EIA 052 Scientist to Entrepreneur

Moses Katanga
Moses Kakanga

Moses Kakanga was born by Lake Victoria in the old capital Entebbe, Uganda where he attended school before moving to the capital Kampala Makerere University, the oldest university in eastern and central Africa. Where he graduating with a degree in biomedical laboratory technology.

Moses then went on to work for an infectious disease Institute for three years before returning to study for a Masters degree in structural molecular biology, which culminated with study at Birkbeck College University London. He then returned home and continued with his previous employer for another four years. He then decided on another round of graduate study finding a scholarship on the Singapore international graduate award. And move to Singapore to pursue a PhD in biochemistry.

From young Moses wanted to work in the medical field as a scientist. He was surrounded by several role models. His father was a practice in physician for 40 years and is still practising although semi retired. His mum is a nurse and many of aunts are nurses and growing up in a hospital community he saw he was exposed to many other role models in the medical profession. Initially he wanted to go to medical school but didn’t get the points before settling on biomedical laboratory science.

When he looks back he looks back Moses attributes his success to working hard, which was based on his desire to attend medical school and in Uganda like most countries required the highest grades and to be top of your class.

Moses believes he’s achieved everything he’s wanted academically. Initially he wanted to remain in academia and become a professor then after doing his Phd and living in Singapore he came to the realisation he wasn’t suited for a career in academia saying “If you wanna be in academia in the Western World you have to publish well. The pre-requisites are very stiff.”

It wasn’t the challenge of academia as his previous employer wanted him back, offering him a position in the USA for two years. But he realised he wanted to have a career in Bio-med Innovation  and create devices for unmet clinical needs.

Moses grew up in the 90s in Entebbe before leaving in 2004 to go to the capital, Kampala to study at the  Makerere University, which was a former College of the University of London and after independence it was handed over to the government of Uganda. It has the oldest medical school in Uganda. The medical school is ranked highly internationally is one of the top five in Africa.

During the time he studied there a lot of international students from Kenya and Tanzania

Moses then received a commonwealth scholarship and was attached to a scientist in Uganda. However the final six months were finished at Birkbeck, University of London while still attached to a Scientist in Uganda. He wasn’t lonely in London as he had cousins there and had a pleasant time.

Missing out on the scholarship didn’t feel so bad because Moses was young at 17 and his dad was a bit scared about sending him alone to Hungary where he would also needed to learn a new language as well as the fact that he was already going to university in Uganda.

Looking back at the time going it may have seemed like a missed opportunity but the other opportunities that have presented themselves have more than made-up for it.

The desire to develop by a medical devices arose during his Phd studies as he worked on Biosensors for screening anti-cancer drugs and his interest shifted to a desire on innovation, drug or devices development.

Moses feel that by remaining in academia he would not be able to accomplish as much due to the rigid and competitive career development.

The challenge he sees for a scientist entering the world of entrepreneurship, are a lack of business skills, which for example may be business model development, customer development, market access.

This lake is something that can be overcome by hiring a person with these business skills. Scientists can still learn the business side but it will take a little bit longer for a person that come from academia.

Currently  Moses is working with a CEO who is also a technical and scientific person and who also has developed the skills to handle the business side. He does get involved to a small degree. But his focus is primarily on the science and technology.

This is reflected in his title of Chief Science and Technology Officer (CTO).

Moses sees himself continuing in the role of technology building as his focus is on the science and being in charge of running clinical trails in order to bring them to the market.

Moses has always looked up to his father as a role model. A man “who set a high bar”. Next came his father’s boss who was a woman that came from a family of five doctors. He always looked up to them. He found these role models stimulated his interest in having a career in the medical field. The professor that supervised him On his PhD has also acted as a role model in ensuring that he completed his PhD and graduated.

As Moses enters the world of entrepreneurship new role models are beginning to appear one of which is Sir Richard Branson. Who Moses admires in the way he built his business from scratch. Through reading his books he has discovered that Sir Richard Branson started out with a lot of challenges in school but then found his niche and has built a number of businesses and has become a very successful business man. His methods have been cautious, unaggressive and without putting other people out of business. He also has integrity and consciousness. Although  Moses is in medical field he plans to follow Sir  Richard Branson on the business side.

A few days after our meeting Moses will be taking part in an event as the moderator with the title, “From Scientist to Entrepreneurial Scientist: The Creation of BioTech Companies”. The purpose of the event is to help motivate early stage start-ups in the field of biotech and med tech. And get mentorship and advice from experienced biotech founders who will share their experience on the transition of being a scientist, scientist entrepreneurs, starting their own companies from research in the lab. The main premise for young start-ups to get more added information and guidance from established scientist.

Three scientists are from the National University of Singapore, Duke NUS will share how they built their companies that was spun off from the University. The audience will come from a broad spectrum of Singapore, which will include academia and start-up biotech companies. A 127 people registered have registered so far. But Moses is being cautious and expects a turnout of 50 to 60% for the event.

