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Associate Spotlight: Daniel Shapiro

From conducting innovative research in the Chilkoti Lab, to playing music with his funk band, to immersing himself in the venture capital ecosystem, Daniel Shapiro (“Dan”) is making the most out of his student experience at Duke. Dan is a fourth-year PhD candidate in Duke’s Biomedical Engineering program. As an undergraduate at Yale, Dan worked on building a foundational knowledge skillset in physics, molecular biology, and biomedical engineering. In almost three years with Duke Capital Partners, Dan has led numerous screenings and diligence efforts in addition to supporting our portfolio companies. As Lead Life Sciences Associate at DuCap, he applies his diverse skillset to help high-tech and life sciences companies find long-term success.

As a PhD student, how did you develop an interest in the venture capital side of entrepreneurship?

When I first joined the Duke Biomedical Engineering PhD program, I had the vague idea that I wanted to enter “industry.” After having spent two and a half years as an associate with Duke Capital Partners (DuCap), “industry” has crystallized into VC. I’m someone who loves variety, and one of my favorite aspects of working in an academic research setting has been the opportunity to learn about, talk about, and engage with many research topics including biomaterials, genetic circuits, immunotherapy, and even plant biology. My experience with DuCap has been quite similar! I’ve had the invaluable opportunity to learn about, talk about, and deep dive into a multitude of fields – including microbiome profiling, geospatial satellite data mining, and even athletic program infrastructure – with a brilliant group of associates and operating team leaders. Furthermore, when a company I am excited about gets funded, I feel that I am actually helping someone achieve their dream. Working with DuCap has made me realize that venture is a win-win field where I can learn about cutting-edge research and engage with brilliant and interesting people, all while helping people reach their goals. 

What led you to join Duke Capital Partners?

Joining DuCap was fairly serendipitous. At an orientation event during my first year at Duke I met Gabi Shull, a 2nd year Biomedical Engineering PhD student and DuCap alum, and thought nothing of it. A week later I attended a Duke Innovation and Entrepreneurship event for the sole purpose of getting a free T-shirt, as grad students often do. I saw Gabi running the check-in table and struck up a conversation about her experience working at the intersection of Biomedical Engineering and Entrepreneurship. She told me about her work with DuCap, and I saw this organization as a great opportunity to gain invaluable business experience as a PhD student. A few months later, Gabi told me she was leaving DuCap and encouraged me to apply as her Biomedical Engineering replacement. I eventually joined the team in May 2020, and after only a few weeks it became clear to me that I had made an excellent decision. Venture capital would be a fantastic career for me, and I have loved working with DuCap ever since I joined.

How does your previous and ongoing research relate to your role as Lead Life Sciences Associate?

Throughout undergrad I worked in the Isaacs lab at Yale on many different projects, including finding new ways to engineer algae to produce biofuel, “recoding” bacteria to produce useful materials not found in nature, and finally on creating protein nanowires that can conduct electricity as my thesis project for a double major in Physics and Molecular biology. In the Chilkoti lab at Duke, my current research focuses on creating “synthetic organelles” inside cells that can turn genes on and off. The Chilkoti lab also works on point-of-care diagnostics and immunotherapy, subjects which I’ve learned a whole lot about simply by talking with other members of my lab. Between my physics, molecular biology, and biomedical engineering background, I have built the foundation necessary to effectively engage and interrogate a wide variety of high-tech and life sciences companies in my role as lead life sciences associate at DuCap. To give a few examples, I used my physics background to lead a diligence effort on an ion-propulsion technology for space transportation, my molecular biology background to lead a diligence effort on a portfolio company developing a genetic and hormonal test for birth control (Adyn), and my biomedical engineering background to help lead a diligence effort on a portfolio company working on producing human breast milk in bioreactors (Biomilq). The opportunity to engage with a multitude of founders, companies, and technologies is why I love working with DuCap and in venture, and none of these opportunities would be possible for me without my research background.

Can you talk a little bit about your band and the influence that music has had on your life?

Music has been an integral part of my life since I was five, when I started taking classical piano lessons, and has given me opportunities far beyond simply learning songs. In 6th grade I joined a Klezmer band, the Maxwell Street Junior Klezmer Orchestra, and through playing traditional Jewish music I was able to connect on a deep level to my Russian-Jewish heritage and the intense history of European Jewry. My freshman year of high school I began playing jazz, a genre that has taught me to communicate beyond boundaries and languages through music. I played jazz piano through high school, in undergrad as part of the Yale Jazz Ensemble and various small groups, and in a funk band during my gap year. Currently I play with a few other students in another funk band, Feels on Hicks St. Feels on Hicks St. has become an invaluable respite from grad school, with our rehearsals allowing our brains a creative outlet and our public gigs serving as a social opportunity outside of the academic ecosystem. What started out as a small group jam session has evolved into a real performance group: we play at breweries, private events, and even got hired for a wedding (which was sadly cancelled due to Covid)! We have two albums on Soundcloud and are recording a third, which will hopefully be put out on Spotify sometime in 2023.

What are your current short-term and long-term career goals?

In the long term, I want to work in Biotechnology Venture Capital, keeping up with cutting-edge science while helping people build breakthrough technologies. In the short term, I’m open to whatever directions life takes me. Whether that’s starting or joining a biotech company, working in consulting for a few years before hopping back into biotech, doing a post-doc in a fascinating new field, or just going straight into VC.