A Model of Biotech Talent

Early-career scientist Nic Esper ’20 found opportunity and invaluable real-world training in Worcester’s thriving biotechnology ecosystem while he was still an undergrad

As a junior biotechnology major, Nicolas Esper ’20 knew he needed to graduate with industry experience. Esper connected with the Massachusetts Biomedical Initiatives (MBI), a Worcester-based incubator for biomedical startups that has supported numerous Worcester State STEM education programs over the years.

During Christmas break, Esper toured MBI facilities where seed-stage companies can rent lab space, share equipment, and collaborate to grow their business. He realized that MBI offered a wealth of opportunities for someone just starting in biotech or biomedicine. “MBI is great,” he said “It’s a huge resource for students.”

That tour led to a lab tech internship with Zata Pharmaceuticals in 2019, where he gained a variety of skills—autoclaving, aseptic techniques, growing bacteria on autoplates. “It translated really well to real-world experience with a lot of valuable resume builders. It led me to make great connections and network with lots of people working in the area.”

From that internship, doors began to open. A second internship followed at Lake Pharma, an MBI Graduate Company now known as Curia, where Esper did cell culture work.

Today, the Rutland native who helped pay his way through school delivering pizza, is a junior-level scientist at AbbVie, among the world’s largest biopharmaceutical companies, with a bioresearch center in Worcester. He was recently part of the team that supported the Skyrizi program, an FDA-approved therapy for plaque psoriasis, psoriatic arthritis, and Crohn’s disease.

Nicolas Esper took advantage of biotech internship opportunities through Worcester’s MBI before graduating.

“My experience at Worcester State was top-tier,” Esper said. “With my degree and internships I had no issue finding work. People love to find students with degrees in biotechnology because it means they are very versatile in their skill set.”

Success stories like Esper’s are why MBI partners with Worcester State, says MBI President and CEO Jon Weaver. The early stage companies in MBI’s ecosystem need a talent pipeline, he said.

“I’m so proud of Nic,” Weaver said. “He is a rock star, a really talented and ambitious young guy, and he is great at building relationships. He worked at an MBI startup and ended up at AbbVie. He is a great testament to the Worcester State model of building talent that stays and succeeds in the region.”

Esper grew up with a love of science and an interest in technology. Unsure of what to study, he earned an associate’s degree at Quinsigamond Community College, where a college advisor encouraged him to look at Worcester State’s biotech program. The program, he said, required “an insane amount of studying and effort. It was to prepare you for the real world, to succeed in life. I don’t look back and think, ‘I wish they didn’t make this hard.’ I’m happy they did because I took more out of it.”

Classes like Chemical Analysis and Biochemistry that he took as part of his degree have proved to be useful to his work at AbbVie. His work involves setting up and running labs, interpreting the data, and creating results documents for colleagues who have submitted the lab samples.

Working at a global company like AbbVie keeps Esper working at the vanguard of science and innovation. He is earning an MBA at Assumption University and hopes to advance to managerial positions in the pharmaceutical industry, leading teams in the development of disease therapies.

“What’s exciting is being able to have an idea and see that idea come to fruition,” he said. “At AbbVie, I like hearing about the pipeline and what new ideas are coming out. One of the big things that keeps me inspired is being up to date about new ideas that aren’t brought to the general public right away. If that idea is approved, it’s really cool because I helped to contribute to it. I feel like I’m helping to make an impact.”