From Engineer to Entrepreneur, Insights from a Founder Entering True Uncertainty in the Realm of Deep – Tech
Every project brings with it a certain level of unpredictability. However, this is amplified when the core of the project involves technology that is not only new to the consumers but also the creators.
Biomedical engineering has, and will continue to, transform the lives of individuals with impaired mobility. This particular area of BioTech is positioned as one of the more invigorating disciplines contributing to the future of engineering, yet it lays victim to an intense level of ambiguity in the commercial world due to the technology’s infantile nature.
Puya Abolfathi is a trailblazer in this area of innovation. Kinobionic, developed by Abolfathi, creates bionic gloves designed to return movement and function to paralysed hands. This is achieved via communication between the technology and the user’s thoughts. The project is expanding the limits of what was thought to be possible and diving headfirst into a field of true uncertainty.
The ability to have your foot firmly planted within the realms of both engineering and entrepreneurialism is a key component of Abolfathi’s success. Murray Hunter, an author, and successful founder reveals that this skill might be essential for progress, particularly in the modern world (2011).
We are witnessing a shift in how society operates, from independence to interdependence. Most individuals think in a way that mimics the Newtonian paradigm; that is where objects are tangible, definable, solid, and where interaction with other objects was of secondary importance. Career paths mirror this as people focus on perfection within one skill, such as engineering, instead of aspiring to be a polymath.
Hunter refers to the importance of personal mastery – the ability to “integrate intuition and reason” (2011) due to competency in many fields. Personal mastery is achieved via a set of principles and practices – a key principle being, “One must develop a sense of vision, ‘a big picture’ of what they want out of life”, if they wish to remain motivated in their endeavour. Similar to the famous Nietzche quote, “He who has a why to live, can bear almost any how”. If you engage with a motive that is deeper than monetary success, a broader set of skills will naturally evolve. Thus, the two work in a symbiotic way.
Such knowledge leads to the second piece of insight Abolfathi provides.
“I think it is super important to have a North Star to guide you in your venture.”
The nature of transitioning from a stable corporate job to a start-up is incredibly tumultuous. It could lead to the inclination to overwhelm yourself with the work and eventually lose the passion that fueled the inception of the project.
Puya stresses the importance of setting time boundaries around your work to prevent burnout and excessive stress. However, a strong vision and passion for humanity keep him aligned with the goals he set out to achieve, and are a huge motivator in ensuring he doesn’t participate in behavior that could potentially stunt the business.
For Abolfathi, the transition from a reliable engineering career into the entrepreneurial journey marked with true uncertainty was made easier by the motives remaining consistent in each field.
“I became an entrepreneur for the same reason I became an engineer. There is considerable overlap for me around both identities. Both are about bringing new and better solutions to the world’s problems and potentials.”
He views his work as a tool to advance society by leveling the playing field for all. It is the technology that allows people to reach their full potential and give access to abilities that most people take for granted.
Huge levels of empathy are evident in the way Abolfathi navigates his work. Despite this, it can be too easy to get caught up in the prototypes and forget about the people this product will impact most – the consumers.
Show genuine curiosity to your market…
His advice for anyone entering the field of biotechnology is to talk candidly with the hypothesized customers prior to diving into prototypes. Ask them questions regarding their real – life experience, so you can see not only where a gap in the market lies, but also how you can shape your product in a way that benefits that community the most.
Before building any tech, Kinobionic communicated with individuals living with paralysis in the USA and Australia via Zoom. Instead of telling the potential customers what they think they need, they provided a channel where people could communicate the daily challenges they face.
This is rewarding on a personal level and also accelerates progress as time isn’t wasted on ideas that have no clutch in the real world. Puya also touched on the need for an open mind, the willingness to have your initial opinions challenged, and to allow discourse to occur…
“What we found was that actually when people get that you are genuinely trying to be helpful (as opposed to selling them something), they love to tell you about their challenges, hopes and fears. Importantly, we were open to our hypotheses being proved wrong.”
Communication doesn’t have to end with the direct consumers, contact with all stakeholders is incredibly beneficial to create a well-rounded picture of where the product will have the most reach in the commercial world.
Where is KinoBionic now?
To – date KinoBionic has developed their prototypes to test with their users. The team is still small, and the focus is on technology bearing in mind the need to keep stakeholders informed.
Over the next 24 months they expect to have their first product ready for pilot trials, the regulatory framework mapped out and the IP stack secured and market validated.
Enough text, the amazing work being done can be summed up in the video below of Puya testing the exoflex with Damian:
Thank you to our contributor:
Puya Abolfathi – LinkedIn Profile Website: KinoBionic
Puya is an avid believer in making change through a ground-up approach, breaking down a problem into its fundamental atoms and revisiting ‘knowledge’ around its issues. He is the founder of KinoBionics an Australian Startup developing and commercialising wearable technologies to help people with paralysis regain control of impaired function.