At SOSV’s IndieBio and HAX, two new team members are helping deep tech founders address scientific challenges. Earlier this year, Susan Schofer, PhD, joined HAX as Partner and Chief Science Officer at its Newark, New Jersey facility, and Sabriya Stukes, PhD, joined IndieBio as Chief Scientific Officer in Manhattan. Stukes and Schofer both bring world-class credentials to these leading programs addressing human and planetary health.
The two scientists will work in a variety of areas, starting with due diligence on the science behind the startups applying to the programs. Once founders are on board, Sabriya and Susan will help them define their scientific milestones, build a compelling narrative, and develop a commercialization strategy. The aim is that by the time founders graduate, they are ready to raise seed capital and pursue regulatory approvals.
HAX, founded in Shenzhen in 2011, opened its Newark facility this year in partnership with the New Jersey Economic Development Authority. IndieBio expanded to NYC from San Francisco, where it started in 2014, in collaboration with New York state. Dr. Stukes and Dr. Schofer will build upon this foundation by developing the network of scientists and corporate partners crucial to emerging startups.
Susan Schofer: The Commercialization Wiz
Born in the Chicago suburb of Wilmette, Susan was lucky to attend New Trier, a massive public high school where she could “nerd out,” as she puts it, and “be challenged to my limit.” As an undergrad at Brown University, Susan got hooked on chemistry.
After graduating in 1997, Susan tried out management consulting (“not a fit”) and instead went to Caltech for a PhD in chemistry followed by a postdoc in Sweden working on artificial photosynthesis. In 2005, she joined Symyx Technologies, a Bay Area chemicals startup accelerating new material discovery.
Not many PhDs enjoy thinking about scale, cost, and marketing narratives, but Susan did. In her next job at Amyris, a San Francisco-based synthetic biology startup, she transitioned from the lab to product management and commercial operations. This was her sweet spot.
“You want to be inventing things that are new to the world, not inventing things that are new to you.”
In 2014, Susan landed a job as the eighth employee at Modern Meadow, then a New York-based startup that was working on animal-free leather and debating how to commercialize it. Partnerships, Susan reasoned, were the missing bridge between the laboratory and market. “You want to be inventing things that are new to the world, not inventing things that are new to you,” she says.
Susan secured partnerships with an Italian textile mill and major luxury and performance brands eager to be part of the innovation process. That way, Modern Meadow was able to develop a useful leather directly, without Marco Polo-ing its way to product-market fit. Susan’s approach helped Modern Meadow raise a $130 million Series C in April 2021.
In 2022, Susan met the HAX team at a hard tech happy hour in New York, where they were scouting for a Chief Science Officer. “This role combines all the things I love,” says Susan. “This team is super talented and trying to create the future.”
Susan applied for the job believing that HAX can revitalize planetary and human health — and New Jersey. “The way we produce, ship, and acquire things is broken and needs to be reinvented,” she says, arguing that cities like Newark — dismissed as Rust Belt relics — will be part of an industrial renaissance as hard tech innovations reshore manufacturing to the US.
“Susan not only has stellar academic credentials, but she has also spent most of her professional life focused on scaling new technology,” said SOSV General Partner Duncan Turner. “As HAX companies continue to push the envelope of hard tech, both in science and scale, we needed an experienced scientist to help us grow our expertise and capabilities in this area. We were absolutely delighted to meet Susan as she is a perfect fit for this role and so happy she chose to join our team.”
Sabriya Stukes: Innovating With, Not For
Born in Arlington, Virginia, Sabriya grew up as a voracious reader with a dinosaur obsession. IndieBio can thank The Hot Zone, the nonfiction thriller about Ebola, for convincing Sabriya to study infectious diseases instead of pterodactyls.
After graduating from Virginia Tech in 2005, Sabriya conducted research on HIV at the National Institutes of Health and tuberculosis at New York University. She then pursued her PhD in microbiology and immunology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, graduating in 2015.
At a seminar highlighting women in STEM, Sabriya met Dr. Gilda Barabino, then dean of engineering at the City College of New York (CCNY). Dr. Barabino was about to launch the Master’s in Translational Medicine (MTM) program at CCNY and asked Sabriya to help build it. MTM would be the city’s first graduate degree to train scientists and engineers in medical technology innovation and commercialization.
“You can’t design in a vacuum. I’m big on designing not just for a specific population or community, but with them.”
Over the next six years, Sabriya mentored MTM student-founders working on everything from treating atopic dermatitis in individuals with melanated skin to a wearable device for managing the effects of menopause. Ideas like these “…got me thinking about who gets technologies designed for them, and who doesn’t,” Sabriya says.
Sabriya noticed that many founders struggled because they often excluded their intended customers from the innovation process. “You can’t design in a vacuum,” she says. “I’m big on designing not just for a specific population or community, but with them.”
In 2021, Sabriya brought that drive to Stellate Therapeutics, a biotech company using microbiome-derived molecules to treat neurodegenerative disorders. She took on operations for Stellate while continuing to teach MTM graduate students.
Early in 2022, Sabriya heard about IndieBio’s opening for a Chief Scientific Officer doing what she loves: creating a community of scientists and engineers, in New York, dedicated to designing innovative and inclusive solutions for unmet clinical needs.
“Sabriya is a perfect fit for the IndieBio New York program,” said SOSV General Partner Stephen Chambers. “She brings a track record of accomplishments as a research scientist, an academic helping grad students translate research into commercial opportunities, and hands-on operational experience in a New York life science startup. In addition, Sabriya brings an enormous amount of energy and positivity with her can-do attitude, making her a pleasure to work alongside.”
They Have Your Back
Sabriya and Susan know firsthand how communities of scientists and engineers, embedded among thoughtful mentors and experienced partners, can commercialize science that changes life for the better. They have seen what lies ahead and can spare founders from avoidable mistakes. They will ask the questions founders have never been asked and help guide startups where they never thought they could go. They know the science, and they have your back.