Dr. Kel Sheldon was a T32 postdoctoral fellow in the School of Medicine working in the Department of Cardiology with Dr. Alejahndra San Martin. His research in bioenergetics focused on understanding the role of poldip2 in mitochondrial respiration. Prior to his postdoctoral fellowship, Dr. Sheldon graduated with a BS in Biology from Clemson University and a PhD in Molecular Microbiology and Immunology from Johns Hopkins University with full sponsorship from the NIH.
He is currently the manager of Production and R&D at a small biotech startup called CapricoBio working on developing human monoclonal antibodies for flow cytometry. In addition to this, Dr. Sheldon co-founded and operates an international business called The Prep Advantage where he offers premier independent educational services and test preparation. In his spare time, Dr. Sheldon enjoys old-school photography, particularly cyanotyping.
What prompted you to co-found your company The Prep Advantage?
While in graduate school, I fortuitously stumbled across an ad for a boutique tutoring firm called PrepMatters. They were looking for science tutors in the Washington, DC area. I applied, was hired, and then worked my way up as a senior tutor. It was at PrepMatters where I discovered my passion for teaching. I worked there for about 8 years until their business model changed and I realized we had to part ways. A few colleagues of mine from college wanted me to go in together as a joint venture to tap into the Southeast regional market and that’s when The Prep Advantage was born!
You run a business and work a full-time job, what does an average work week look like?
A typical weekday can start as early as 6 am in the morning. Because The Prep Advantage has domestic/international clients and is online based, I work with students before I even step foot into the office. Sometimes I will have 1-2 students in the morning before I head to work, then I’ll work a full day in the lab. After work, I’ll head home to tutor another set of students, sometimes until 10-11 pm. The bulk of my clients work with me on Sundays, where I can work up to 8-9 hours through the day. I have a range of clients from high school seniors to graduate students, and even military students.
Is there anything about your career journey that you feel is unique?
I feel very lucky to have found amazing science mentors, the first who encouraged me to apply the NIH in DC and the second who gave incredible guidance at the tail end of my graduate career. I also feel very fortunate to be in my current situation where I fulfill my scientific curiosity by working as a senior scientist managing a small team in R&D. Then interspersed throughout the week I get to work with students one-on-one to satisfy my itch for teaching. I get the best of both worlds and it is truly rewarding.
What advice do you have for postdocs who want to start their own business?
Try to start a company without borrowing tons of money. The success of The Prep Advantage is its online platform, so there is little overhead and no need for a brick and mortar building. We also opted for a slower growth model, which also allows me to work as a scientist all while growing the business. Be serious about putting out a consistent product, it is essential to growing your clientele. Try targeted marketing tactics, for example The Prep Advantage specializes in education – my initial marketing strategy involved speaking with school counselors in over 40 different private schools.
Michelle B. Kim is a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Chemistry