Registration and entry is free via the SGInnovate.com website in collaboration.

SGInnovate is a government organisation that helps to develop tech ecosystems in Singapore. SGInnovate supports DeepTech entrepreneurs and start-ups develop their ideas into a marketable products and also helps them to fund raise.

27 Deep Tech can be a confusing term which is used for ideas that take a lot of time to develop for example developing a robot that requires patents and many of iterations in order to get to the final product. Another example is developing a medical device that requires development of a prototype, do prototype testing and looking for trials. The gestation period takes a long time. This is how Deep Tech is commonly defined. The time to develop a DeepTech product can be two years or three years or longer.

There is further ambiguity as it can also include AI algorithms used for imaging of cancer cells as it can uses AI for diagnostics methods.

There is a constant need for development in the Bio-Tech and Medi-Tech field. A constant need for new drugs and medical devices particularly in areas connected to the ageing population in Asia. As well as devices for mobility, which is also a growing field. Due to Asia’s ageing population so there will be an increasing need for biotech and med tech products.

If you consider the US in the Bay Area where, biotech and med tech is really big and you will see a lot of investors. In that the ecosystem in the US is well developed. While in Asia it has recently started growing and is predicted to grow bigger .

Moses reasons for starting a business in Singapore are that it is small country where everything is close. He completed his PhD at the innovation hub called One North, where there are universities with research centres and start-ups in the same facility. Also gave access to many people on different tracks due to their close proximity. The final piece into doing this venture is being able to get into an incubator that gives support in building the company.

At present the company consists of a CEO and Moses who is the CTO as it has only existed for eight months. They are still raising money and expect to hire a specialist in the medical device regulatory area in the second quarter of next year in order to facilitate the launch of the product into the different markets.

The first market to enter will be Europe where they are working with a number of hospitals on clinical trials and expect to get the CE mark. After that will expand in to Asia and the USA.

This order is chosen as buyer certification procedures are a little bit easier in Europe than getting an FDA. So like most medical companies in the world they tend to start off with Europe to get a CE mark because it’s a little shorter than the FDA. From there a move into Asia is fairly straight forward if you have a CE or FDA.

For the African market the company has to examine the reimbursement systems to determine who will be able to pay and may be considered later on after some revenues have been gained.

So the important first step is to prove the product is viable then once proved to raise finance and show that it works and then you can look up expanding into other markets.

The product is a device that was patented by his CEO to treat a genetic disease that causes bulging of an eye. It is inserted to reshapes a patients eye

It is a genetic disease and while it is not a common it does affect 15 million people worldwide particularly in Asia and the Middle East.

In the near future the priorities of the company are to raise money, build the start-up through clinical trials then bringing the device to the market and growing the business in to being a leading company in the ophthalmology space.

Faced with the low success rate of startups Moses takes the same approach he applied to his PhD where you go give your all to a project if it doesn’t work out you move on.

Since being involved with the startup Moses has had to gain new areas of knowledge. Taking a certificate in medical device regulations and importantly for a startup writing and designing investor pitch decks. In order to communicate the business to potential investors and containing, the business model, market, team and representing a snapshot of your business ant its idea.

37 As part of an incubator Moses was exposed to people that had a great deal of business experience who offer guidance on various aspects of business. Since his focus is on the technology side of the startup he’s not required to do much direct pitching and he doesn’t desire or see his role changing from being the back room CTO. Currently Moses is not looking to expand his role because as a scientist his interest is in the science behind the products not in the business side.

There is alway risk associated with a startup and Moses is confident that the project will be successful. Moses’s states “the co-founder and CEO holds the patent for the product and has been working on this project for more than two years. As well as being a scientist himself the CEO also has developed the necessary business skills to take the project forward.”, over those two years.

For those that wish to follow in his footsteps Moses offers the following advice, “Work hard, work hard” Moses says he has always worked hard his whole life.  He’s a person that thinks luck has played a part in his life since in various examples in his academic life luck has been there but it’s always a result of hard work. At secondary school He was always in the labs. He advises reading because many opportunities have come his way through reading books and papers. The missed opportunity to go to medical school in Hungary came from a newspaper article. During his undergrad I was able to apply for a scholarship which also came from a newspaper. His Masters he also received a scholarship through recommendation by a friend. Finally the PhD research opportunity in Singapore came from reading a journal. So summarising, it’s hard work with a little bit of luck but more hard work.

We thank Moses very much for this brief conversation on what it takes to go from scientist to entrepreneur and will keep in touch and we expect to keep in touch.

EIA 052 From Scientist to Entrepreneur was introduced by Andy Kerr of St James Wealth Management the company sponsoring “Scientist to Entrepreneurial Scientist: The Creation of BioTech Companies”