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Looking forward to having you learn about Carlos Bustamante, Ph.D. and how this scientist became involved in start-ups.
NOT YOUR TYPICAL SCIENTIST
Dr. Carlos Bustamante is definitely not your typical scientist/start-up guy. Science wasn’t really even the career path he expected to take.
He says, “It all happened because of a program at Florida State that made room for a kid from Miami who wrote an application that said, ‘I’m pretty sure I don’t want to be a scientist. But I want to make sure that I’m not making a mistake.’”
INDUSTRY: Biotech & Genomics
STARTED BUSINESS: Bustamante Lab - 2002 (acquired by Galatea Bio, Inc.)
LATINO CONNECTION: Born in Venezuela
Postdoctoral Work: University of Oxford - Mathematical Genetics
Ph.D., Harvard University – Biology
Master of Science – Harvard University – Statistics
Bachelor of Science – Harvard University - Biology
DREAM JOB AS A KID: Professor, Attorney or Stage Actor
BIGGEST GOAL YET: To build the Biobank of the Americas. We want to get 10 million people who are part of this network, with one million sequenced, by 2025. That would make us the largest Biobank in the world.
THE “HOLY COW” MOMENT
The turning point was 1992. Until that time, Bustamante was going to be an attorney. Or an actor.
Yes, an actor.
He can be a bit of a ham. Even he says so.
But then his high school nominated him for the Young Scholars program. He would get to spend eight weeks at Florida State doing research.
“And I said, holy cow, this is amazing! And I came back and got a job at the University of Miami…doing research in hematology in my senior year of high school.
Well, wouldn't you know? Harvard then came calling and recruited him. That’s where he finished his undergraduate degree.
But Bustamante says, “You can’t sit around too long in Silicon Valley before someone asks you to join a start-up.”
IDEA ON A WHITEBOARD
So he became an adviser to some start-ups and got a first-hand glimpse at a transformation in progress.
“Just an incredible experience…to see…an idea on a whiteboard between three or four people turn into a multi-billion dollar company.”
THE FIRST VS. THE TENTH
But now he sees a huge opportunity to launch a genomics business in Florida. So he moved from California where he was a professor at Stanford to Hialeah, a suburb of Miami.
“We could be the tenth genomics company in the Bay Area. We’re the first genomics company in Latin America. So we’re excited about being the first in Latin America headquartered in Miami.”
His company, Bustamante Lab, was acquired by Galatea Bio, and now he currently sits as founder and CEO of Galatea Bio.
The premise behind his newest venture is simple. Galatea Bio would provide lots of free COVID testing to the public and, in exchange, he hopes a certain subset of those people receiving the free tests would be willing to provide a DNA sample.
I asked about privacy concerns. He says the data would go into an anonymized database that cannot be tied to the person donating their DNA sample. The thinking is, anonymous data can then be mined for insights.
He analogizes it to getting something like a “23andMe” kit. “If we could make the economics work, I think we could scale that out and begin to bring genetics to the masses.”
But here’s why he said it really matters.
GETTING REPRESENTED IN RESEARCH
In particular, Bustamante wants it to help solve a big problem in genetics. Broadly speaking, samples taken for research grossly underrepresent people of Hispanic-American, African-American and Indian-Asian ancestry.
That means racial and ethnic differences are not being adequately reflected in the research and by-products, pharmaceutical drugs.
“The fact that we have not embraced a huge amount of diversity in the development of vaccines in the development of medications is a huge deal.”
He says the U.S. is not incentivized to genetically screen people at high risk and put them on treatments early. Bustamante points to the fact that 90% of people with hereditary cardiovascular disease are undiagnosed. 30% of people with sickle cell anemia go undiagnosed. Sickle cell anemia afflicts African-Americans in greater numbers than other groups.
He says this would also solve the environmental problem of COVID tests being discarded. It would repurpose them.
WHAT PEOPLE DON’T TALK ABOUT
During our discussion, it’s clear his journey to becoming a founder of a startup himself was influenced by his family, plus something else he understands that people don’t really talk about – knowledge of regulation and entrenched interests.
“In every industry, right, there’s somebody who’s gotten 40% of the market or more. Somebody’s got 20% of the market, and then everybody else splits it, if there isn’t a third entrant…And a lot of it is, they knew how to set things up. They knew how to be able to protect what they had.”
“The first-time entrepreneur is learning business. They’re learning legal. They’re learning hiring. They’re learning HR, right? And, so you sometimes lose sight of that. But it ends up being what sometimes is the make-or-break of a specialty-type business.”
LEARNING BY EXAMPLE
Bustamante also learned a lot by example. He says his family is incredibly entrepreneurial, including his parents. “Each had companies. One is a doctor. One is a psychologist. They had their practice[s]. They showed up to work every single day. They taught me the value of hard work.”
He says his father has been involved with several of his startups. His youngest brother built a very successful business.
As a scientist studying human population genetics, he says, “There’s just a lot that we, as scientists, think we know. And business is a great way to be humbled. And so when that happens, family’s always there.”
CHOOSING THE RIGHT STAGE
In the end, Bustamante has a keen awareness that his path to entrepreneurship, which ended up blending science, business and academics, really came down to another factor.
It came down to which stage he wanted to command.
He says, “I knew I’d end up in front of an audience, either as a professor, as a stage actor or maybe an attorney. And so, you know, I just had to figure out, what audience did I want to keep?”
THE TIP JAR (tips passed out courtesy of Carlos Bustamante, Ph.D.)
