MIT’s Storyteller In Residence, Dom Smith chats to Biobot Analytics co-founder, Newsha Ghaeli about the start-up process, finding the perfect business partner, and plans for the rest of 2018.
Can you introduce yourself?
Hi! I’m Newsha, and I’m the co-founder of Biobot Analytics, and we analyze opioid consumption in cities. This project was born out of a large collaboration, on campus here at MIT, across six different labs, ranging from the School of Architecture and Planning to Biological Engineering, as well as Computer Science, and Artificial Intelligence.
My co-founder and I met as research collaborators, while on this project, and the main idea was around the question: Can we look at our sewer systems, as being a analogues to the human gut. As such, can we extract insights into human health and behavior: What can we learn from our waste water to better understand our cities, and then return that data to the city council so that they can use that data to enact better policy, and better urban management.
What are the biggest challenges?
What we’re doing is so interdisciplinary; I mean, I’m an architect by trade, and my co-founder is a biologist, so when we first started working together, it was really about finding this common language, with which we can communicate, and ever since then, our team has grown to include engineers, MBA students as well as public policy and health folks. Finding this common ground where we can come together and speak the same language has been challenging but very exciting. No two people on our team are the same, and I think that is what attracts people to our idea as well.
What are your goals?
We are currently in Y-Combinator right now, so we’re out in California, which has been an incredible experience so far, we’re only a month into it. We’re connecting with a whole world, and our biggest goals are to keep building our team, as well as our culture and values. I want to continue growing as an entrepreneur.
I was recently speaking to undergrad students, and the professor asked me to advise the students on what class to take, in order to really explore. I said: “The biggest thing is to never be afraid of not knowing what you’re doing…” I think that is the biggest thing that holds true with entrepreneurship, is that you need to constantly be okay with learning, not knowing what you’re doing, and just figuring it out on the fly.
How would you advise someone to best use the resources at this Center?
Just come here. Drink some free coffee and tea! I was not in the business school here, and I spent the majority of my time on the other side of campus. I didn’t really venture as often as I should have in my early years, but once I discovered this place, it becomes this group of people where, you’re not necessarily studying the same thing, but your drive and passion for what you want to do in life, and in this world are very aligned; it’s a phenomenal community, and I think surrounding yourself with people who think in that way, is a great force to drive you forward.
I would say, come to the Trust Center, participate in programs like fuse, because that’s what really kicked things off for my co-founder, and I – then we did Delta V this summer. But then, there are other resources that they over like classes for all students of all disciplines.
What is your recipe for entrepreneurial success?
I would say, for me the most important thing is your co-founder, and finding somebody that you can really connect with, beyond their skills complimenting my skills. That relationship is like a marriage, or we’re dating! The company is like our baby, or puppy! So, I would say the key ingredient is the co-founder, and it will be the most important thing in your entrepreneurial journey.
Next, you have to be comfortable not knowing what you are doing. I think maintaining confidence in yourself, and your team throughout that whole process, and being eager to learn are the biggest things.
What would you say a career highlight has been?
I still need to take a step back and realize how amazing it is that we have these brilliant people here, at this brilliant institution who are behind you – people like Bill Aulet, and other faculty members who we’ve been fortunate enough to work with, elsewhere on campus. It’s an incredible feeling to feel like I am throwing my life, and my career into something, and to have the support of this institution is great.
How important do you think mistakes are in the entrepreneurial process?
I think that making mistakes is the best way to learn. If you do things, and it doesn’t work, then you figure out another way to do it. If everyone gets everything right the first time they try, then I would say that they are not necessarily innovating. One thing that’s helped me get over this fear of embarking on something so publicly, is that I constantly think about the worst case scenario, and if I’m okay with it. If I’m okay with the worst case scenario, then that’s the most comforting thing, and it facilitates you moving forward.