Juniata grad takes ‘no limits approach’ to problem solving
Close’s company, EmpiriStat, aiding in COVID-19 research
From a young age, Nicole Close always wanted to help people.
“I was always interested in pre-med,” said Close, who grew up in King, Bedford County. “I was interested in helping make people better. There was nothing else I wanted to do.”
Today, the 1988 graduate of Claysburg-Kimmel High School is founder and president of EmpiriStat Inc., a clinical and statistical research organization, where she serves as the principal biostatistician.
“We help companies that take a drug or clinical device to market for approval,” Close said. “They may have a vaccine or a drug that prevents a disease. We help them create a study to test, collect, analyze and interpret it and take it to the regulatory agency (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) for approval.
Close said the company studies and analyzes data to know if a drug or device works or not.
“I love what I do,” Close said. “I really love it, and the different groups I work with.”
After she graduated from high school, Close enrolled at Juniata College.
“I took a biometry class and enjoyed it,” she said. “I did well and started to enjoy biometry. I did an internship at the state Department of Health as an acute infectious disease epidemiology intern. Epidemiology … I fell in love with that field.”
After graduating from Juniata in 1992, she went to graduate school at Case Western University in Cleveland, Ohio, and received a master’ s degree in epidemiology and biostatistics in 1994. She later earned a doctorate in epidemiology from George Washington University in 2007.
While living in the Washington, D.C., area, she worked for several companies before starting EmpiriStat in 2008.
“I wanted to start my own company,” Close said. “I was learning so much about what others did well and saw how I could improve upon it.”
Close started EmpiriStat as a virtual company.
“The big thing was, I was wasting time traveling back and forth to work 1.5 hours each way. Three hours a day. I thought if I hire the right people, we could work from home. I wanted a better quality of life,” she said.
Working virtually was “no different for us,” Close said, but, “we’ve had to make people understand we are a real business.”
Close said they started using Skype in 2008.
“Why would I want to work in an office when I could do the same thing from home?” Close asked.
The business was founded in Mount Airy, Md., but is now based out of Close’s home in Kitty Hawk, N.C.
EmpiriStat’s customers include pharmaceutical and medical device companies worldwide.
One of their clients is SeaStar Medical of Denver, Colorado.
“I have worked with Nicole since the beginning of 2020,” CEO Eric Schlorff said. “Nicole is a passionate, driven and customer-first person, and she has driven that culture through her organization. What I appreciate most is her honesty … she is willing to challenge the customer to think about other options or paths. It is that critical thinking that she shares with customers that really differentiates her from the rest.”
Close is now working on different areas of research with clients for reducing and preventing the cytokine storms occurring with COVID-19 patients, as well as using supernatural killer cells for prevention of COVID-19.
Close uses what she calls a “no limits approach.”
“I’ve found a lot of companies are rigid in their processes and thinking,” Close said. “In science, you have to solve a problem by thinking outside of the box,” she said, adding that was one of the strategies she formed at Juniata.
“When presented with a problem, there are no limits on how to solve it. There can be multiple pathways to a solution. You don’t have to follow the prescriptive path, you can solve it multiple ways and alter the solutions,” Close said. “You need to find the best path and come up with all solutions; one or two may fit better. Don’t be limited in your approach.”
Today, EmpiriStat has about 40 full- and part-time employees.
“I created a model where I would have partners (other companies). If you partner with good people, you can expand or contract your business at any time. I have two solid partners I work with,” Close said.
One of those partners is Quartesian of Princeton, N.J.
Vladimir Mats, Quartesian chief officer statistics and programming, said his company started working with EmpiriStat a little over two years ago, but he has known Close for several years.
“Nicole really impressed me with her knowledge and her attitude to work,” Mats said. “When Nicole reached out to me two-plus years ago, suggesting that we start close collaboration between EmpiriStat and Quartesian, I was very delighted. Ever since, our companies are working almost as one; the level of synergy is amazing.”
Close said she has had several mentors over the years, but singles out her mother, Carol Ann Close, a high school math teacher.
“My mom … taught me to always do the right thing. She was like a mother to the other kids, to help them have opportunities they wouldn’t have had. I saw her do that, help people learn and grow,” Close said. “At the professional level, I learned more from people I worked with who did not do the right thing. I learned what to do rather than have someone tell me what to do.”
Close was recently elected to serve on the board of trustees at Juniata College.
“I am very honored and excited to be joining the Board of Trustees as a full member,” Close said. “I have a true commitment to my undergraduate college and the community, believe in a liberal arts education and look forward to assisting in the growth and longevity of Juniata.
“I made an investment in Juniata many years ago; Juniata has made an investment in me, and I look forward to possibly ‘shaking things up a little’ with my out-of-the-box thinking,” Close said.
Close said she gets back home a few times a year for Juniata functions and to visit family and friends.
She admits that she misses the rural area in which she grew up.
“It is nice when I come up to see dad. My husband and I enjoy it. I enjoy the peacefulness of the valley,” Close said.
She enjoys the outdoors when not on the job.
“We have an RV and go camping,” she said. “We take the kayak on the water. We enjoy hiking,camping, kayaking. Pre-pandemic, we did a lot of traveling.”
Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.
The Close file
Name: Nicole C. Close
Position: President and principal biostatistician for EmpiriStat Inc.
Education: 1988 graduate of Claysburg-Kimmel High School; 1992 graduate of Juniata College with degree in epidemiology and biostatistics; master’s degree in epidemiology and biostatistics from Case Western University in 1994; and doctorate in epidemiology from George Washington University in 2007.
Family: Husband, Chris Albrecht, and father, Dennis G. Close.
Quote: “I would hope people feel I was fun to be around and was caring.”