Leading the Way: Unveiling the Insights of a Biotech Visionary – An Interview with Jaye Goldstein

  • Published on:
    August 21, 2023
  • Reading time by:
    7 minutes
Leading the Way: Unveiling the Insights of a Biotech Visionary - An Interview with Jaye Goldstein

In the realm of biotechnology, leadership takes on a unique blend of innovation, science, and business acumen. Enter Jaye Goldstein, a trailblazer who has deftly navigated the intricate landscapes of both the scientific and corporate worlds. In this exclusive interview, we sit down with Jaye to unravel her remarkable journey – from her beginnings as a writer and editor to her emergence as a driving force in the biotech industry.

Jaye’s story is one of dynamic transformation, fueled by a desire for impact and an unwavering commitment to excellence. We delve into her experiences as an inner-city teacher, her instrumental role in fostering effective communication at MIT, and her pioneering work in coaching scientist entrepreneurs through Founder to Leader. With candid insights, she shares her perspectives on leadership challenges, her approach to fostering human-first organizations, and her aspirations for a more inclusive and impactful biotech landscape.

Get ready to embark on a journey of discovery as we unveil the insights, triumphs, and motivations that have shaped Jaye Goldstein’s inspiring trajectory in biotech leadership. Join us in exploring the frontiers of science, leadership, and innovation through her remarkable story.

  1. Can you share more about your journey from being a writer and editor to becoming a leader in the biotech industry?

Although I used to be self conscious of my non-linear career path, I’ve come to be proud of the wide breadth and depth of experiences that enable me to be the CEO and Founder of Founder to Leader, an executive coaching company that equips biotech leaders for scale. 

I have always been driven by impact. In college, I designed my own major in environmental science and writing in hopes that I might become the next Rachel Carson; I wanted my prose to change the world. Right out of college, I became an editor at Backpack Magazine and was disappointed that most of my time was spent rating energy bars and hiking gear instead of having a positive influence on our environment. 

I decided to go back to school to become a teacher, thinking that perhaps I’d make a greater difference by inspiring today’s youth. I taught inner city and quickly realized that scale mattered to me; I wanted to change the system. 

I left teaching to head into leadership positions in the education sector and found that I was frustrated everywhere I went; there was a huge gap between every organization’s mission and their ability to execute on their vision. I went back to business school at night to learn how to be a different kind of leader. 

I ended up leading a turnaround at a music conservatory and then being drawn to a tiny opportunity at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) after having my son. At MIT, they were looking for someone to help the biological engineering students learn to communicate effectively. This felt like the kind of impact I was looking for; these students were creating solutions to help combat climate change and improve human health. At MIT, I eventually realized I’m an entrepreneur; I launched the MIT Comm Lab. I designed a new model for training engineers and scaled it across the School of Engineering within five years. My home base, though, was always with the biological engineers; the future leaders of the biotech industry. 

From MIT, I ended up at Harvard, where I oversaw education innovation across the University. I helped new learning initiatives, like the one I started at MIT, launch and scale across all 13 schools at Harvard. 

After a few years at Harvard, a former MIT fellow of mine asked me to help him build a brand new biotech venture capital firm, Petri, that funded early stage scientist entrepreneurs. 

At Petri, I was helping to inspire and support a new generation of technical founders and got deeply embedded in the biotech innovation community. Two years later, I decided to start my own company coaching biotech founders and it has been such an honor being trusted by so many founders and leaders in the field. 

  1. How did your experience as an inner-city teacher shape your perspective on the importance of scale and impact?

Being an inner city teacher shaped my career in so many profound ways. I saw firsthand how most 21st century challenges are deeply interconnected and require systemic solutions. 

I was deeply impressed by the work of Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone. To change student outcomes, Geoffrey created a holistic safety net for families within a multi-block radius in Harlem. I began to think about complex problems as dynamic systems and was drawn to leadership roles where I could align a range of variables to improve and measure real change. 

In addition, many leadership and management lessons that I teach biotech leaders stem from learning how to motivate and support fifth graders in Philadelphia. 

  1. What inspired you to start the MIT Communication Lab and develop a model to train engineers in effective communication?

