Meet the Brain Surgeon Dropout Using Influencer Culture to Spread Awareness of STEM

Keerthi Vedantam

Keerthi Vedantam is a bioscience reporter at dot.LA. She cut her teeth covering everything from cloud computing to 5G in San Francisco and Seattle. Before she covered tech, Keerthi reported on tribal lands and congressional policy in Washington, D.C. Connect with her on Twitter, Clubhouse (@keerthivedantam) or Signal at 408-470-0776.

Meet the Brain Surgeon Dropout Using Influencer Culture to Spread Awareness of STEM
Biden Ends Ban on TikTok, WeChat

When Shawn Carbonell dove into Instagram in 2014, he was already nose-deep in test tubes and petri dishes. His young startup, OncoSynergy, was looking for a cure for brain cancer, and Carbonell would frequently post photos of cancer cells he would come across in his research . His goal was simple: to document any discoveries that could lead him closer to a treatment for brain cancer.

“I don't think I'm a great communicator in person,” Carbonell told dot.LA. “I really have to think about it and try to use words that only my grandma would understand.”

But Carbonell apparently had little trouble communicating online. To date, he has 13,000 followers on Instagram. Even more impressive, his TikTok account, which he created in 2020, has already amassed over 450,000 followers.

OncoSynergy is still in clinical trials, but his experience on social media partly inspired his new startup: Brazen Bio. And now, as founder of the new bioscience startup accelerator, Carbonell has decided to put that social media savvy to broader use: In December 2021, Brazen launched a new program to help scientists take their research and start their own companies. Carbonell hopes his new program can help scientists—a group that can be taciturn when it comes to promoting their work—navigate the social media landscapes.

“We're just trying to encourage more stem creators to do science communication, talk about careers, talk about science in general and just sort of building up the community and ecosystem,” Carbonell said.

The Brazen Creators Program is funding STEM influencers on TikTok and Instagram who want to share knowledge about specific jobs, niche industries and navigating venture capital firms under the Brazen Bio name in exchange for equity in the company, networking opportunities, and access to office hours with Carbonell.

The initiative was in part made possible by lead investor Joe Rizzo, who invested $25,000 into the company after stumbling upon Carbonell’s TikTok account.

“You want somebody who understands the nuances of whatever scientific product or process that they're trying to develop and put out to the world, and then have those people also learn to be the marketers and the leaders running the companies that those products are generated from,” said Rizzo.

This is part of Carbonell’s goal with the creator program, to match scientists with entrepreneurs to create an ecosystem from often siloed and fragmented institutions in the bioscience sector.

“You have to build the content and then you have to distribute it yourself and build a community around that. And these are all things that social media does for us, and it's free,” Carbonell said.

The company is slowly collecting budding influencers, and expanding its reach into other parts of STEM like quantum computing, astrophysics and network engineers. To date, it’s enlisted three people: Ben Rein, a TikTok-verified Stanford neuroscientist who talks about the science behind ADHD, Alzheimer’s disease and pain; synthetic biologist Sean Jackewicz, who is a medical student at Mercer University; and cancer biologist and Duke University student Elizabeth Mendes.

“If I figured out this little thing that helped in my brain, I might as well just share and talk about it because maybe these other people are thinking this stuff too,” Mendes said.

For Carbonell, it’s another venture to build up Brazen Bio —a company that, in addition to this social media initiative, runs an incubator for early-stage bioscience startups and a venture capital arm investing in new scientific advancements for the human body.

“We want to help sort of create this ecosystem that will inspire people to go into careers in STEM, see what careers are available,” Carbonell said. “And oh, by the way, if you're interested in starting your own company, then we have an accelerator.”
🚁 One Step Closer to Air Taxis in LA
Image Source: Joby Aviation

🔦 Spotlight

Joby Aviation, a pioneering electric air taxi company, has achieved a significant milestone by successfully flying a hydrogen-electric aircraft demonstrator for 523 miles with only water as a byproduct. This groundbreaking flight showcases the potential for emissions-free regional travel using vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, eliminating the need for traditional runways. The company's innovative approach combines its existing battery-electric air taxi technology with hydrogen fuel cells, paving the way for longer-range, environmentally friendly air travel.

For LA residents, this development holds exciting implications for future transportation options. Joby's technology could potentially enable direct flights from LA to destinations like San Francisco or San Diego without the need to visit conventional airports, offering a cleaner and more convenient alternative to current travel methods. The company's progress in both battery-electric and hydrogen-electric aircraft positions it at the forefront of next-generation aviation, promising to revolutionize urban and regional mobility.

Notably, Joby Aviation has already made strides in Southern California by securing an agreement with John Wayne Airport earlier this year to install the region's first electric air taxi charger. This strategic move sets the stage for LA to be among the initial markets where Joby will launch its electric air taxi service. With plans to commence commercial operations as early as 2025 using its battery-electric air taxi, LA residents may soon have access to a fast, quiet, and environmentally friendly mode of transportation that could significantly reduce travel times and traffic congestion in the region. In the not too distant future, LA might find itself in an identity crisis without traffic and excess smog 🤞🤞.

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Fuel Innovation: 7 Unforgettable Team Building Experiences in LA
Image Source: Discover LA

In today's competitive business landscape, team building activities have emerged as a crucial tool for fostering a positive work environment, enhancing productivity, and crucially, improving employee retention. Studies have shown that such activities help employees feel valued, with one report indicating that 93% of those who felt appreciated were more motivated at work. Importantly, team building events may improve retention rates, as employees who feel connected to their colleagues and company culture are more likely to stay long-term. With these benefits in mind, let's explore some of the most engaging and effective team building activities available in Los Angeles.


