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Introduction

Behind every thriving business lies a group of bright minds - who aren’t always under the spotlight but have been instrumental to the company’s success.

Among them is Sara Korsunsky from spotLESS Materials.

Join us as she shares the journey from being an intern to one of the key contributors there.

Sara Korsunsky from spotLESS Materials

Profile

Sara Korsunsky is a biomedical engineering degree and Masters graduate from Penn State University, who enjoys learning about science and humanities.

I saw myself blending my time in the lab with other soft skills, not just technical.

An opportunity came knocking.

Sara was working in a lab with Dr. Pak Kin Wong, where she met Dr. Tak-Sing Wong, a frequent collaborator and CTO at spotLESS Materials, a nanotech company specialized in solving “sticky problems”, with an anti-fouling coating that keeps surfaces clean.

She then joined a project with the two co-founders, Dr. Tak-Sing Wong and Dr. Birgitt Boschitsch. She quickly found working with them at the intersection of industry-academics very exciting.

The rest was history.

We had a chat with Sara about her journey pursuing curiosity and growth, which have shaped spotLESS Material to where it is today.

Join us in this interview to see how an MVP looks like, so you know what to do when you (finally) see one.

Turning Setback to Stepping Stone

Dealing with anxiety during sophomore year was a turning point for Sara.

Upon returning from a break, she was inspired to work a lot harder - knowing she had less time than her peers to build her skill sets as a more competitive job applicant.

Instead of a setback, it set me up very fortuitously to work with spotLESS.
Having some challenges inspires people to work even harder than they would think that they have to.

Sara's upbringing in an engineering family instilled in her a natural curiosity and a desire to explore different fields. This foundation, combined with her intrinsic drive to learn, propelled her to pursue diverse experiences and take calculated risks.

Having that intrinsic knowledge that my parents did gave me a little bit of confidence:I want to take the risks - as intimidating as it was to ask a professor for a research assistant position.

Putting herself out there, despite the fear of rejection, has been crucial for personal and professional growth. Both positive and negative experiences have taught her valuable lessons.

If you don't put yourself out there, you'll never get any feedback.

Positive or negative, both are super useful. The latter tells you what not to do in the future.

[From left] Dr. Birgitt Boschitsch, Dr. Tak-Sing Wong (Co-founders of spotLESS Materials); Sara and Nan Sun (Senior Research Scientist)

Like most soon-to-be graduates, Sara then started Interviewing with other companies but found it exhausting and discouraging.

It was then she realized what she truly valued in a job, recalling how encouraging Dr. Birgitt Boschitsch and Dr. Tak-Sing Wong had been since the start.

The company had just started so they were in a very open minded place.

I really enjoyed working with them.

Despite the initial turns, Sara returned to the workplace which aligns with her values.

This then paves way to the next phase of growth, for both herself and spotLESS Materials.

Growing with the Team

When COVID started, spotLESS took off as well.

Sara, along with the small team, had to wear many different hats; from technical, marketing, regulatory, proposal writing, order fulfillment, product design, among the many others.

Part of it was a lot of learning through necessity.

Having a great team was pivotal, too.

I had a really supportive team and everyone was able to help out - that was a really good experience.

The team believes in me, encouraging me that I can do it.

In turn, I learn it.

That said, working at a startup means that we don't have infinite internal manpower.
Hence, having access to really talented external partnerships becomes a super powerful tool.

Pulling the Right Levers at Work

Sara is known to be the “serial” self-learner according to her manager, Dr. Birgitt.

She does a range of things: from design landing pages to Shopify marketing.

Her key tips to achieving more with less at work:

1. Trial and Error

Sara's approach to mastering platforms and unleashing creativity is grounded in trial and error.

While platforms may seem daunting at first, Sara emphasizes the importance of investing time to understand them thoroughly, leveraging knowledge bases, and exploring various sources of inspiration.

I browse around to know what I like and don’t. Then I can tailor it from there.

Part of it is kind of finding little hacks in the system to make things more efficient.
Then being able to really create your own thing from there, even if you can't necessarily originate it all yourself.

2. Find Your Levers

What really worked for Sara:

  • AI as a super powerful tool, to help with tasks like copywriting, tailoring messages to different audiences
  • A good encouraging team that supports her through the ups and downs

3. Know When to Seek Help

Sara is great at many things, but not everything is her forte -

Knowing when to cut the loss is an important skill.

Here’s when freelancers and working with other people come in handy:

  • When we recognize our own shortcomings, like having iterated five times but not making meaningful improvements
  • When all options are exhausted yet we think our consumers/stakeholders may not be satisfied still
  • When it’s a large scope and would require a significant amount of manpower or man hours
  • When it may be better for us to spend the resource on something else
  • When high upfront investment is needed to create a good setup
We're a small team. We don't have infinite budgets.
We can recognize that sometimes it’s not necessarily always best to do it in-house.

We have to prioritize how to best use our time and money for different projects.

Sara's proactive approach to resource management enables her team to navigate challenges effectively and produce high-quality outcomes within constraints.

By leveraging external expertise when necessary, she maintains efficiency and drives progress toward her goals.

Growing spotLESS together with Frank Constantine, Dr. Birgitt Boschitsch and Dr. Tak-Sing Wong

Finding the Right Fit

Sara advocates for a non-traditional approach to career development, emphasizing the importance of cultivating long-term relationships rather than chasing job titles.

My experience with spotLESS, where I worked for two years before joining full-time, allowed me to validate the fit before making a commitment.

Sara encourages individuals to explore various roles and tasks, even if unfamiliar, to gain insight into personal strengths and preferences.

I do so many different things, but I wouldn't have known that I would’ve enjoyed them if I hadn't been put in this position.
There are thrust-into-the-unknown situations, having to do things that you aren't comfortable with.
You'll learn a lot about yourself as well.

Of course, there’ll be days when things are rougher than usual.

When asked on how Sara would advise,

Hang in there. Nothing is as permanent as it seems.
We're only the sum of our experiences up to that point.

So if you haven't seen all the beautiful things that are yet to come, and you can't necessarily understand them - just, hang in there.

"A lot of outside forces will come and go," Sara adds. "We need to be steadfast in our goals and not let the outside forces shake us."

Your Turn: Ask Sara / spotLESS Materials

Still curious about Sara’s journey working at spotLESS Materials?

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