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Choosing Co-Founders: How to Build a Top Startup Team

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Nikki Blacksmith
Blackhawke Behavior Science, Co-Founder & Co-CEO

Dr. Nikki Blacksmith is Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Blackhawke Behavior Science and an adjunct faculty member at American University in Washington, DC. She has nearly 15 years of experience as a scientist-practitioner of industrial-organizational psychology focusing on recruitment, hiring, decision-making, and entrepreneurial performance. She has consulted with organizations across various industries including healthcare, medical devices, manufacturing, and venture capital. She has published over 60 different conference papers, book chapters, and journal articles.

Her scientific research has been published in top-tier academic publications including the American Psychologist, Journal of Business and Psychology, Personality and Individual Differences, and Journal of Behavioral Decision-Making. Her research has also been featured in many media outlets including New York Magazine, Real Simple Magazine, and Bustle. Dr. Blacksmith received her M.A. from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, her Ph.D. from the George Washington University, and was a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Army Research Institute for Social and Behavioral Sciences.

Currently, she serves on the board of directors for Sembramos, a nonprofit dedicated to building diverse and inclusive organizations. Dr. Blacksmith is a Member of the Society for Industrial-Organizational Psychology.

Mo McCusker
Blackhawke Behavior Science, Co-Founder and COO

Dr. Mo McCusker is co-founder of Blackhawke Behavior Science, where she supports investors in conducting data-driven team due diligence as well as entrepreneurial teams in measuring, understanding and developing their human capital advantage. Mo is an Industrial-Organizational Psychologist who has spent the last decade working with and studying leaders and teams in organizations from a wide variety of sectors, including startup teams, corporate Fortune 500, medical, legal, academic, military, and non-profit. Mo’s scientific research focuses on better understanding and predicting leadership and power processes in teams as well as developing tools to improve individual and team leadership, team communication, and conflict. She has published over 30 different scientific papers and earned several awards and federal grants for her scholarly research. She holds a Ph.D. and a M.S. in Industrial-Organizational Psychology from Virginia Tech and a B.A. in Psychology and French from Georgetown University.


Building a high-performing leadership team is one of the most important and impactful activities you can do for your startup. Research shows it’s what differentiates an organization that cruises from one that soars. Identifying the right co-founders is more than just finding people with technical skills and qualifications; it starts with understanding yourself and your team, as well as who complements and fits within your team and collective culture. This session focuses on  assembling high-performing leadership teams, providing guidance and tools for assessing and developing co-founders that fit and thrive.