Matt Ellen, Cyan Collier and Anant Jani are the cofounders of Project Tide, a smartphone app that improves the accuracy and impact of healthcare rapid diagnostic tests. The app is designed to assist healthcare workers in resource-poor settings, and the team are focussing on tuberculosis (TB) diagnosis to start.
Q: What is your background? Why are you doing this?
ME: At University I spent time learning about the human vision system and computational modelling. The early part of my career was spent programming in financial services and then I moved into scientific computing. In the end though I wanted to feel like I was making a difference, so I left the security of a salary and started Lateral Imaging with Cyan and Anant.
CC: Around 10 years ago, I co-founded a digital agency, now I’m solving specific healthcare-related problems using digital technology. I’m doing it because I can’t imagine doing anything else.
AJ: I am a molecular immunologist by training and currently work on the design and implementation of high value healthcare systems that focus on patient outcomes. I am working on Project Tide because there is such huge need and demand for healthcare in resource poor settings and want to help in any way I can to help bridge the gap and ensure patients in these settings get the best care and outcomes possible.
Q: What is your definition of entrepreneurship?
ME: To me entrepreneurship is starting a business you have a passion for.
CC: Entrepreneurship means lots of things, but for me it’s about successfully blending creativity with pragmatism. Brazenly challenging an accepted way of doing something, then finding a realistic way of doing it better.
AJ: Entrepreneurship is the embodiment of creativity and the drive to address problems that have not yet been solved.
Q: What made you decide to become an entrepreneur?
ME: I don't think of myself as an entrepreneur. I am someone who likes to make things work. I saw an opportunity to make something important work and I took it.
CC: I never consciously decided to become an entrepreneur, it just happened to be the best way for me to get things done. Thinking like an entrepreneur can be a problem when you’re working for someone else, so there comes a point when you’ve got to go it alone and find a way to make your ideas become reality. That point came quite early for me.
AJ: One of the biggest factors was Jim Collins’ principle of first who then what. We had the right people in our team and had the right set of skills to tackle the problem of a lack of diagnostic solutions in resource poor settings. Combined with this is a long-standing desire to make an impact and help those who have less access to effective healthcare.
Q: So what would you say are the top 3 skills that needed to be a successful entrepreneur? Why?
ME: Networking – you have to know the right people to get your product out into the world. Field Knowledge – To know the right people you need a good knowledge of your chosen field. Stamina – Giving up will kill your product.
CC: Creativity - building something that doesn’t exist yet, takes vision. Self-belief - most people don’t think it’s possible to do what you’re doing - that’s why they’re not doing it, and you are! Endurance - you can’t give up on the last mile of the marathon, even if you don’t know it’s the last mile at the time.
AJ: Hard work; being organised; never giving up.
Q: What is your favourite part of being an entrepreneur?
ME: Being my own boss.
CC: My favourite part of being an entrepreneur is the feeling of anticipation for what can be achieved. In most jobs, you know what the limits are, as an entrepreneur there are no limits. Of course, anticipation also breeds uncertainty - so it’s not for everyone.
AJ: The uncertainty. It can be frustrating at times but it is the driver that makes us work hard to find a solution to the problems that come up. It also gives us hope because we won’t know how far we can go unless we try.
Q: What individual, company or organization inspires you most? Why?
ME: Stack Exchange. They have created a community where everyone is always giving back.
CC: I like simple ideas that have a big impact. Eben Upton built the Raspberry Pi and challenged not just an existing business model for low-cost computing, but also challenged the idea that education should be about teaching people to use computers rather than encouraging them to create new things with them.
AJ: Jonas Salk. He developed the polio vaccine and campaigned to spread its use because it was the right thing to do; he gained no personal profit from it at all. This is the ideal I strive to reach.
Q: If you could have 5 minutes with the above indiv/company/org, what would you want to ask or discuss?
ME: I would ask to see all their research into game theory.
CC: I have actually very briefly met Eben Upton, but I didn’t have time to ask him about how much (if any) of his original vision had to be sacrificed to pragmatism during the process of realising it.
AJ: I would want to discuss his life and the struggles he faced and how he overcame them.
Q: What has been your most satisfying or successful moment in business?
ME: When I could confidently say Project Tide works.
CC: Behind every great success are many failures and obstacles that have to be overcome. The moment you’re satisfied is the moment you stop trying to be better.
AJ: Getting a working prototype ready for field testing!
Q: What would you say have been some of your mistakes, failures or lessons learned as an entrepreneur?
ME: One lesson I have learned is that to get to a minimum viable product you have to minimise the variables. Our app was susceptible to hand wobble and light levels. We have removed those problems physically, so the software is simpler. It's also important to make sure you are gaining more than you lose when you accept investment
CC: Dealing with failure is an essential skill for an entrepreneur. There will be many failures, the main thing I’ve learned is to regard each one as a success in establishing what doesn’t work.
AJ: A big mistake when starting out is trying to do too much. It is so important to stay focused because if you are not focused you will get nowhere. Good ideas are a dime a dozen but converting those good ideas into things that you can implement takes a lot of hard work and focus.
Q: What is good about being an entrepreneur in Oxfordshire? Bad?
ME: I don't have a lot of experience in Oxfordshire as a whole but in Oxford networking events happen almost daily. You are bound to be able to find people interested and able to help. There is 24/7 access to London, too. The downside of Oxford is the cost of living compared with how much you can earn. Housing prices are too high.
CC: Good: Oxford is has a large amount of talent concentrated into tiny area. It’s like an efficient talent-mixing machine. Bad: Housing. Imagine how much more our talented young people could achieve if they weren’t so heavily burdened by having to pay so much to buy or rent a non-productive asset.
AJ: Good – the phenomenal brain power available in Oxfordshire! The creative and dedicated individuals. The range of skills and backgrounds one can find. Bad – Lack of more incubator space and local funding.
Q: If a new entrepreneur or startup came to you looking for entrepreneurship information or resources in Oxfordshire, where would you send them?
ME: Meetup.com to find meetups relevant to their field.
CC: Get networking - look for start up meet-ups in your area, check out places like Oxford Launchpad, then focus in on your business area - that’s where you’ll find the best resources.
AJ: Enterprising Oxford; Digital Health Oxford
Q: Any last words of advice?
ME: Always have a plan B.
CC: Stay humble, and remember you can’t do this alone. I’ve never met a successful hubristic or antisocial entrepreneur.
AJ: Being an entrepreneur is not easy regardless of what location you are in. That said, it can be one of the most exciting and enriching experiences you will have – just keep pushing and try to find a way to make your passion a success!