Every few years, every department at MIT is reviewed by a board of directors. In its most recent feedback from its reviewers, the department of biological engineering learned that students felt they were graduating without the communication skills they needed to be successful in their careers. 

A faculty committee was formed to figure out how to fill this gap and they ultimately decided to create a part-time role to solve this problem – which is where I came in.  I was hired to figure out why the existing program at MIT wasn’t working – and then to design a new approach. 

I’m pretty sure they would have been happy if I made some incremental improvements, but once I got to MIT I became ambitious about the potential impact I could have if I could scale a solution. 

To build a successful model, I had to deeply understand the problem. I did a lot of listening and observing, like an anthropologist. One of the most important design elements of the model was realizing that engineers want to learn from other engineers. And, even more specifically, they want to learn from engineers in their specific field. So, in order to build an affordable model, I would have to find a way to train young engineers how to be peer communication coaches. 

It took a lot of work to figure out how to make engineers want to put in time and effort into improving their communication skills – especially because it was not required. It took a ton of effort to understand the cultural nuance of each engineering field and build them a version of the program that would work perfectly for them. As the program grew, I was challenged to figure out how to scale and institutionalize the lab so that it would become an integral resource for the MIT community indefinitely. 

The program ended up inspiring many other institutions to develop a similar approach and, to this day, I continue to serve on its board. In July 2023, the program is celebrating its 10th anniversary and some notable alumni are returning to talk about the Comm Lab’s impact on their lives, like NASA Astronaut Christina Birch. 

  1. Can you tell us about your transition from overseeing education innovation at Harvard University to helping launch a biotech venture capital firm?

While at MIT, a colleague at Harvard took an interest in how quickly I was able to scale an innovation in learning across the Institute. As you can imagine, it’s not easy to get a large historic organization to adopt change – let alone quickly! After five years of scaling the MIT Communication Lab, I was eager to keep learning and growing and accepted a new role at Harvard. I was really fortunate to have had the opportunity to collaborate on the design of the job. I sat in the Office of the President and Provost, centrally at Harvard, where I oversaw funding to help launch, scale, and support the adoption of innovations in learning across all thirteen schools. I also brought in outside funding to launch a new initiative to support student entrepreneurship in the education sector globally, an initiative called “Operation Impact.” 

After a few years at Harvard, a former fellow of mine from MIT, Dr. Tony Kulesa, approached me and asked me to help him build a brand new venture capital firm called Petri. Tony had been one of my first hires at the MIT Communication Lab; I’d been his mentor for close to 8 years by then, helping him support an emerging student need at MIT with the MIT Biotech Group. 

Petri, although it was a venture capital firm, was in many ways aiming to solve a learning problem. In order to disrupt the biotech industry, Petri’s thesis was about funding new first-time scientist founders and teaching them how to be CEOs. One of the reasons I was chosen was that I had a track record of success for launching and scaling organizations – as well as innovating in learning. At the beginning, the venture firm was just two of us full-time, so I was fortunate enough to learn deeply about venture capitalism from the inside of the new fund. 

  1. How did the cultural dynamics at the venture firm influence your decision to start Founder to Leader?

I absolutely loved being on the founding team at Petri. Despite being the only woman – and mother – on the team, my teammates Tony Kulesa and Josh Moser were some of the most compassionate and wonderful people I’ve ever met. I’ll never forget how these two young men made a silly Harry Potter inspired video for my son to wish him a happy birthday. We were an incredible team. 

After a year and half of success at Petri, a larger venture firm asked us to come in-house and the culture there was really different. I found it to be much harder to be a woman – and mom – on that team. Lots of decisions were made from the leaders of the firm that made it challenging for me to be able to participate in company culture as a working mom. Although I’m sure they didn’t intend for it to come across this way, I felt like they didn’t value me as a member of their small team. There were only about 10 of us on the team and I was working incredibly hard; I didn’t feel like I could bring my whole self to work. 

I did a lot of reflecting about what I love and how I can have an impact. I ultimately decided to take a big risk and start my own business coaching founders. I had been coaching founders informally for the firm for a couple of years and I found that it was incredibly rewarding to support promising emerging biotech leaders and help them develop as leaders, managers, and communicators. I found that, with my wide range of experiences, I could help them with just about everything that wasn’t technical with their companies like setting up human-first organizational systems, managing boards, and achieving strategic goals. 

Starting Founder to Leader was easily one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I wake up every day being proud to be supporting scientist entrepreneurs who are creating solutions to some of the world’s most daunting challenges. I also genuinely love working with my clients and am having the best time innovating alongside them about how best to support them to scale their companies. It’s also incredible to be my own boss. 

  1. What motivated you to build an all-women team of coaches for Founder to Leader?

One of the many reasons I started Founder to Leader was to have more control over my life. I have always worked incredibly hard wherever I’ve been employed – and I’ve never wanted to outsource being a mom to my son. Unfortunately I don’t have relatives nearby who help out, so it’s been a tough juggling act for a long time. I’m also not proud of this, but in my marriage I was the default parent for everything. It was a lot of weight to carry. 

I always felt like I was compromising some part of me no matter where I was or what I was doing. When I started Founder to Leader, I was able to create a work schedule that matched my son’s school hours and it allowed me to feel like I didn’t have to apologize for whatever hours I needed to keep to be able to care for my son – while also having big ambitious dreams professionally. 

It ends up there are a lot of powerful badass women out there who are sick of being on a professional treadmill. Some colleagues reached out to me when they saw I’d gone out on my own and were interested in exploring what that might look like for them, as well. Each of the women that I have on my team is extraordinary and has her own reasons why building a portfolio of work as a coach is a much better match. I love being on a team and have always appreciated working with exceptional women. It’s hard to find really interesting high-paying part-time or flexible work with this much impact. I try my very best to be the most supportive mentor and colleague to them – which is absolutely what they deserve. 

The biotech and the innovation industry are also not particularly supportive of women yet. It’s a hard environment. When I was in biotech venture, I found that I was the only woman in many meetings. I became very passionate about advocating for women and underrepresented groups. It made complete sense to me that my company, Founder to Leader, should be 100% women. I’m building a company that is everything we have not found in the community – a truly supportive and nurturing work environment for some of the most talented professionals I know. I’m building a company for all of us to thrive. 

  1. How has your success in Founder to Leader impacted your personal life and relationships?

Founder to Leader has given me so much power to believe in myself. Although we should not necessarily equate financial success with overall success, I felt like a real boss lady when I started to become my family’s primary breadwinner. I was thoroughly enjoying my work – and I was also, for the first time, being rewarded financially for my efforts. It felt amazing. 

In fact, Founder to Leader’s success gave me the power to ask for a divorce. I realized that I could absolutely afford to live on my own with my son. I no longer needed to stay in my lonely marriage because it made sense, financially. I had known for a while that my marriage wasn’t serving me – or our family – particularly well. The company’s success gave me permission to no longer accept an unhappy marriage as good enough. 

  1. Can you elaborate on the significance of the “barn raising” party you’re hosting to celebrate this new chapter of your life?

Back in the 1800’s, it was costly and hard to build a new barn to store your crops. Neighbors would raise their hands and ask for supplies and human support when they needed a barn. They’d call this a “barn raising,” when the community would come together to help construct a new barn for one family at a time. 

A friend of mine suggested that I host a “barn raising” party to celebrate my divorce. It was designed very much in the spirit of historic barn raising gatherings – the party was my way of asking my community to support me as I launch a new chapter of my life. In June of 2023, I hosted 10 of my closest women friends for a pot-luck dinner and bonfire to mark this important milestone together. I filled my house with beautiful flowers and we had a magical evening together. Even an amicable divorce is really hard and these women were my village, helping to support me in a time of need. I wanted to gather all of them and express my gratitude for their friendship. 

  1. How do you balance being a CEO, a mother, and other responsibilities in your life?

I take all of my responsibilities very seriously – being the CEO of a company, as well as being a mother to a 10 year old human and a 5 year old dog. To get very tactical, I wake up at 5 AM and make sure to have an hour of quiet work before my son wakes up. I get him to school by 8 AM and I take an hour break at some point every day to take my dog for a walk in the woods – exercise that is as good for me as it is for her. My last client appointment ends by 4:00 PM so I can pick up by 4:30 PM and I try really hard to turn off work to be present for my son. I rarely do work after he goes to bed. I’ve never been good at working at night; if I am stressed, I’ll wake up as early at 4 AM if I need to hit a big deadline. 

