I had the pleasure of interviewing Ali Ardakani. Ali is a technical and entrepreneurial corporate development and operations biotech executive with 20 years of experience in managing life science projects and companies. His experience includes managing R&D projects in the areas of oncology, respiratory, infectious disease, CNS therapeutics and medical devices, as well as fundraising, licensing and M&A.
Ali is the Founder & Managing Director of Novateur Ventures. Until recently he was Senior Vice President Device & Business Development for Beyond Air (NASDAQ:XAIR), where he was involved with the company from an early stage, until Nasdaq public offering and several rounds of financing and licensing. He is the CEO and co-founder of Optigo Biotherapeutics, an ophthalmology R&D company, the Vice Chair of LifeSciences BC, and Entrepreneur in Residence at Innovation Boulevard and Calgary Innovation.
He is also an Associate at Creative Destruction Labs. He was the Co-Founder and COO of Niiki Pharma, which was acquired in 2013 by Intezyne Technologies, of which he became the Vice President.
To date, Ali has taken several projects from concept to FDA approval, with two 510(k) approvals for medical devices and two FDA IND approvals. He has also worked on commercialization and pharma partnerships, as well as several global mergers and acquisitions.
Thank you for joining us Ali! Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
After graduating from UBC in 1999, I started as an early employee of a medical device company that developed, manufactured and launched some of the earliest and most used medical devices for inhaled nitric oxide therapy, which is given as a therapy to premature newborns. I was promoted from a project manager to a plant manager to a director of business development within a few years. Watching parents whose babies the technology was saving and how grateful they were for this life-saving medicine made me realize that life science was my calling.
Projects only come alive and can only come to fruition if the people who collaborate are attuned to the same sense of purpose, and share the ability to see the potential of that project. When I created Novateur Ventures in 2015, my mission and vision was to assemble a team of global experts to help life science companies get their medical devices and drugs to market.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting?
Not a funny mistake but a life lesson — The biggest mistake I have made in my life is not to trust my gut feeling and tried to make a decision because it just made sense at the time.
People underestimate the wisdom of intuition and gut feelings. A few years ago I got into business with someone who checked out everything outside, seemed hardworking and successful, but I had a feeling he was not totally honest. At the time the transaction made sense for me and my shareholders, but I was always wondering why my gut feeling was uncomfortable. But I had no way of finding evidence not to do the deal and it didn’t make sense not to do the deal because of a gut feeling (I didn’t have the luxury). Unfortunately, two years later right. He turned out to be a professional thief. We had to fire him.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey, and Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill are two of my favourite books.
My favourite part of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is when Covey highlights doing everything in life with the end in mind. This has inspired me to live life everyday as if it’s my last day, full of fun, inspiration and contribution.
My three favourite takeaways from Think and Grow Rich are that you become what you desire, to have faith in yourself, faith in your future and faith in your abilities, and that you have the answer to every conceivable question with the aid of a network.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
My purpose is tangible impact. Impact that is felt and known and experienced, not hypothetical. We are currently in a world of abstract value, especially within the technology industry — but as a civilization we need impact today. We need a world that is not siloed and that encourages global collaboration across industries.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
Self reflection prior to action maintains the integrity of relationships, which requires radical honesty with oneself and staying authentic.
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
We have 3 small kids, my wife is completing her PhD and I am on calls and virtual meetings almost 10–12 hours a day. However, we have managed to plant a small garden and spend more time in awe of the nature surrounding us — being forced to be where you are has had its upsides.
Can you share a few of the biggest work-related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
On the business front, a number of our clients have had to suspend their clinical trials while they wait for Covid-19 to be over. Meanwhile, we are working with a number of companies that had a challenging time before Covid-19 and now they are flourishing in the market:
Telemedicine and digital health companies, diagnostic companies, infectious disease companies.
We are adjusting and adapting how we move forward every project during Covid-19. Some of these opportunities were not viable but are now thriving. They need to build enough momentum so when normal times return, they can continue to be successful.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
Covid-19 is here for a purpose. The purpose is to make us all pause the fast yet never ending life treadmill we were all on. It’s a defining time for everyone to evaluate priorities, whether it’s work, family, health or nature. It has changed us forever. We are living through an important period of human history. Last time something like this happened was over one-hundred years ago. I tell my friends to take advantage of this opportunity to rest, evaluate and plan. We are all going to go back to work in a few weeks. This is the opportunity to build a better foundation for our lives. We need to see this for what it is: an opportunity to re-evaluate our lives, the systems that govern us, and the need for innovation.
Obviously, we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
Since I am in Health Care, I will speak regarding opportunities in Health Care. People are appreciating and valuing health care experts and health care innovation more than ever. Today, the bravehearts of our society are not the soldiers fighting the enemy. It’s nurses and doctors sacrificing their health and lives for everyone. Instead of building fighter jets and aircraft carriers, we are innovating by developing the best vaccines, treatments and diagnostics. Furthermore, the virus has democratized the world, as everyone is fighting the same enemy.
In January, remote patient monitoring (RPM) comprised around 2% of patient visits. In March, that reached over 70% in regions experiencing high COVID infection rates. From a technology adoption perspective, the first 5 years of RPM only reached the “Innovators” — however, in just 6 weeks, it has moved right through the “Early Adopters” and the “Majority” to reach the “Laggards.” Ten years of patient, physician, provider and payer market penetration has been condensed into a couple of months. This virus is here to make us much more efficient and smarter.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
Some of our basic social norms will change forever. It’s unlikely we are going to shake hands or hug at every meeting. Also, we may choose to travel less and meet online more.
From the healthcare industry point of view, the winners of COVID are telemedicine, digital health companies, advanced point of care diagnostics and novel treatment and vaccines for infectious diseases. All of which were neglected before.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
Over the past two months we have built capacity by bringing onboard expert advisors in telemedicine, digital health, diagnostics and vaccines. We recently published the most comprehensive article on the status of diagnostics globally. We are publishing another paper predicting which vaccine platform will likely form. We have adapted to the times and are seeing that translational knowledge — language that builds bridges between the masses and health. There is value in unpacking traditionally scientific jargon and inviting the wider population into empowered learning about their well-being.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
Adaptation is the key to success. Seek opportunities during the Covid-19 times to advance your healthcare innovation. This is something that nature does well, and that we should learn from: rapid development to new information and the integration of that wisdom to respond with collective intelligence in the future.
Can you please give us your favourite ”Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I left Iran when I was thirteen to live with an unknown family in Turkey, to avoid being drafted into the military. It was the most difficult time of my life. I had to learn two new languages and adapt to my new environment. Within eighteen months I learnt English and Turkish. I raised my younger sister when my parents separated. She is hugely successful, and was even Forbes 30 under 30 a few years ago! I have learnt that only through adversity growth appears. When I look back, I am immensely grateful for each difficult period. My best life lesson quote would be that nothing is permanent, agility creates ease, and kindness always wins.
How can our readers further follow your work?
LinkedIn — Ali Ardakani
Website — https://www.novateur.ca/