This is part of our series of articles written by Penn Engineering alums about their experiences at Penn and how it shaped their lives. This article is by Sam DeLuccia, who graduated with a master’s in Bioengineering in 2017. He is currently working as a product manager at NeuroFlow, a startup company based in Center City, Philadelphia, developing software for mental health clinicians.
Growing up and living in rural, upstate New York, there are a lot of things that stay off of your radar. I was always interested in science, technology, and medicine, but had very little exposure to the world of engineering until about four years ago.
As a competitive tennis player, my drive to be a college athlete steered much of my college search. Additionally, I knew that I wanted to go to a small school and to make an impact on the community, leading me to seek out liberal arts schools. I was recruited to Hobart and William Smith Colleges (HWS) in the Finger Lakes region of New York, and was excited to jump into the scientific community there. Though it was strong in traditional sciences, HWS did not have an engineering program. I majored in biology and was a pre-med student until I realized it was not for me. Trying my hand in molecular genetics research didn’t seem to click either, so I took a step away from science.
I loved being part of such an intimate community at HWS and wanted to give back to the school, so after I graduated I worked full-time for the admissions department and assistant-coached for men’s tennis for two years. I knew this was only temporary; I missed working in STEM!
After months of exploration, I discovered bioengineering — the perfect combination of biology, medicine, and technology. I was ready for the career switch and excited at the possibility. After applying to several schools with limited familiarity of what I was up against, University of Pennsylvania accepted me into the master’s program and I could not turn down the opportunity. Additionally, my brother was accepted into the Robotics Master’s program at the same time! As one can imagine, this was particularly exciting for my parents, as their years of love and support resulted in two of their children attending excellent programs together.
Entering essentially a new world, I joined Penn Engineering with excitement for what was to come. I was immediately blown away by the resources that Penn presented to its students and the community. As one of the top engineering programs in the world, I was overwhelmed to be surrounded by intelligent people with such impressive backgrounds. The facilities at Penn Engineering were amazing and the course offerings were beyond anything I could have imagined. It felt like there were unlimited resources academically and anything that I wanted to do could be done.
The Bioengineering program’s flexibility was really the highlight of my experience. Though there are core requirements in the curriculum, students can choose from dozens of courses to fit each requirement. These courses are not only from Engineering; I was able to branch out into Penn Medicine and Wharton for classes as well.
The Bioengineering program was very broad and allowed you to explore if desired, but also to stay focused if needed. I chose to follow a general neural engineering path. This involved courses such as Brain-Computer Interface, Theoretical Neuroscience and Repair After Neural Injury.
Because the graduate community is so large, the infrastructure for graduate students at Penn is significant. I was able to jump into the general grad community by becoming a new student orientation fellow at the Graduate Student Center, welcoming all new grad students to Penn. This was the perfect way for me to introduce new students to the things that Philadelphia has to offer — which is a lot! Something beautiful about the Penn graduate experience is that all of the graduate schools are on the same campus, so there is constant crosstalk between schools and students. This is how I became involved in the startup and entrepreneurship community at Penn.
Because of Wharton’s prestige, the community for entrepreneurship is vibrant and offered constant competitions, mixers, incubators and more for all students. I was able to jump into an education tech startup in the summer of 2016 and be part of a team that won runner-up in the Wharton Business Plan Competition.
After determining I wanted to remain in a company relevant to my degree, an opportunity presented itself via a mixer email list. Chris Molaro and Adam Pardes, founders of the mental health tech startup NeuroFlow, contacted me with an internship offer.
NeuroFlow is a software platform that connects patients with their healthcare providers, monitoring data from wearables and returning positive reinforcement and targeted guidance that enhances their mental wellbeing. At the time, NeuroFlow was in its beginning stages and didn’t yet have a working prototype. Two years later, I am still working for NeuroFlow as a product manager and as “Employee 1!”
My role has been quite dynamic, as I have been required to fill in wherever needed as a company in order to survive. Since I have joined, we have tackled every challenge as a team that has come our way, including winning various competitions, building a product, raising $1.25M in venture capital funding and gaining a qualified customer base. NeuroFlow is now a successful early-stage company with several mental health clinicians using the platform with their patients.
Working for a startup has been challenging, but very fun and rewarding, and I know that Penn has been one of the main components in helping me to achieve my goals. Penn forced me to prioritize constantly, which has proven an incredibly useful skill in working for a startup where there are always several irons in the fire. Many of the experiences and the resources available have helped to guide my drive and thought processes after graduation, and I now have a major part in contributing to a live software program used in clinic. Additionally, Penn’s network inside and outside of Philadelphia has proven its worth, both professionally and with life-long friends.