I’ve always been an incredibly efficient worker and becoming a mom intensified my ability to be a serious operator. Whatever time I have, it is highly focused and strategic. I’m super self-disciplined and have learned when to outsource things and when to kill a project that isn’t heading in the right direction. I also rarely say yes to attending evening events and I have learned not to feel badly about it. I find being out at night to be incredibly taxing on me – and my son. My most productive hours are in the early morning and I protect that time fiercely. 

Although I’m not trying to encourage anyone to get a divorce (unless it’s the right thing for you and your family), I will say that I had a really hard time getting “me time” in my marriage – whether I wanted to get my nails done or put in extra time at work. One of the benefits to a structured custody schedule is that I have much clearer boundaries on being able to have some time to myself. Although I am still the primary parent for my son, I do get days and nights off with a predictable schedule and that is actually much healthier for me than it was when I was married. 

  1. What advice do you have for women who aspire to make a significant impact in their chosen fields while maintaining a fulfilling personal life?

My advice would be to not apologize for what you need to be successful. When I took the job at Harvard, I told them I’d only do it if I could work 6:30 AM – 3:30 PM so that I can pick up my son. I tell clients I can’t meet after 4 PM. I don’t travel unless I want to (and sometimes it’s actually really nice!). The truth is: you should always do your very best work and the right people will value what you have to offer. 

Business Interview Questions:

  1. What are the key challenges that early-stage biotech founders face in terms of leadership and management?

One of the common pain points of early stage biotech founders is that they rarely have had any leadership or management experience or training before becoming the CEO of their companies. Most of the founders are coming straight out of their PhD or postdoc experience. Academia rarely values mentorship, so most new CEOs – in addition to having little personal experience leading and managing teams – also have had almost zero positive role modeling from their faculty advisors. 

So, what makes being an early stage biotech founder particularly hard is that your learning curve has to be extremely steep – while the stakes are high. You’e already raised millions of dollars and you have investors tracking your progress, so you have to grow faster than your company. 

These types of learning founders are my favorites. They are humble and curious and genuinely want to be coached. They come hungry for knowledge and are often keen to reflect and are willing to take risks to develop their own leadership style.

  1. How does Founder to Leader help biotech founders navigate the non-technical aspects of their companies?

Most of our clients, at Founder to Leader, come to us with an agenda. They either want help deconstructing something that didn’t go well so they can learn to do it better in the future – or they want proactive advice on how to ensure something goes well in the future. We are confidential sounding boards to discuss company problems and explore potential solutions. 

Most of the time when people start biotech companies, they think it’s the technology that will be the hardest part. It doesn’t take very long, however, for founders to realize that it’s actually the people part of running a tech company that is the hardest. How do you hire, train, and motivate people? How do you align values and success metrics? How do you manage difficult board members? How do you change systems and structures to help you achieve business goals? It’s quite hard to build a company that does all of these things elegantly in the background. 

At Founder to Leader, we try balance theory and practice with a bias towards action. We’ve built a Founder Toolbox that is full of grab-and-go templates and resources to help our founders accelerate building their companies. We encourage our founders to focus on innovating with their technology and to lean on us to support them with guidance on just about everything else.

  1. Can you share some success stories of biotech founders who have benefited from the coaching and support provided by Founder to Leader?

