Back at it again: Seven alumni return to the GapSummit

The GapSummit had previously always been a one-time deal. Young biotech Leaders of Tomorrow are given the opportunity to gather among the global leaders in healthcare and biotechnology, and to formulate and pitch their ideas in the Voices of Tomorrow competition. LoTs leave their summit full of inspiration, ambition, and hope for the future but also with a pang of sadness in realizing they might not ever experience something like this again. Until now. This year, as part of a pilot program, GBR gave seven alumni the chance to go back, some several years later, and do it all again.

Daniel Dominguez (GapSummit 2014), Alice Nettleton (GapSummit 2016), Marie Yurkovich (GapSummit 2016), Romina Paillao Bustos (GapSummit 2017), Ilias Ettayebi (GapSummit 2017), John Psaltis (GapSummit 2017), and Amadeus Ahnan (GapSummit 2018) joined the newest cohort of Leaders of Tomorrow in Cambridge, Massachusetts for the 2019 summit at the Broad Institute. Despite their different GapSummit histories and professional backgrounds, 3 major themes arose from discussions had with these alumni following GapSummit 2019.

The ever-evolving GapSummit

For each summit, the GapSummit Executive Team must come up the gaps that they would like to focus on, identify prominent speakers within each of these gaps, and then design workshop-based activities. Naturally, as the biotechnology world changes and the GapSummit Executive Teams change, the GapSummit will start to look very differently.

Romina, who promotes biotechnology in Latin America, saw a difference in the general themes of their two summits. “I noticed that the main topics of the summits were different. The summit at Georgetown (GapSummit 2017) was more oriented towards public policy and I think the one at the Broad Institute (GapSummit 2019) was oriented towards science and bioentrepreneurship,” reflects Romina. 

Ilias, a cancer researcher at the University of Toronto, agreed. “(with GapSummit 2017) being in an area with a large amount of political activity, the themes and speakers that attended this summit were surrounded around political change, and the importance of public-private collaboration in order to tackle the gaps that face our society. Although many of the underlying themes were present at both summits, the 2019 GapSummit being held in Boston and one of the major hubs for entrepreneurship and start‑up culture, was more focused on the opportunities that we as LoTs have in tackling the gaps through entrepreneurship. I think that by attending both of these GapSummits which focused on the same overlying gaps, but with different perspectives, gave me a more comprehensive understanding of all the players involved and their roles in innovating the future.”


GapSummit Alumni, with GBR team members


Marie, a venture capital associate at Vectr Ventures, was particularly impressed with the evolution and maturation of the GapSummit. “I felt like, due to the obvious continued success of the GapSummit, the quality of the speakers that the organizers were able to secure was even higher than in 2016.”

Similarly, Alice, a healthcare associate analyst for Edison Group, noticed a shift in the LoTs in attendance this time around. “Attending GapSummit 2019, I felt more of a professional vibe rather than student vibe. I felt that there were perhaps more LoTs at GapSummit 2019 who were working in industry, or perhaps it was just the people I met. The VoT competition was very professional this year as well! It looked like they put a lot of work into it.” Although the percentages of graduate students and young professionals has remained consistent from GapSummit 2016, the percentage of LoTs who identified as Entrepreneurs increase from 6% at GapSummit 2016 to 11% at GapSummit 2019.

The changing participant

One of the biggest differences for our alumni was just how different they were, in terms of their career status and perspective on the GapSummit this time. It certainly helps not having the pressure of the looming VoT competition.

Romina: “As an alumna, I did not have to work on a project for the final competition so I was more relaxed this time. I was really able to enjoy the summit without thinking about the final competition.”

Amadeus, the CTO and co-founder of Better Nature, entered the 2018 summit with “little expectation of what to achieve from the Voices of Tomorrow competition. I wanted to take it easy and to not be too competitive to hinder making new friends. Since my idea was chosen to be what my team of five would move forward with, I became very invested in the competition. This is because the idea represents my life mission. Working together with the team on something I am very passionate about, we went all-out. We came to Cambridge (UK, GapSummit 2018) with prototypes in hands along with some tempeh food samples, printed t-shirts, and designed slides. We happened to co-win the whole competition."

