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Learning How To Let Go

With an eye on the future, CEO entrepreneur connects with JHSPH community Colleen Cutcliffe PhD 2004

While Colleen Cutcliffe, PhD ’04, will always remember the collaborative spirit and mutual respect that infused her experience at Johns Hopkins, it was working with her advisor that really motivated her decision to sign The Hopkins Founders’ Pledge earlier this year.

“My advisor, Dr. Cecile Pickart, was very generous with her time and advice, and it was her approach to developing young faculty that has stuck with me. She showed me how important it is to teach and to care deeply about that teaching, and she also knew when to let a student go at the right moment to figure things out.”

For Cutcliffe, letting go is the secret to success. As CEO and cofounder of Pendulum Therapeutics, a biotechnology company working on gut microbiome solutions for Type 2 diabetes and other health conditions, she has learned how important it is that she trust her team—both to succeed and to make mistakes—because the best way to learn is by doing. Cutcliffe appreciates that her company’s achievements are directly tied to how much she empowers her employees. “Dr. Pickart showed me how important it is to let go, and at just the right rate.”

Now Cutcliffe is paying that gift forward through her pledge.

The Founders’ Pledge helps build connections between alumni company founders and entrepreneurs and the Johns Hopkins’ academic community by asking alumni to commit to give back to the University in two ways. First, the pledge asks for a financial commitment to the University at the point of a liquidity event—that is, when there is a company merger, acquisition, or initial public offering. Second, the pledge asks for the alum’s service—that they give back in the form of time, such as helping young student entrepreneurs at FastForward U. and networking through Johns Hopkins’ Technology Ventures. The pledge’s combination of current engagement and future returns emphasizes a bigger impact.

Cutcliffe finds the JHTV innovation center an inspiring space. “Starting your own company makes you vulnerable,” she says, and finding career support early can help with that. Both FastForward U. and JHTV seek to grow a strong community of entrepreneurs, providing a support system for students and alumni both inside and outside academic and scientific tracks. The center also welcomes alumni back for networking opportunities, which Cutcliffe says have proven valuable to her as she looks to grow her company.

Dr. Pickart, who passed away in 2006, is remembered as a talented biochemist who worked across departments, well before the term “interdisciplinary” came into vogue, and a style Cutcliffe embraces. Cutcliffe also explained the importance of collegial respect, which was demonstrated daily by not only Pickart and other public health professors but also by the medical school faculty she worked with while she pursued her PhD in biochemistry. She credits Hopkins’ supportive scientific community with helping her think through healthcare approaches that could prioritize people and medicine. “I learned how to think like a scientist, how to breakdown a problem. The scientific approach is multi applicable.”

Cutcliffe has come to appreciate that while letting go is a critical aspect of her business and people management skills, balancing that with remaining connected is also important. Wrapping together her desire to connect with entrepreneurs and her desire to give back to Hopkins made the Founders’ Pledge a natural decision.

To learn more about the Founders’ Pledge and if it is right for you, contact Maddy Stokes, Director of Innovation Initiatives and Corporate Relations (mstokes@jhu.edu). To learn more about the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, please contact Gary Whidbee, Director of Major Gifts (gwhidbe1@jhu.edu). 

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