At the TEDMED Conference in Palm Springs, CA I had the chance to interview people from interesting startups. These brief interviews will appear in the coming months interspersed with our regular episodes.
Chee-Yeun Chung, a neuroscientist from Korea, was captivated by the idea that cures for neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and ALS, could be found by doing experiments on yeast cells. Conventional approaches to neurodegenerative diseases had proved problematic. However, an MIT professor, the late Dr. Susan Lindquist, saw a remarkable connection between yeast cells and the human neuron that could offer a solution. This evolutionary conservation, the scientific name for the unlikely connection, might lead to a platform for finding human cures. The promise of quickly evaluating compounds on simple yeast cells opened up the possibility of testing large numbers of potential treatments. Such massive experimentation could not be done with the much more complex human neuron. Chee was thus inspired to become a scientific co-founder of Yumanity Therapeutics, the corporate embodiment of Dr. Lindquist’s passionate vision.
With $47 million is Series A money, Yumanity has developed ultra-high throughput methods for testing the ability of large numbers of compounds to improve the functioning of yeast cells purposely afflicted with a certain defect. The defect, protein misfolding, is implicated as a cause of neurodegenerative diseases. Compounds found promising in treating yeast cells are then evaluated in human neurons in which protein misfolding is present. Yumanity has also developed methods to figure out the mechanism of action of these compounds based on yeast genetics and protein network analyses.
The result has been the discovery of promising compounds that might become cures. Yumanity believes that its progress over the past two years will justify a Series B raise. The new money is expected to take the existing compounds to clinical trials.
For more details see annotated transcript at: [link to episode page to be added here]
Topics covered include:
Ty Danco is an outlier in a population of outliers. His interests are varied and pursued passionately. He’s founded two fintech companies, he’s invested in a gazillion startups and he’s been a hugely generous advisor to companies, in fact the chief advisor at Techstars. Oh, I forgot to mention he’s an Olympian and also deeply involved with crypto-currencies. In this really meaty interview, Ty and I covered a wide range of topics. He explained his ideas in his affably quirky way. This was a super fun conversation.
"Danco, why are you here? You're a marketing guy." And I said that I was here to see Lever Brothers and he goes, "You idiot, you signed up for Lehman Brothers."
“So, I took a leave of absence from school, and Wharton let me make up my remaining credits over the summer, and so I tried doing all three things at the same time. It was a success on paper, I did make the 84 [Olympic] team, I did complete the MBA, I did work at Lehman Brothers, but in truth I was overwhelmed, I did everything badly.
I ended up breaking my heel and didn't compete in Sarajevo. I learned nothing in my last classes at school and I was just lost and floundering my first year on Wall Street. So, there's a pretty obvious lesson there about the need to focus and my inability to multi-task. That's maybe why they say focus on one metric that matters, don't try to do five balls in the air at once.”
Topics covered include:
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While in prep school Matt Singer performed at a religious ceremony and became fascinated with the impact his music had on the congregants. This fascination led Matt Singer to major in music at Yale, where he graduated Summa Cum Laude, and to think of how to make a life in music. Matt hit the streets soon after graduating to start his music business. For ten years he built Dawn Treader Production with marquee names such as Paul McCartney, James Earl Jones and the New York Philharmonic. Relying on the emotional connection possible on TV, he sold the CDs he produced by the tens of thousands on QVC. In 2007 he joined co-founder Amanda Eilian, in starting a company that is now changing the way large enterprises communicate with their customers and employees via video. Videolicious makes it easy for employees to produce polished videos personalized to particular clients that make emotional connections. The platform is now used by 4,000,000 users in 100 countries, it’s even taught at 90 schools of journalism. Backed by Amazon and VC money, this startup is poised for continued growth.
This is the story of someone who followed what seems to be an impractical passion but managed to create something that is useful to large numbers of paying customers. Listen to this candid and introspective conversation with a young man who thinks deeply but acts practically. In particular, I liked what he had to say about how founders can prepare their psyche for the arduous journey of building their startup: “It turns out that anything that you accomplish in life actually brings a crush of responsibility, so you really just have to enjoy the journey because there is no magic carpet ride of happiness that comes with any accomplishment.”
Here are the topics covered and some quotes: