The path of a career in life sciences can be extremely focused but it can also be extremely varied. There are many different sectors to work within: research, education, management, for-profit, not-for-profit, creating startups around unique challenges, strategic consulting, investing in life sciences companies, and more.
Some people go after their passions in a specialized direction in one or two of these areas for their whole working life, but it is also possible to have a diverse career that stretches across all kinds of opportunities within the life sciences space. With such varied experience, it creates the perfect combination of skills and knowledge to assist in the innovation space, like creating strategies on how to commercialize research and investment strategies for seed funding.
In this installment of our Making Impact Podcast series, ODAIA’s co-founder, Helen Kontozopoulos met with Ketaki Desai, former Vice President of Business Development, at the Ontario Center for Innovation (OCI), to discuss her experiences in life sciences throughout her career and how that leveled up to a holistic vision for innovation.
Diversity of Experience Creates Strategic Vision
To get to a place of being able to strategize about new ways of bringing research and innovation in life sciences to healthcare providers, Ketaki developed a holistic perspective by participating in all levels of the process. She firstly completed her education in both mechanical engineering and then biomedical sciences while helping to create a framework that gave exposure and recruited students into life sciences. From there she continued in the vein of research for several years before her first transition out of academia.
After becoming interested in the management side of life sciences, Ketaki participated in a competition for startup ideas which, though flawed, gave her an appreciation for the challenges faced by startups. From there she had the opportunity to do a few roles in a strategic capacity by assisting startups in spaces like education technology, healthcare technology and manufacturing analytics.
“After that, I realized that I had sort of done the whole being an entrepreneur, supporting entrepreneurs. The one thing that I didn’t have experience in was being an investor, being on the other side of the table,” says Ketaki. So, to complete the spectrum, Ketaki rounded out her portfolio by joining a fund specifically for healthcare.
Developing a Holistic Approach and Value Chain to Innovation in Life Sciences
In having been hands on in research, seen firsthand the struggle of the startup, envisioned the integration of life science in business and been on the investment side of the table, Ketaki had a firm grasp on what it would take to get academic research off the shelf, getting funding for startups at various stages and see those ideas into the reality of the healthcare sector.
To move many of the innovations in life sciences forward, integrating subject matter experts with business people is a must in commercializing academic ideas. Blending expertise between life sciences and business talent can ensure patients and health care professionals actually get to utilize concepts in a healthcare setting by getting beyond just publishing the ideas in scientific papers. On top of creating these connections, the funding from investors needs to be secured.
The bridge between many of the parties involved in bringing a new innovation to life are incubators and accelerators. These intermediaries create a hub that brings together the network, resources, talent, expertise and investment opportunities vital to creating a new company.
How the Ontario Center for Innovation Helps Support “Commercializing Game-Changing Research”
Given her passion for bringing life sciences innovation from research to reality and creating pathways of funding for startups, it was a natural fit for Ketaki to spend some time working at an incubator, like the Ontario Center for Innovation. The programs help bring ideas into a startup and structure the initiative for success, including the Market Readiness Program that is specific for very early stage startups.
Though the OCI supports all types of research, specifically in the life sciences industry, they have been working with the government to help inform the life sciences strategy. Regardless of how large the funding pool is, if the life sciences sector needs all the parts of the ecosystem to buy into a growth mindset together. Expanding the life science sectors has started with identifying who the players are, how they can be brought together, demonstrating the challenges companies are facing to the government and creating strategies for supporting companies at various levels of development.
Other things that would make an impact on supporting innovation in the life sciences sector are democratization of key resources to empower small businesses, creating effective investment structures, and recruitment and integration of highly skilled talent into Canadian startups and businesses.
Innovation, incubation and acceleration of life sciences ideas into more concrete products and technologies requires deliberate strategies to move research from academia to commercialization. From Ketaki’s experience, this is best facilitated by ensuring buy-in from relevant parties from the researchers to the business community to the government and investors. The benefits to the Canadian healthcare system from this approach toward innovation in life sciences can create better tools for healthcare providers and better care for the patients they are serving.
This is the sixth installment of ODAIA’s Making Impact Podcast series, where we interview other thought leaders who are using cutting-edge technology to innovate in the life sciences. Listen to our previous episode with Viraj Mane from Lactiga to learn more about how human milk antibodies can change the lives of patients living with immunodeficiencies.