Although I can’t share specifics due to client confidentiality, you can see a list of my clients here. Some of my success stories include: 

  • Coaching a CEO how to “sell” her company to prospective talent and then having her report back that she secured her top candidate to join her team
  • Empowering and coaching a female CEO to ask her board for a raise – and helping her get it 
  • Helping a founder fire an underperforming employees – while keeping the rest of the company’s morale high
  • Teaching a CEO how to set goals with her team, and the hearing that they achieved 100% of their quarterly goals
  • Supporting a CEO in mastering how to keep a tricky board member from derailing board meetings 
  • Designing and teaching trainings to help scale excellent management across a growing team 
  • Facilitating team meetings to identify company culture and values 
  • Observing how a founder has demonstrated vulnerability and created psychological safety on her team 
  • Helping two co-founders break up, amicably, over 6 months – while the company remains strong 

Almost every week, I have a client share with me that something we discussed together ended up being extremely useful. It’s rare that, as coaches, we have huge or even visible wins. It’s the everyday advice that we give about how to set up manager meetings or how to approach a problem that helps the positive flywheel take motion. It’s these little course corrections and best practices that, over time, add up to founder growth and positive company development. 

  1. What are some common misconceptions or myths about leadership in the biotech industry that you aim to debunk through your work?

The truth is that there is a new breed of founder leader out there and they’re crushing it. They are scientist entrepreneurs and learning leaders; they are building incredible human-first organizations that are changing the world. These new leaders come in all shapes and sizes and colors – and many of them are also young mothers as well. 

  1. How do you approach developing customized coaching programs for scientist entrepreneurs who have limited leadership experience?

Whenever I develop content and resources for scientist entrepreneurs, I always try to focus on being practical first and foremost. What will functionally help you solve this problem quickly so you can get back to building? I try to save them time by summarizing research and building actionable tools for them to grab, customize, and deploy immediately. I make sure that everything I do is simple, well organized, and easily accessible for all sorts of different learners. I also work really hard to establish trust so that there is no topic that is off limits – there is no judgment whatsoever. We’re here to help. Even if that means giving hard feedback to clients sometimes to help them grow.

  1. What sets Founder to Leader apart from other consultancy firms in the biotech industry?

There aren’t actually that many coaching firms that focus solely on early stage biotech founders and leaders. We know the space extremely well and now have a track record of success working in the field. We have a strong network of colleagues and talent who specialize in supporting early stage biotech startups and we’ve priced ourselves moderately so that young companies can afford to work with us. We are insiders who truly understand the challenges early stage biotech founders face – from pre-seed through Series B funding. 

  1. In your experience, what are the key qualities or skills that successful biotech leaders possess?

There are a lot of qualities and skills that successful biotech leaders need to possess, but I’d say that the most important ones are self-awareness, humility, and having strong people skills. That means being an effective communicator and being able to build meaningful relationships with others. To be an extraordinary leader, you have to hire people that are more talented than you and empower them to be their best selves at work. You also need to align the team to have a shared vision, goals, and values. 

I’ll tell you one thing that biotech tech leaders don’t need: to be a gregarious extrovert. You don’t need to have a big personality to inspire others to be extraordinary. Lots of the founders that I coach are quiet leaders and they often doubt if they are the right people for the job because you don’t often see leaders like them in the media. I spend a lot of time ensuring these incredible people that they have what it takes to do an amazing job. Leaders come in every shape, size, and color. 

  1. How do you envision Founder to Leader contributing to the advancement of human health and climate solutions?

If we do our job well, we will have helped hundreds of companies bring their solutions to market – whether they are developing new therapeutics to cure disease or developing bee vaccines to combat climate change. Each one of these companies has the potential to have enormous impact. And, on top of it all, at Founder to Leader, we’re helping them build healthy human-first organizations that empower and value their workforce. 

  1. What plans or initiatives do you have in place to expand the reach and impact of Founder to Leader?

I’ve started partnering with some larger organizations like Nucleate, Convergent Research, Active, and the Termeer Foundation to reach more people and organizations. I’ve been exploring how to use technology to increase access to content via learning platforms. I have also been adding additional coaches with complementary expertise to reach more founders – and provide greater support to the founders we already serve. 

  1. What is your long-term vision for Founder to Leader, and how do you see it evolving in the coming years to address the changing needs of biotech founders?

My dream for Founder to Leader is to become the most trusted resource to support early stage biotech founders. I’m working toward building a white-glove boutique experience for clients so that we can seamlessly support them with everything non-technical for their teams. I’d like to have more coaches and an even fuller library of resources so that we can be the go-to support to help young companies successfully thrive and scale.  

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