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What the 2023 Nucleus Awards winners hope for Philly’s innovation future

Local leaders Dr. Daniel Skovronsky, Margaret Berger Bradley, Sheila Ireland and Sulaiman Rahman were honored at the Science Center's annual fête.

Drawing of the Nucleus Awards honorees. (Technical.ly/Sarah Huffman)

Philly has the talent to succeed as an innovation hub, but its people and organizations need to believe in themselves more to make it happen.

This was one of the themes discussed by leaders of Philadelphia’s STEM community at the University City Science Center on Tuesday evening to celebrate four of the best and brightest minds in local tech, the 2023 Nucleus Awards honorees.

When receiving their awards, each honoree discussed changes they’d like to see in Philly and where they hope the region has progressed in the future. Consider some of these smart things they said.

Pick a challenge and solve it

Dr. Daniel Skovronsky, the EVP, chief scientific and medical officer, and president of Lilly Research Laboratories at Eli Lilly and Company, received the Commercialization Award. He said he hopes to see more progress toward tough diseases.

Skovronsky reflected on his work developing diagnostic technology for Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases. His company Avid Radiopharmaceuticals, which is now a subsidiary of Eli Lilly and Company, developed the FDA-approved product Amyvid, an imaging agent that can help diagnose Alzheimer’s.

“It was an incredible dream that we can make a difference in Alzheimer’s disease,” Skovronsky told Maiken Scott, the host and creative director of WHYY’s health and science show, The Pulse, during a Q&A onstage. “And we probably thought we could do it faster than 20 years, but that’s what it took, fine.”

His advice for companies in Philly doing similar work were to pick a hard problem, stick with it and make an actual difference.

“Drug addiction, schizophrenia, or any of the other diseases that aren’t very popular to work on right now, I bet you there’s teams in Philly working on them,” he said. “I hope 10 or 20 years from now they’ll be on this stage saying we beat that disease. We worked on it hard.”

(L to R) Daniel Skovronsky, Margaret Berger Bradley, Sheila D. Ireland and Sulaiman W. Rahman. (Courtesy University City Science Center)

Offer equal investment opportunities

Margaret Berger Bradley, the VP of strategic initiatives for Ben Franklin Technology Partners, won the Capital Award. She said she would like to see equal opportunities for investments for women and founders of color in Philadelphia.

“In Ben Franklin’s portfolio, 40% have women leadership, and 45% have had a BIPOC leader in a leadership team,” she said. “Well, we still have so much work to do.”

Berger Bradley added that Philadelphia needs to invest back into itself. Most capital coming from Philadelphia does not go back into Philadelphia companies, she said.

“Ben Franklin has created, first, our GO Philly Fund four years ago, and we’re raising a Go PA fund that will have its first close next month,” Berger Bradley said. “But so many of the companies we invest in can’t grow up.”

Invest in human capital

Sheila D. Ireland, the president and CEO of Philadelphia OIC, won the Cultivator Award. Ireland said organizations and companies need to invest in “human capital” by creating opportunities for people to add value to their employer.

Ireland said people often think it’s enough to get people in the door, but don’t think about helping them advance in their careers. Companies don’t see the cost of high turnover rates, in her view — but if they change the way they invest in employees, they could see more benefits.

“We’ve got to start developing strategies and career opportunities that give access to opportunity, not just at the bottom rung, but the opportunity to climb as well,” she said.

Increase economic diversity

Sulaiman W. Rahman, the president and CEO of DiverseForce, was awarded the Convener Award. Rahman said he wants to see Philadelphia become the most economically diverse city in the country.

He echoed Berger Bradley, adding that Philadelphia needs to believe in itself so that other cities and people across the country will see the opportunity here.

“I hope that we collectively can make sure that we keep it as a movement in spite of the headwinds, in spite of all the politicization of so many different things that can undermine our democracy, that can undermine our collaboration, undermine that vision to be the most economic inclusive city in the country,” Rahman said.

Sarah Huffman is a 2022-2024 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism.
Companies: Ben Franklin Technology Partners / Philadelphia OIC / University City Science Center

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