ETL - Mir Imran
For individuals interested in starting high tech companies that are related to biology, chemistry, etc., Mir Imran is your man. He has started a number of businesses focusing on the patents he has received and the application of these technologies. While I personally don’t see myself following a similar path as an entrepreneur, it just goes to show the variety and variability in being an entrepreneur. You can listen to his speech here, or read the summary below.
Mir Imran founded InCube Laboratories in 1995 to focus on his passion: creating medical device solutions that change the standard of care in critical healthcare markets. Mir started out with a BS in Electrical Engineering from Rutgers and an MS in Bio-Engineering. From there he’s moved on to having over 200 patents issued in his name, starting over 20 medical device companies, and continuing to be one of the world’s most successful inventors, entrepreneurs, and investors in healthcare. Of his 20+ businesses, nine have been acquired, three went public and then were acquired, and the other eight are in development with one looking to go public.
Of his projects he is working on right now, 1/2 involve implantable devices. The breadth of fields include obesity, chronic pain, fibrillation, epilepsy, and the creation of an artificial colon. While on the surface it seems like he could be an expert in all thes fields, he really isn’t. When he notices a problem, Mir generally conducts his own research does and figures out what’s being done, what’s working, and what’s not working. As he digs deeper, for some of the problems he finds solutions and for some he doesn’t.
What is a project?
Each project is inspired by ideas, which come in random and multiple ways, and is the testing stages before becoming an official company. As an example for one project, at one time in his past, Mir had a couple friends affected by a specific problem. He talked to some doctors that said the problem shouldn’t be a problem with the right steps taken. As such, he did some research, found some inspiration for a solution, and created the project around it. Another key thing is to keep every project or company Mir starts separate because it prevents each project from interfering with one another. The result is that one project doesn’t hog resources because it is doing well and another doesn’t drag everything else down when it is performing poorly. When implementing an idea, it is a long and tough road. Ideas are cheap, but it’s all about implementing and executing these ideas that takes time. Another thing is that he’s willing to kill a project if it doesn’t meet the guidelines he sets up - which prevents a lot of the hardships if he pursues a bad idea into the company phase.
Thoughts on FDA approval?
Mir thought is that it is an absolutely necessary part of the process. It forces you to think about the impact that will result for patients. The regulations are good because you have to document things, follow procedures, and in general keep track of what’s going on. There is a level of accountability and replicability that makes for consistent (and hopefully successful) performance.
Have any failures occurred and what have you learned?
At first glance, it appears that Mir has an amazing success rate, but that it sonly because he is willing to kill the project before it launches if it is bad. Even with his level of success though, he has had two companies fail. One was a dot-com launched in 1999, which he acknowledges as a bad idea. The other is a failed business, even though the technology is still being used in many of his businesses. A great insight Mir provides is that it is much more painful - for everyone involved - to kill a company or fix a failing one than to kill the project.
It’s all about the team (and the people)…
Mir has a history of creating successful teams - which he describes as the hardest part - and reminisces about one company he started around a specific person. In fact, he offered this individual a cubicle and $1000 a month just to brainstorm with him. After a while, this individual took a position as senior engineer, and then went to CTO. Just this last year, this company did $30 million in revenue and is getting ready to go public. Lesson learned: When you find great people, hold on to them!
What motivates you?
Mir is like most entrepreneurs in that he is not in the business of making money but rather solving problems. And to have a theoretical “could be” answer is not enough - he has to bring them to life and commercialize them if they’re that good. The idea of creating something out of nothing fascinates him.
What’s each day like?
In short, every day is different. This morning, for example, he spent in a design review. Most of his time, though, is spent in the lab. Also, he has a very hands on approach to hiring people, brainstorming session, planning studies, and developing a regulatory strategy. He is intimately involved with all of the companies at an operations level, and spends more times with the less stable companies to get them to the point where they are more stable and he can move on to other projects.
Conflict of interest?
Because Mir found the fundraising process difficult, he started his own and partnered with Draper Fisher Jurvetson. This, of course, begs the question of whether or not a conflict of interest develops. As a humorous remark, he says that if there isn’t a conflict of interest, you aren’t doing anything interesting. As a more serious follow up, though, he states that to deal with conflict of interest, you have to be incredibly transparent and have a high level of disclosure.
What do you wish you had learned earlier in your career?
Through college, Mir developed a strong technical and scientific background and wishes he had had the opportunity to take business courses. Courses in marketing, accounting, sales, etc. would have been really helpful, especially in just getting a simple understanding. Learn enough to know who to bring in, how to get things done, etc. One key to his education has been to develop a broad understanding of things and develop a depth of understanding in at least one area.
Question: What other advice would you want to give to students?
- Be a good listener. Because one person can’t have all of the right answers, you have to listen to and communicate effectively with others to find the right answers.
- Don’t fall in love with your ideas. A lot of times your first idea not necessarily right idea, and instead it is further revisions of the idea that make it successful.
- Failure is almost a necessary and humbling experience. If you haven’t failed, you aren’t stepping outside your comfort zone and trying something truly innovative.
- Surround yourself with experienced people. This works well with being a good listener because experienced people are much more likely to help develop the right answers to the problems you are facing.
- Businesses aren’t always the solution. If you make small improvements, think about licensing the technology versus starting a company.
- Learn the fundamentals. Once you have a strong foundation, in whatever the subject, you can build all kinds of things on top of it.
- View problems as opportunities. Such a reversal in perception opens the doors to solutions that wouldn’t come any other way.
Wired to be an entrepreneur and engineer
As a kid, his mother bought two toys for him - one to take apart, and one to play with. He built toys and then took them to school and sold them. Right now he has ten companies buzzing around in his head and wants to start them soon before other people start them.
Mir Imran is an amazing entrepreneur in his own right, and one many students thinking about an extremely technical background could learn from. The most important takeaway from Mir, to me, is the idea of developing a general background in everything and drilling down to being an expert in something. Combining this with a passion to view problems as opportunities creates a powerful force in developing innovative technologies in specific industries.