Image Source: Modern Luxury Angelino

Pickleball is a fantastic team bonding activity because of the easy-to-grasp rules and gentle pace make it perfect for everyone, regardless of age or fitness level. The game thrives on communication and teamwork, as players must collaborate and strategize to outplay their opponents, boosting team cohesion. Plus, the lively, fast-paced action sparks friendly competition and laughter, creating a fun and spirited atmosphere that brings everyone closer together. Los Angeles boasts numerous pickleball courts that are easy to rent if you have your own equipment. If you need additional assistance organizing your pickleball outing, there are plenty of full-service companies ready to handle every detail for you.

Resources: Pickle Pop, Corporate Pickle

Escape Room

Image Source: The Escape Game

Escape rooms are a great way to build camaraderie. They require participants to work together, combining their problem-solving skills and creativity to overcome challenges and puzzles. The immersive and time-sensitive nature of escape rooms fosters collaboration and communication. Additionally, the shared experience of tackling complex tasks and reaching a common goal helps build trust and foster positive emotions among colleagues.

Resources: The Escape Game, 60Out

Day Trip to Catalina Island

Image Source: Love Catalina

Catalina Island is a perfect day trip for a team because it provides a break from the usual work environment, allowing team members to relax and connect in a new setting. Shared experiences during the trip, such as exploring new places and participating in fun activities, help build stronger relationships and foster a sense of camaraderie. There are numerous team-building activities such as an arboreal obstacle course, an island tour, scavenger hunts and more.

Resources: Catalina Island Group Activities

Top Golf

Image Source: Topgolf

Topgolf is an excellent team building event because it provides an inclusive, relaxed atmosphere that accommodates players of all skill levels, fostering personal connections and improving team morale. The unique blend of competition and entertainment creates an ideal setting for building trust, enhancing communication, and revealing hidden skills among team members. Additionally, Topgolf offers structured team building packages with guided activities, discussion prompts, and lessons on culture, change, collaboration, and strategy, making it a versatile and effective platform for strengthening relationships and boosting overall team performance.

Resources: Topgolf El Segundo

SoFi Stadium Tour

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A SoFi Stadium tour offers a unique, behind-the-scenes experience of one of the world's most advanced sports venues, allowing team members to explore exclusive areas like premium suites, team locker rooms, and the player tunnel together. The tour provides a shared, memorable experience that can foster camaraderie and spark conversations among team members, regardless of their interest in sports. Additionally, the stadium's state-of-the-art features and impressive architecture can inspire creativity and innovation, while the group setting encourages interaction and collaboration, making it an engaging and enjoyable activity for teams of various sizes and backgrounds

Resources: SoFi Stadium Group Tours

Corporate Volunteering

Image Source: L.A. Works

Volunteer work serves as an excellent team building activity by uniting employees around a shared, meaningful cause, fostering a sense of purpose and collective accomplishment. It provides opportunities for team members to collaborate in new ways, often revealing hidden strengths and leadership qualities that may not be apparent in the regular work environment. Additionally, engaging in community service can boost morale, enhance the company's reputation, and instill a sense of pride among employees, leading to improved workplace relationships and increased job satisfaction.

Resources: Habitat for Humanity, L.A. Works, VolunteerMatch

Corporate Improv Sessions

Image Source: Improv for the People

A corporate improv class encourages spontaneity, creativity, and quick thinking, skills that are valuable in the workplace. It promotes active listening and collaboration, as participants must work together to create scenes and respond to unexpected situations, fostering better communication and trust among team members. Additionally, the playful and often humorous nature of improv helps break down barriers, reduces stress, and creates a shared positive experience that can improve team morale and cohesion long after the event.

Resources: Improv-LA, Groundlings, Improv for the People

🎬 Paramount and Skydance Are Back On
Image Source: Paramount

Happy Friday Los Angeles! Hope you all had a fantastic Fourth!!

🔦 Spotlight

Paramount and Skydance Media have rekindled talks to merge after negotiations abruptly halted in June. The proposed deal, contingent on approval from Paramount’s board, aims to combine Paramount’s extensive media holdings—including CBS, MTV, and Nickelodeon—with Skydance’s film expertise showcased in hits like "Top Gun: Maverick." This merger signals a potential transformation in the media landscape, positioning the new entity to compete more effectively amid challenges from streaming services and the decline of traditional cable TV.

Led by Shari Redstone, Paramount’s controlling shareholder via National Amusements, the deal represents a pivot towards revitalizing Paramount’s strategic direction amidst financial struggles and shareholder concerns. The involvement of major investors like RedBird Capital Partners and David Ellison underscores the financial backing aimed at stabilizing Paramount’s operations and addressing its $14 billion debt burden. Importantly, the agreement includes provisions to protect National Amusements from potential legal challenges, addressing previous hurdles that stalled earlier negotiations.

The deal also includes a 45-day period for Paramount to explore alternative offers, highlighting continued interest from other potential buyers like Barry Diller’s IAC and media executive Edgar Bronfman Jr. This flurry of activity underscores the significant stakeholders’ interest in Paramount’s future and its potential as a key player in a rapidly evolving media industry.

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