"A year after the GapSummit 2018, attending the GapSummit 2019 brought so much gratitude for what has happened in my career." Amadeus Ahnan ( GapSummit 2018 Alumni and Voices of Tomorrow Competition winner)

Besides the VoT competition, just maturing in their own careers gave our alumni a bit of a perspective shift. Marie noticed that “being a student during my first GapSummit, in the midst of writing up my PhD so admittedly a little distracted with that, I think I slightly took for granted constantly being surrounded by passionate people working on exciting areas in bioscience and getting to see stellar folks speak all the time.”


Amadeus updating on the success of Better Nature, the company founded by the 2018 VoT winners.


Our alumni were even noticing that they were shifting from LoTs to the more established leaders of the group. “When I was at GapSummit 2016, I was finishing up my masters thesis at Gothenburg University which was called ‘Business Creation and Entrepreneurship in Biomedicine’. So I was coming at the conference from that perspective, but also interested to get as many insights for my masters thesis as possible. I was interested to find people from industry to interview, and to learn as much as possible about valuation in life science. It was 3 years since I attended GapSummit 2016, and now have a good understanding of the pharma and biotech industry, especially in the commercial side of things, recent developments like gene therapies."

"I felt more confident since I already knew a lot about the industry and felt I could contribute a lot more to discussions and was keen to give advice to the LoTs" Alice Nettleton (GapSummit 2016 Alumna)

Same great experience and network

Although the topics and speakers within each GapSummit change, the strength of the program remains the same: the fantastic group of LoTs who come eager to change the world.

“I have improved my networking skills so I was able to meet more people. I was able to speak with George Church, one of the most brilliant scientists in the world! I liked meeting the LoTs. They were really cool participants with great personal and professional histories” Romina Paillao Bustos (GapSummit 2017 Alumna)

One of Marie’s favorite things from her original GapSummit in 2016 was “getting to meet likeminded people from around the world.” Coming back in 2019 produced similar results by “also meeting a whole new cohort of LoTs, each one with a specific passion project or area of interest.”

“I am excited to see what would come up next from this new batch of brilliant minds." Amadeus Ahnan, on the quality of the new cohort of Leaders of Tomorrow.

Amadeus also took note of the exceptional talent within the 2019 LoT cohort. "Experiencing GapSummit 2019 makes me feel more optimistic that more talents and great ideas out there are being facilitated to be developed into real impact-oriented projects for the betterment of health, environment, and many more. And to think that this is just part of a bigger movement affirms to me that some, actually many, people are making the world a better place.”

Ilias remained impressed with the GapSummit. “I enjoyed many aspects of the summit, from the location of the event being hosted at the Broad Institute to the various networking opportunities that we had, to talk and learn from other LoTs and speakers. My favorite part of the summit was really the quality of speakers and panelists that attended and the opportunity to absorb their wealth of knowledge and perspectives on many topics that are of interest to me.”

Alice also “found the quality of speakers and access to speakers (at GapSummit 2016) to be very good. It is so rare to have the opportunity to network with and learn from such experienced people from the industry.

"I think this conference breaks down a lot of perceived barriers and enables you to approach them and for them to be interested to speak to you as well." Alice Nettleton, on being able to interact firsthand with the calibre of industry leaders at GapSummit again.

As Alice puts it, “apart from the fantastic networking opportunities, and getting to explore Kendall Square, I most valued the range of talks and panels. I spend most of my time at work focusing on a small number of companies, assets, and indications, and you often forget why you are working in the industry, or what you are trying to achieve by doing what you’re doing. The conference (especially the Global Bioeconomies panel) reminded me about some of the most important global issues in healthcare to solve such as infectious diseases in the developing world. These issues aren’t always attractive from a financial perspective to western biotech and pharma companies, so aren’t a key focus of our industry, but if solved would bring significant value to society.”

Above all else, the GapSummit will always invigorate that passion for biotechnology that we all, LoTs and alumni, share. There is no doubt that the GBR community, as bright-eyed LoTs or more seasoned alumni, are up to the task of facing the challenges of today and those that will come tomorrow. 

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Tags: Alumni Spotlight

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