The best of both worlds - Academia and Startup in Medicine
Mridul Agrawal is a physician-scientist and founder with a passion for translational research in hematology/oncology. He is a postdoctoral fellow at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School and Co-founder of iuvando, a digital health and precision oncology startup.
Why did you start a company?
This was certainly not something I had planned, but a gradually evolving process over time. As a physician and scientist, I very much enjoy both the clinical work and studying the underlying science. Working in the field of cancer, the past years have been incredibly exciting, and I was able to witness some tremendous advances.
Still, there is a long path ahead and many cancer patients face a life-threatening disease with very limited therapeutic options. This day-to-day challenge in clinical practice was certainly the trigger to think about new ways to improve and democratize access to innovation for patients in need as part of clinical trials. When thinking about the solution, we realized that the solution needed to be digital, personalized, and human-centric. And we felt this is something we could do and gave it a shot.
Which characteristics and skills of a scientist (MD) were also helpful as a founder? And what did you have to learn from scratch?
I think there are many commonalities, both science and entrepreneurship require problem-solving skills.
Science has taught me how to approach questions, form a hypothesis and critically think about experiments to test it.
Also, not being shy to take risks and strike untrodden paths was something I knew as a scientist and has been fundamental being a founder. Still, most of the things as a founder I am constantly learning by doing: public exposure is certainly new ground and I’m still learning to get comfortable with it.
Also, taking decisions without always having all answers is something I needed to get used to and accept.
If I am interested in starting a company and have an idea. Which three things should I do know from your experience?
I don’t think there is a general recipe to it. In my case, it was my day-to-day work as a medical doctor which exposed me to an unmet need.
1. In my opinion, many good ideas may just come from carefully observing, listening and an open mindset – ideas are certainly important, but execution matters.
2. Finding a trustful companion whom one agrees to disagree with and who complements one’s strengths and weaknesses has been invaluable to me. Defining the problem as precisely as possible, critically thinking about pitfalls with the greatest possible care without being held back by them has been critical to improve the solution and product. In our case, this is an iterative process.
3. Last, but not least – there are ups and downs, not every gust turns into a storm and if it becomes a bit stormy, enjoy the ride!
What do you like about the startup scene and what would you like to see improved?
In my particular field, I very much like the fact that startups challenge the status quo and can be a driving force for innovation and change which ultimately has the ability to improve human lives and benefit society. Going forward, I think it is important to showcase that science and entrepreneurship do not contradict each other but can be highly synergistic.
Thank you very much!