Our Team

The KiiLN team is made up of scientists and business strategists with a shared interest in innovation and entrepreneurship in life science. We are taking the initiative to promote biomedical breakthroughs growing out of academic science in the New York area.

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Merina Varghese, PhD (Co-founder and Program Director)

Merina is an Instructor in the department of Neuroscience at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. Her research seeks to understand how altered neuronal structure contributes to neuropsychiatric conditions such as autism spectrum disorder. She is former Co-chair of the Postdoctoral Executive Committee at Sinai. Merina was awarded her PhD from Jadavpur University in 2008 for her thesis on the role of mitochondrial function in Parkinson’s disease. She pursued her doctoral studies as a Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) Research Fellow working at the Indian Institute of Chemical Biology, Kolkata, where she was instrumental in planning, installation and operation of the cell biology and proteomics facilities in the laboratory. She holds a Master’s degree in Biotechnology from Cochin University of Science and Technology, India, graduating as the University topper.  Merina’s interest in entrepreneurial ventures was sparked when her team won the Scientific Entrepreneurship Challenge at the 3rd Annual MSSM Postdoctoral Symposium in 2012.

Husain Sodawalla

Husain Sodawalla (LifeSci NYC Intern)

Husain is a marketing intern matched with KiiLN as part of the 2018 LifeSci NYC internship program. Before joining KiiLN, Husain was a graduate researcher in Stony Brook University, in a neuroscience lab investigating mild cognitive impairment in Parkinson’s disease using the 6-OHDA model. Husain has an undergraduate degree in biotechnology and is passionate about commercializing life-science technologies.

NicoleNicole C. McKnight, PhD (Advisor & Co-founder)

After graduating with honors from the University of Chicago Nicole moved home to Boston to work as a lab technician at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (Harvard Medical School) studying prostate cancer. Crossing the river, she then worked as a research associate at Ore Pharmaceuticals (formerly Gene Logic, Inc.), a Millennium Pharmaceuticals spin-off that attempted to re-position failed compounds. In 2006 she entered the PhD program at Cancer Research UK’s London Research Institute and in 2011, received her PhD from University College London. Nicole was a postdoctoral fellow in the Neurology department at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, investigating autophagy in neurons and its role in Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. She was Co-chair of the Mount Sinai Postdoc Executive Committee and served on the New York City-wide Postdoc Council as well as the NYC Tech Connect Entrepreneurial Scientist Advisory Panel. Dr. McKnight is currently the Director of New York Operations for BioLabs New York/Cambridge BioLabs.

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Jacob Bassiri-Tehrani, MBA (Business Advisor)

Jacob Bassiri-Tehrani is a Business Advisor, assisting entrepreneurs in start-up essentials including founding and incorporation; business accounts setup and management; grant-writing and proposal preparations; marketing and competitive analysis; budgeting and financial modeling; and strategic planning and fundraising. He previously conducted due diligence in the life sciences industry under a company he founded, Medora, and was inspired daily by overcoming the challenges of an early stage venture. He graduated with an MBA from Harvard Business School in 2014 and a BS in Policy Analysis and Management from Cornell University in 2010. He was a candidate for a MD degree from NYU School of Medicine until August of 2015.


Keisha Thomas, PhD (Former Member)

Keisha has a strong passion for supporting innovative ideas to market. As a biochemist, she appreciates the depth of work, which must go into each technology that is a candidate for development. Keisha is currently a member of the Steering Committee and the Vice Chair of the Sponsorship Committee at Women in Bio-metro NY. While at Albert Einstein College of Medicine she founded and led the Entrepreneurship & Biotechnology Club. Keisha was also a member of the Entrepreneurial Scientist Advisory Panel at NYC Tech Connect. In addition to her growing network in NYC, she benefits from having had management consulting experience and she continues to provide consulting services on matters related to the pharma and biotech industries. She hopes to use KiiLN as a vehicle to support and encourage life science entrepreneurship in NYC.

Sonia Gulati, PhD (Former Member)

Sonia has a broad background in biotechnology strategy consulting, basic science research and business development. Upon completing her doctoral and post-doctoral research at Columbia University, Sonia joined a boutique healthcare consultancy where she helped biotechnology companies meet their commercial development goals by informing their product launch and life cycle management strategies.  As a consultant she has worked with an array of clients ranging form small biotechnology companies introducing their first products to established global pharmaceutical companies.  Sonia is excited to apply both her strategy consulting and scientific skills to helping early stage companies meet their clinical and commercial goals.