STARTING OUT: "Don’t give up…There are no failed founders. There are just failed companies. And failure in a company is success. Because you learn something and do it [start a company] again. So most investors continue to bet on teams and continue to bet on people."
PRACTICAL APPLICATION: "It’s nothing different than running a lemonade stand where you want to sell that cup of lemonade more than it cost you to make."
"Buy the lemons and the sugar and have a friend help you set up the lemonade stand. And, at the end of the day, you want to make more and more lemonade stands. And then once you’re selling $100 million of lemonade, you can sell it to Honest Tea. I mean, that’s what it is."
"Go read the book, 'Message in a Bottle.' It’s the story of Honest Tea and how they started."
STEEPED IN SKILLS (mid-career): "Join a start-up…if you’re not sure if you want to be a founder."
"There’s a lot to be gained by joining someone else’s startup somewhat early, so you get to see it from the ground up."
STARTING OVER: "Hobby business. If you had a career in the military [for example] and are able to retire from that - and you still have another 25 years, that’s a great opportunity to think about starting a business that you know pays enough to cover the costs and has reasonable margins. If you can net 10% after taxes, that’s an awesome business. And just grow the business."
I’LL NEVER DO THAT AGAIN: "Make sure you read what you sign and get everything written."
"It’s important to keep an eye on the operations and how much money you’re making and how much money you’re keeping, and so on. But there’s also just a reality that a company is just a series of documents. And, at the end of the day, that’s what it is; it’s a series of agreements. It’s a series of financial reports."
"Not understanding that there’s a real legal infrastructure and…that we’re lucky to live in a country because of its legal infrastructure, is one of the things that it takes you time to learn."
BEST ADVICE FROM “LA CASA”/BEST “HOUSE” ADVICE:
"So when I left for Boston at 19, I had a trunk because, I figured, I’m leaving. I can have a trunk. And the trunk had wheels. And I remember my mom taking me to MIA [Airport] and saying, ‘Well, kiddo, the same way those wheels roll out, they can roll back home. You’ve always got home to come back to.' So having the support of my family has been instrumental."
NO NEED TO GO IT ALONE
HELP ON THE OUTSIDE...because we can all use a helping hand:
LEARN TO SELL
The key to any business is sales, whether it's a product, service or idea. Some of us could use a refresher talk on how to sell or how to close the deal. This virtual webinar from the U.S. SBA (Small Business Administration) even addresses better customer service, as well as dealing with angry customers. The lessons in this class apply to any business, regardless of whether you’re trying to sell products or services. Follow the link to register:
Wednesday, November 17, 2021
11 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. EST
WORKING ON THE INSIDE...because we know our culture has a hard time asking for help:
THE 20 BEST PIECES OF ADVICE EVERY ASPIRING ENTREPRENEUR NEEDS TO HEAR
I found this YouTube link through the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s site for aspiring entrepreneurs. It's all about your mindset. And it’s inspirational. In short snippets, it gives you a collection of 20 tips from famous people to motivate you to get up off your butt and pursue your dream goal. Advice comes from people like Oprah to MMA star, Conor McGregor, to Elon Musk. The people featured talk about everything from fear to believing to taking action. It's a few years old, but it has great concepts to make sure you're mentally ready to just do it - to go after the dream:
INSPIRATION BEHIND THIS ISSUE:
If someone asked you what kind of jobs do you think Latinos have in the U.S., what would you guess? It turns out, while many Americans believe Latinos make important contributions to the U.S. economy, they also assume that many of us are farm workers. At least, according to a study paid for by UnidosUS and others.
The survey showed that nearly half of the people polled (non-Latinos) believed Latinos are “essential workers or farm workers or laborers.” The perception that the work that we, Latinos, do is non-professional, may be rooted in misinformation, persistently-false stereotypes, racism, a combination of these or other factors.
These wrong characterizations are a big reason for this newsletter. When it comes to business creation, Latinos outrank other groups. That’s why I want to get those stories out there. That's why I was looking forward to interviewing Dr. Carlos Bustamante. The man is not only extremely well-educated, but he can help dispel some of these false narratives about what we do, what we contribute and what’s possible.
He even made me change my perceptions about what I envisioned or expected when I heard the word, “scientist.”
When I thought of scientists, I imagined them working for a university doing research, teaching classes or working for a pharmaceutical company. I thought of them as largely introverts. I didn’t really think of them as becoming owners of start-ups.
That was until I interviewed Dr. Carlos Bustamante.
He has been the owner of multiple startups.
And that’s another reason why it was important for me to do this story. Traditional boundaries and career paths have become blurred. People who are great at math or English don’t have to confine themselves to the industries they were taught they’d follow in school.
Entrepreneurship can be applied in so many ways.
The other surprising thing about Bustamante, at least to me, was how despite having a resume that screams “overachiever” to the nth degree (advanced Ivy League education, former faculty member of Stanford & Cornell, Chan Zuckerberg Biohub Investigator Award, McArthur Fellow, etc.), he’s actually very relatable.
No big words or stuffy attitude. He was cracking jokes during our interview and explained things in such a simple, easy-to-understand way.
He reminded me that we need to all check and re-check those narratives we’ve been told and believed. Until we get out of our social bubbles and learn more about people who live or work in different places than us, or who look different than us, we can’t really generalize.
Bustamante is not only breaking ground on making science more inclusive, but he’s breaking stereotypes about business and science, and he's inspiring a new generation of entrepreneurs.
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