NU Declassified: Built This – New Leadership at a Student-led Startup

Michelle Hwang, Reporter



Caped Clinicians is a student-led startup with The Garage that aims to break down barriers in scientific research. This past quarter, the organization passed on the project to a new generation of leadership for the first time in Caped Clinicians’ history.

MICHELLE HWANG: According to Investopedia, a startup is a company in the first stages of operations. And sure, Northwestern students can definitely build startups. But what does it take for a project like this to continue?


MICHELLE HWANG: From The Daily Northwestern, I’m Michelle Hwang. This is NU Declassified, a look into how Wildcats thrive and survive at Northwestern. Welcome to the first episode of Built This, a series focused on Northwestern startups on campus.

MICHELLE HWANG: Caped Clinicians is a student-led research publication founded in 2021 that aims to make scientific knowledge more accessible. The organization simplifies scientific discoveries through digestible newsletters and colorful graphic novels on their website. They also organize speaker series with scientific experts for the Northwestern community. This past quarter, the organization transitioned to an entirely new leadership team for the first time in its history.

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ZOEY HALL: It was a lot. It takes a lot to just like, be constantly sending emails, and like trying to figure out how to run the website. The platform we use for the website, I had no idea how to use it. I spent hours just sitting there trying to upload a simple picture and format it correctly.

MICHELLE HWANG: That was Weinberg second year Zoey Hall, the current co-president for Caped Clinicians. She stepped into the position at the beginning of last quarter. The organization’s founder Weinberg junior Gabe Dara, announced at the beginning of this school year that he would be graduating early, prompting Hall to take the reins.

MICHELLE HWANG: The early days of taking over Caped Clinicians from previous leadership weren’t easy. Hall said there was an infinite list of things to do. The new leadership needed to recruit new members, reach out to old partners and figure out the technology.

MICHELLE HWANG: Current co-president and Weinberg junior Jennifer Baik remembers a lot of excitement, but very little stability.

JENNIFER BAIK: It was really just like a hodgepodge of ideas. And it felt very, like, disorganized, I will say, because we all had like small and big ideas, short and long-term goals.

MICHELLE HWANG: In the beginning of the leadership transition, Hall, Baik, and vice president and Weinberg sophomore Nina Meng were each putting in around 15 hours a week at the startup. But eventually, Hall says things started to level out.

ZOEY HALL: It was a lot of learning, and it was a rocky fall quarter. We were kind of getting everything under wraps but then by January, we had a really good grip on things. And starting off, this quarter has been going really strong.

MICHELLE HWANG: Gradually, the feeling of being a substitute in their roles started to wear off.

JENNIFER BAIK: We felt as an executive team, that this project was becoming ours as we onboarded new students. So that was a really fun process because these people were coming into the startup with fresh eyes and fresh perspectives. And yeah, being a leader that can voice those new ideas was really exciting, and that’s when it really felt like this was a new chapter for us as executive team and for the startup.

MICHELLE HWANG: Caped Clinicians recently joined the residency program at The Garage, the center of student entrepreneurship on campus, at the beginning of this quarter. Its residency program is the highest level of membership a student entrepreneur can achieve at The Garage. Students in the program receive special privileges, like 24/7 access to The Garage’s facilities and invitation to weekly catered dinners with a guest speaker.

MICHELLE HWANG: According to Mike Raab, director of The Garage, efforts to continue startups after the founders pass off the project is uncommon. Passion for a project is not something that can be handed down like an account password.

MIKE RAAB: To get anything started takes a lot of passion and a lot of interest and a lot of time and a lot of energy. You’ll find someone who is a founder has that. And sometimes when they’re running it, and they have people who are on their team who don’t have as much responsibility, they don’t realize how much work it takes. So when that handover happens when it wasn’t originally their idea, or it’s not their baby that they care about, sometimes it’s deprioritized.

MICHELLE HWANG: However, the startup’s original mission of making higher education scientific research accessible is alive and continuing in the hands of the organization’s new executive team.

ZOEY HALL: I really think that higher education can be really, really limiting, and it makes me very upset to know that it’s just so hard to access. You shouldn’t have to fight through 39,000 pages to understand something new that’s happening in the world.

MICHELLE HWANG: But passion alone can’t sustain operations. There’s something else about the Caped Clinicians leadership team that has allowed them to come this far.

ZOEY HALL: From day one, me and Jennifer were like “I don’t know how this is going to work, but we need to communicate.” Every single thing we say, it goes in our exec(utive) group chat so everyone knows what’s happening. We don’t have a hierarchy of like, “Oh, you handle this. You handle that.” We have our focuses, and we’ve done really well at dividing and conquering. But at the same time, everyone knows what’s happening with the other teams.

MICHELLE HWANG: Now that things have settled down for Caped Clinicians, Jennifer and Zoey are making plans for the organization’s future. They’re working on getting Caped Clinicians’ curriculum into after-school programs at local high schools. They also plan to bring more speaker events to Northwestern’s community.


MICHELLE HWANG: From The Daily Northwestern, I’m Michelle Hwang. Thanks for listening to an episode of NU Declassified: Built This. This episode was reported and produced by Michelle Hwang. The audio editor of The Daily Northwestern is Erica Schmitt, the digital managing editors are Joanne Haner and Olatunji Osho-Williams, and the editor-in-chief is Alex Perry. Make sure to subscribe to The Daily Northwestern’s podcasts on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or SoundCloud to hear more episodes like this.

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