LabCentral is a launch-pad for promising start-ups in the life sciences industry. The Cambridge-based nonprofit has what you might call a spinoff -- LabCentral Ignite.
“We're a first and only of its kind platform in the life sciences and biotech sector that is addressing gender, racial and other underrepresentation in the sector as our sole mission,” the program's executive director Gretchen Cook-Anderson said.
After a few weeks of intense training in the Career Forge program, she says adults of all ages find open doors to new careers with more upward mobility, income, and flexibility.
NBC10 Boston caught up with the October cohort when training was underway.
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“My family is from Mexico,” Diana Hernandez said, noting they did “more laborious work and field work and my mom wanted a different future for myself.”
Hernandez says science is her passion and she hopes to create treatments that fight disease.
Yvon Augustin is looking for a mid-life career change. Born in Haiti, and the youngest in a family of six kids, Augustin is looking to pivot away from his career in product design.
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“I never really pictured myself doing this this,” Augustin said.
But like many others, during the height of the pandemic he started thinking about his professional life. With encouragement from friends he took this leap.
“The way that we grow up, we generally think that science is not for us,“ he said.
Uzi Chi, M.D., is the program developer and an instructor in the Career Forge program.
“The ideas that we try to cover are all the different techniques that you need to start at an entry level research position.” Dr. Chi said. “This curriculum is written so that anyone who's interested in sciences can interact.”
But six weeks of intensive training and upskilling can be a life-changer.
So what happens after you complete the Career Forge program? Graduates like Marisa Lemus get jobs in biotech. She is a senior at Northeastern, is getting a Masters Degree next and is working at Satellite Bio.
“I am a single mom and moved to Boston with a 1-year-old child,” she said. “I was completely alone and had to figure out a way to keep moving with my career and also of being head of household.”
“I had a goal and it wasn’t a straight pathway. It was ups and downs," she added. "I had people out in the industry that have helped me to move forward and that is why I am here today.”
This first generation immigrant from Guatemala wants to develop a career inside the tissue therapeutics industry. Back at home her father is well aware of his daughter’s progress.
“I'm always the first one to either be an a panel of scientists, like, immigrant women, single mothers, and usually always the only Latina present in most of the scientific exchanges that we have," she said. "I think that makes him proud. He keeps saying, 'you're always the first.'”
Career Forge is fueling ambition with opportunity and at the same time, filling a need for talent in biotech.
Timi Akinrinmade Adigun is a Career Forge grad and now a research associate at Larkspur Bioscience.
“I mostly run like Western blot experiments. I look for degradation in protein,” she said. "I feel more prepared. I feel more mature, and I feel like I know how to tackle the workload, the course load, the learning load.”
As Dr. Chi explained, “We're trying to expose a lot of students who don't have access to biotech or don't have parents who went to college to just see, there are other things you can do with your wonderful scientific mind.“
Adigun has found, “It’s hard to grow, to move up in any industry, especially being like a woman or being a person of color. So having this opportunity to at least get the foundation, the skills that I need or that anybody needs to move up is super important.”
LabCentral Ignite is hoping to expand to two other cities by the end of 2023.
If you want to learn more, check out their community workshops, on “What the heck is biotech?” You’ll find the information on that and Career Forge at labcentralignite.org.