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Amazing Women

Paula Hammond on women in science: Life will always be busy; start a company anyway

The MIT chemical engineering head is charting a course into the start-up world with LayerBio

by Bethany Halford
March 8, 2020 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 98, Issue 9

A photo of Paula Hammond.
Credit: Webb Chappell

A quick look at Paula Hammond’s curriculum vitae might make you think she’s done everything. She’s head of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Chemical Engineering Department, is a member of all three National Academies (Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine), and serves on C&EN’s advisory board. But it wasn’t until she was established in her academic career that Hammond even considered starting a company.



Academic title: David H. Koch Chair Professor of Engineering and head of the Department of Chemical Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Funding for LayerBio: ~$8 million in grants

Funders of LayerBio: Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, and US Department of Defense

Hammond specializes in making polymers and nanoparticles. Using a technique that assembles charged polymer films layer by layer, her lab has designed materials for drug delivery, batteries, and fuel cells.

After serving on the scientific advisory board of Svaya Nanotechnologies, a start-up founded in 2008 by one of Hammond’s graduate students on the basis of technology from her lab, Hammond wanted to be more involved with the next company that spun out from her research. So she cofounded LayerBio in 2013 with the goal of developing polymeric drug-delivery systems for treating glaucoma and improving wound healing and tendon repair.

Hammond says more people would launch companies if they had a better idea of how it’s done. “That’s especially true for women,” she says. “We have such full plates already that it’s difficult to imagine having the bandwidth to start a company.”

So how does Hammond make it work? “You begin to realize that your life will always be crowded,” she says, and if you want your idea to make it into the world, you’re going to have to start your company anyway. What also helps, she says, are good partners, the right mix of people on your team, and sound advice from people who have experience with start-ups.

What do you wish you had known at the start?

"Try to go as far as you can with internal funding sources before going to venture because it gives you more control of the product and where you’re going."



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