Innovator: Susan Nichols

Susan Nichols

Accelerating therapies for patients who need them most
Susan Nichols is the CEO of Falcon Therapeutics and is best known in the global cell and gene therapy market as a business connectivity matchmaker, innovative commercial strategist and a networking powerhouse. Susan has more than twenty years of corporate management and leadership experience in high growth biotech, entering the cell therapy arena in 2010.

Q & A

Tell us a little bit of your background and how you came to be involved with UNC.

I was working as global vice president for Invetech, a Fortive/Danaher company focused on cell and gene therapy manufacturing scale-up.  I was leading business development efforts and very involved in the cell and gene therapy community. This was a high-travel position, which afforded me the opportunity to create a robust and extensive network in the cell and gene therapy sector. I was fortunate to learn a great deal about manufacturing, funding, operations, and the growth phases of cell and gene therapy companies. Due to the high travel, I made the decision to begin looking at positions in the RTP area, where I could align more closely with my passion for patient advocacy and  bringing innovative therapies to market quickly — reaching the patients who need them most. For the past 10 years, my career goal has been the alignment of my skills in an organization with my passion to accelerate therapies for patients with no other option using a cell and gene therapy technology platform.

I called my friend and mentor, Christy Shaffer of Hatteras Ventures, who introduced me to Shawn Hingtgen. Shawn and I met and discussed his technology, and we simply connected and were aligned with passion and mission.  When he requested a recommendation for a CEO, I said “me.” Thus began what has become the best decision I ever made. My passion and skills are aligned.

How did your experience working with early-stage, emerging and Fortune 500 companies best position your work and success with Falcon Therapeutics?  

I believe it has given me perspective and best practices.  With the Fortune 500 companies, I was trained in a very formal process-driven system. This taught me rigor and the benefit of putting processes and procedures in place to enhance communication and efficiencies. With Danaher, I learned the value of continuous improvement and metrics-driven goals. Early-stage and emerging companies taught me how to accomplish a great amount on a tight budget, how to attract and recruit others to support efforts, and that asking for help from others who have gone before us is a strength.  I have had mentors at each phase who have helped guide me through their experiences and what they’ve learned.  Smaller companies afforded me broad skill expansion, while a larger company allowed me to concentrate on a few key growth areas at a time.

As a professional builder, do you think there are any tools or techniques that are most crucial for startups?

Building starts with a solid foundation. Being a builder means building people and delivering results. A key component is building highly functioning teams and bridges between the teams toward common goals. For people, understanding each individual win to help them achieve this builds loyalty and confidence. I also learned the value of building connections from one of my cell therapy mentors.  Seeking a mutual win in all interactions and seeking to help others win builds a strong foundation for future interactions. If I want a mentor, I become a mentor to others. If I want resources, I provide resources for others. Building my network and contacts is as crucial as building my business. No one succeeds alone. 

Any best advice for startups looking to turn their ideas into reality?

Find someone who has gone before you and ask if they will mentor you so that you may shorten your learning curve. Find those trusted advisors who give you honest feedback and tell you when they think you are off course and give you feedback as to what the course you need to be on looks like. Build your team carefully and, if unsure, ask a potential team member to serve in a consulting role first to ensure team fit. Shared team passion and vision helps propel companies forward.