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The Delicate Step From Idea to Entrepreneurship

Ian Dardani’s founder story starts the way many do. He saw a problem – and believed he had a way to address it. But he knew the journey from idea to entrepreneurship would be challenging. “Whether or not an idea becomes a startup, is a really delicate process,” he reflects. “For every startup you see, there are many more that never began due to real-life circumstances.”

Growing up, Ian was a builder – an interest that progressed naturally to an undergraduate degree in engineering. It wasn’t until his master’s degree that he considered expanding on that skillset to pursue a different type of building: entrepreneurship.

Ian realized that researchers have a problem. They obtain biological samples packed with potentially valuable information, yet current tools only decode a tiny fraction of this knowledge. Biopsies, for example, hold vital information about a patient’s health. They contain molecular clues that doctors and researchers could use to understand the treatment a patient may need, how tumors will evolve, and how to develop effective new drugs – but for now, that information is locked away in the sample, out of reach.

Ian made it his mission to unlock that complexity.

Ian Dardani with fellow 2022-2023 founder Raquel Hollatz

Unlocking Complexity

It isn’t a given that great ideas will naturally transition into successful businesses.

“I felt this technology really should exist, and that it needed a company to take it forward.” The Founders Fellowship helped him make that entrée into entrepreneurship.

Entrepreneurship, particularly life sciences entrepreneurship, can be cost prohibitive for many. Starting a company requires a lot of resources: lab space and equipment can be expensive, and dedicating yourself to the success of a business often means scaling back or leaving full-time employment.

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“Our prototype required materials, equipment, lab space, so we needed some funding to get started,” Ian explains.

Startups in the STEM fields often face a chicken-or-egg problem: they need funding to demonstrate an idea, but to get funding they first need to prove their concept can work. Traditional investors are hesitant to finance unproven concepts, so worthwhile projects can flounder due to lack of funding.

Many would-be entrepreneurs simply can’t play ball in these conditions.

That led Ian to the Science Center’s Founders Fellowship. Launched in 2022, it’s a 12-month program for academic researchers interested in turning an idea into a business. Specifically, it’s designed for those who may not have been able to pursue entrepreneurship under other circumstances.

When it comes to the program’s impact on Ian’s startup, he responds bluntly: “If it weren't for the Founders Fellowship, my startup wouldn’t exist.”

The $50,000 stipend all Fellows receive helps ease the financial burden many entrepreneurs take on when building a company. Beyond the stipend, Fellows have an opportunity to work alongside more seasoned entrepreneurs for the initial portion of the fellowship, giving them first-hand experience with the day-to-day operations of a startup. During the second half of the program, Fellows build their own companies, receiving support from the Science Center and a lab bench at CIC, a sponsor of the Founders Fellowship.

“The lab space from CIC was critical. For six months I spent every minute of my time developing a prototype,” Ian reflects. Before gaining access to the lab space at CIC, Ian was running experiments from his kitchen.

“Now that I have a prototype from my time in the lab, I can start to raise money.”

A Startup is Born

Ian created a legal entity around his research in December 2022. “The advising that I received from the Science Center was helpful to creating that entity,” he says, explaining that his knowledge of corporate governance had been limited because most of his prior experience was technical.

“For things like legal entity creation, it’s helpful to have such guidance to get it done correctly and efficiently, and then be able to focus on your core activities.”

That’s the goal of the Founders Fellowship: to give first-time entrepreneurs with potentially game-changing research a fighting chance to traverse the valley of death, where so many scientific pursuits languish in perpetuity.

Addressing this early-stage gap, the Founders Fellowship helps new life sciences entrepreneurs get their footing, setting them up for success in their next phase of growth. “There are more resources for companies with a product already, but fewer for those just starting out,” Ian observes.

What’s Next

Today, Ian has a prototype and a company. “It’s all enabled by my last year of support from the Fellowship,” he says.

There’s a lot of work yet to be done. Fundraising and building a team present a new set of challenges. But the first hurdle, the one that knocks out so many would-be entrepreneurs, has been cleared – and that’s worth celebrating.

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