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Alumni Portrait: Danielle Castley Th'19
Nov 28, 2023 | by Betsy Vereckey
Materials Engineer & Entrepreneur
Danielle Castley Th'19 is founder and chief executive of Becq, a company that designs, manufactures, and customizes radiation shielding materials for the nuclear and space industries. Castley earned her PhD in engineering sciences from Dartmouth where, as a PhD Innovation Program Fellow, she received the support, entrepreneurial training, and resources needed to spin her doctoral research into her own company.
What did you study at Dartmouth?
As a PhD Innovation Fellow, I was both a traditional PhD student doing research and an entrepreneur in training. My research focused on developing lightweight nuclear shielding materials that could withstand higher temperatures to ultimately improve the safety and efficiency of the nuclear industry. I have always been passionate about clean energy. I loved that my thesis wouldn't just sit on a shelf, but could be commercialized to advance impact in this area. The PhD Innovation Program set me up perfectly for that.
What are some highlights of that experience?
One thing I can't stress enough about Dartmouth is that they have the most supportive faculty and staff. You're surrounded by professors who are renowned engineers, inventors, and entrepreneurs and they always make time to provide guidance. In addition to my research, I took courses in corporate finance, learned about intellectual property rights, and developed a strategy for commercialization.
Having everyone, from people like Professor Eric Fossum to even the dean of the engineering school, supporting your research and entrepreneurial goals was so important. The lessons I learned in Professor Fossum's entrepreneurship classes have translated to everything I do. Professor Laura Ray was also a super supportive mentor. She led the NSF I-Corps site program at Dartmouth, which was an important stepping-stone for my company. I have always had so much respect for her. She's balanced, kind and brilliant. She really knows how to break apart a problem and build and efficient solution. It was incredible to have her support as I started my company.
Dartmouth is a small school with amazing resources. I interfaced quite a bit with Tuck School of Business and the Revers Center for Energy, and I met business students and leaders who could help with starting a company.
What is your job now?
I am the founder and CEO of Becq, a company that designs, customizes, manufactures, and installs radiation shielding materials. I was always passionate about the environment. I knew that coming out of college, I wanted to work in nuclear—the cleanest, most reliable clean energy source.
It is challenging, of course. Building and running a company has been hard but fun, because there is something new every day. Our customers include the US Department of Energy's National Laboratories, microreactor companies, Tier-1 original equipment manufacturer (OEM) suppliers, and operating commercial nuclear power plants. We're working on shielding for space reactors as well. I hope in five years that companies are using our shielding to go to the moon and do deep space exploration or to protect military bases.
How did Dartmouth help you get started?
I was able to start Becq while I was a PhD student. We got our first project as I was finishing my thesis. The PhD Innovation Program is a great sort of incubator for starting a company. Thayer gives you the funding, equipment, and resources you need to develop your technology, along with personnel resources to bounce ideas off of and get input. Starting a company is not easy, so community support is important. I still talk to my friends from the program for advice. With Dartmouth, everything comes back to the community. In addition to the resources, the classes, facilities, and funding, the community support is so incredible.
What advice do you have for students pursuing a career in this field?
My advice extends to students in any field: You have to love what you do. I love shielding so much that people make fun of me. They see me at conferences and say, "Oh, there's Danielle. She probably wants to talk about shielding"—and they're right, because I love it. It's what I want to talk about all day. I'm always excited to figure out the next thing when it comes to shielding design and our software and what we can do for our customers.
If you want to work in the nuclear industry, come prepared to pay attention to detail. That's important in any job, but particularly so in the nuclear industry.
Do everything you can to improve your communication and listening skills. Going back to what I learned at Dartmouth—you need to know how to communicate effectively, so you can tackle problems more efficiently and get to a streamlined solution.
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