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For six months I’ve been following Raj Krishnan, a 28-year-old University of California, San Diego graduate who started his own biotech. In addition to being a pretty funny guy, Krishnan is one example of what it takes to make it in the biotech industry today.
Krishnan’s story paints pictures of the variety of issues entrepreneurs and scientists face — building his technology’s credibility, finding investors, even securing lab space — but I think it also tells deeper tales.
I enjoyed following Krishnan because he is a great example of someone from my generation who has not allowed the pervasive economic pessimism to defeat him. He has defied the recession by raising $2 million in angel investments and believes so strongly not only in his company but in the value of dreaming big that it’s hard not to be inspired by him.
If you missed any of the updates on Krishnan and his company, Biological Dynamics, which aims to diagnose cancer using a few drops of a person’s blood, check out this quick recap:
• Two Goals: Start a Company. Cure Cancer. We met Krishnan four months after he earned his bioengineering doctorate from UCSD. He said he started graduate school with two goals — starting a company and curing cancer. And he displayed the audacious level of confidence required to believe he can pull off something that big.
“Starting your own company takes a willingness to fail,” he said. “Some people have it, and some don’t.”
• Doing Something Cool. An exhibition of that willingness to fail: Krishnan’s decision to take a risk and start his own company — despite the deep recession that surrounded him. While most recent science graduates hunt for jobs, either in academia or the for-profit biotech industry, Krishnan said he has to be his own boss, joking, “I don’t think anyone would ever hire me.”
• The Starting Line. He’s no business student, but Krishnan knew how starting a company would work: He needed money, and lots of it. That’s because unlike software startups like Apple or Microsoft, fledgling biotechs need lab equipment to get going and time to prove their technology works.
But Krishnan couldn’t just stroll into an investment company and tell deep-pocketed venture capitalists to write him a check, so instead he took one of the few options available to a young student like him. He gathered a team of a few friends and started entering student competitions, while also sticking big scientific names under its belt.
The result: a boost to his company’s credibility — an absolute requirement to woo investors.
• The Investment Dance. Even when those investors are sufficiently wooed, Krishnan and other entrepreneurs are still left with a sometimes nerve-racking task: negotiating how much control investors have over their companies.
Entrepreneurs have been with their companies from the beginning, and so understandably are very attached to them. Handing over their company’s reins — even just a bit of the reins — to someone else is like a parent leaving his kid on the first day of preschool.
At the same time, entrepreneurs need money, and they usually need it fast, so they cannot be too choosy in their deals with investors. This combination of being both frantic for and resistant to investors can leave founders’ negotiations with as much desperation and awkward navigating as a middle school dance.
• When Your Company Name Sounds Like an Evil Cyborg. Another area that sometimes requires awkward navigating is choosing a company name. Krishnan had his picked out: BioDyn. But his friend and chief technology officer warned it sounded too much like Cyberdyne, a corporation in the movie “Terminator” that makes evil cyborgs, so they switched to Biological Dynamics instead.
• Something to Bet Your Life On. So far, Krishnan’s risk-taking, awkward navigating and overall struggling has paid off.
Seven months after launching Biological Dynamics, Krishnan and his fellow company founders had won five entrepreneurial competitions, nearly $50,000 in prize money and netted $2 million in angel investments — basically unheard of during a recession.
The young entrepreneur isn’t entirely sure what he will do next, but he does hope to stick with his company to the end instead of selling to a larger company. After all, he’s only accomplished one of the two goals he started with.
• Some of the best from the extremely quotable Raj Krishnan:
As an undergrad, I came to the realization that if I was stuck in a cubicle, I’d blow my brains out.
It’s not like I had a favorite uncle who died of cancer or something. It just seemed like something to try to do. (On his goal of curing cancer.)
I’ve always thought about what I could do with my life that would actually help people. … I realized I wanted to build something as an engineer, to do something cool that would help a lot of people.
You need to find something you’re willing to bet your life on, so that you can say, “If I die doing this, so be it, I’ll be happy.”
Please contact Claire Trageser directly at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/clairetrageser.