Building a startup is like riding a rollercoaster with a steering wheel in your hand; it requires passion, patience, persistence, and purpose to keep you fueled whenever things get out of track (which is almost all the time 😉).
Yet, building a scientific startup is a different story!
Science-based startups are built after finding state-of-the-art outcomes from research that can be transferred to an impactful, profitable business. So it’s not the conventional way, where finding a problem then discovering a solution or building an invention is common sense.
Starting up a project using this approach multiplies the rollercoaster speed and chaos!
So, how can we do it? 🧐
Well, I don’t have the secret recipe; I am still learning. Yet, you can complete reading my journey and reflect on yours.
To navigate the journey gracefully, scientists entrepreneurs need to be aware that the journey is ambiguous, dynamic, exciting, overwhelming, challenging, massive rewards, setbacks, judgments, pains, pivots, and no time bound for almost all milestones, to mention a few. However, it’s worth exploring with a scope of stabilizing the rollercoaster, i.e., driving with minimum risk.😎
Nice, BUT how?
These are some practices that have worked for me!
By continuously benchmarking your startup with similar technology to get a clear insight about their resources, R&D duration, market penetration attempts & successes. This will keep you updated and release some of the stress you’ll incur due to the journey’s challenges. 💫
For Larimar (our startup), we have Affectiva as a benchmark that spun out from MIT media lab after 6+ years of R&D. In 2009, they raised the first investment a $1.7 M, and now it has been acquired by Smart Eye with $73.5 M.
So what does this mean for us or YOU:
- The duration of the R&D phase is quite long for such technologies.
- To compare our technology with Affectiva, we need to have a similar environment, i.e., resources, talents, funds, etc. Thus, any change should be considered while benchmarking.
- The reward is great, BUT after a 6+ years ride on a rollercoaster.
Again, evidence-based reflection simplifies any situation we are facing; it gives us rational hope if we are on the right track or not!
Also, surrounding yourself with faithful supporters who went through similar journeys, who help us embrace our mistakes (learning lessons), who guide us to become what we are looking forward to becoming at our own pace and way. Those are your irreplaceable authentic relationships who never judge you or question you, and they have your back; I call them genuine supporters, and I am grateful that I have so many of them. 💫🤩
And, always keep in mind that it’s okay to question the process, the path you are walking through, and the network that surrounds you, but never doubt yourself or your purpose. 💫
Let’s dig deep on the cost that I have paid for being a scientist entrepreneur:
I started working on the baseline model of Larimar during my master thesis, where the scope was to detect our emotions using biosensors to build a bank of emotional data for research purposes ONLY. This took us two years of R&D in a modest induction lab.
Then we started noticing the interest in our research from students and faculty members; they strive to know their emotions digitized and connect with their autonomic nervous system responses. It took us another year of building awareness about emotions creation, impact, and how they contribute to our daily lives.
The turning point was in 2017 when a UK entrepreneur with a scientific background visited our research lab and opened a door for us to commercialize the research; he was very optimistic at that time!. 😉
The same year we got accepted into a business incubator, and I entered a new world (the entrepreneurial world)💫
I had no idea how to build a feasible, desirable, profitable product, identify customers, and market opportunities, so I started learning and enrolling in entrepreneurial training. They were not guided or implementation-based training, and I was not mature enough to digest all the information and reflect on my project; thus, the impact was not as expected. Yet, I was dynamic and always striving to connect with entrepreneurs to learn and expand my network in the ecosystem. 💫
In late 2019, we pivoted to another application (Wellbeing) after being stuck in the dilemma of collecting data to train the MVP or building the MVP to collect real data i.e., the security threat detection system application (detek).
After my fellowship with the Royal Academy of Engineering, the path has become clearer; I have built a concrete commercialization skillset that I am implementing now with all my energy. 💫 💪🏻
Of course, during this period, we participated in conferences, competitions, and funding programs, and we still do.😊
Lately, we hit our goal on Kickstarter, and we are about to launch an Indiegogo campaign, so we believe we are progressing well.💫
And non of the above was accomplished without sweat, tears, rejection, mocking, bias, sometimes bullying, and facing offensive behaviors, yet founding Larimar is one of the best career path decisions that I ever made. 🤩
So the cost is mainly my time, energy and savings!!!
A final note for entrepreneurs, especially those with a scientific background; You are not alone in this; we all suffer from the same challenges, but always remember scientific startups can shape a new future, so own your life and continue your amazing work, if you succeed, you’ll contribute in shaping the future, if not you’re equipped with tools & knowledge to start again or share with others a great experience. You are a winner in both cases. 💪🏻💫
And for entrepreneurs’ families, friends, teammates, take care of the entrepreneurs in your life; they are trying their best to contribute to a better future for all, so let authentic connection, empathy, compassion, and respect be the pillars of your relationships. 💫🤩
Abeer I. Albashiti,
A passionate enabler who is working as a scientist entrepreneur