David Birch of MIT coined the term “Gazelles” to describe fast growing companies. Last night, as part of the E-Club “Inspiring Speakers Series”, we were treated to an explanation of how to “Ghazal” your company by Professor Peter Ghazal, academic and entrepreneur.
As well as having a highly successful academic career, Professor Ghazal has been involved in a number of start up companies, among themArrayjet Limited, Fios Genomics and Lab 901, the last being the focus of his talk last night.
Professor Ghazal reinforced that an entrepreneur must be:
He recalled how twelve years ago he had the opportunity to work with electrical engineer Stuart Polwart. Recognising that there was a huge technology gap between the electronics industry and life science, Professor Ghazal saw the opportunity to collaborate and create a “lab on a tape”. His vision was to provide cheap automated products to be used for gel electrophoresis in research.
That vision became Lab 901. As an aside we were told why the original name was 'Lab 401' - 4 guys, no money and 1 idea! Unfortunately the 401 when googled refers to a retirement plan, so they went with 901 based on the classification of their patent.
An entrepreneur should always be flexible according to Ghazal and able to see an opportunity in an alternative business proposition. Before Lab 901 sold their product, they ran a service using the product, a great way to introduce the product to the market before the product was perfected. The platform service provided much need funding in the interim.
It took six years to make the product and the company grew to 50 people solely funded on private investment. When faced with the prospect of running out of money in a month, Professor Ghazal stressed the importance of finding the right team as driven as the company founders, and willing to stick with the company through hard times. The Lab 901 story ended in success with the company purchased by Agilent.
In the question session Professor Ghazal was asked why did he not leave academia to run one of his companies? Describing himself as being passionate about his ventures and enjoying developing a product, he recognised that his interest was not running a company. And he gets bored quickly! So an entrepreneur must recognise their strengths and weaknesses.
For a mixed audience of potential entrepreneurs and company employees, Professor Ghazal gave an inspiring talk. Students should see they have opportunities in industry and academia, or even like our speaker have a foot in both camps!
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