors helped to see beyond her own concepts, encouraged her to be open-minded and to seek opportunities to explore different things.

She concluded her talk by recalling the qualities she learned from her various mentors: trust, collaborative spirit, integrity, transparency, open-mindedness, respect and giving it back. She is dedicated to injecting these qualities to the work environment at RoosterBio as its CEO.

A common quality observed across all keynote speakers was the value of mentors in their careers and the gratitude towards their mentors, which is in line with WIB’s theme for this year “Lift while you climb.”

The event concluded with award presentations by Lindsay D’Ambrosio, the Vice-President of the WIB Capital Region Chapter. This year, Women In Bio’s Rising Star Award was given to Kelly Warfield Ph.D. from Emergent BioSolutions for making a significant contribution in life sciences industry and in the region. Dr. Jaíra Vasconcellos also won a National WIB professional development scholarship, one of only 3 women across the country to receive one of these awards, which was sponsored by Emergent BioSolutions.

BioBuzz congratulates Women In Bio leadership for making the event a huge success and we will continue to follow the impactful work that WIB does through their many volunteer members and leaders across the Capital Region in 2019 and beyond!

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