By: Zach Gihorski
I have the great honor of introducing you to Olivier Noel, our April 2019 Entrepreneur of the Month. Olivier is an inspiring individual. In 2017, he was named as a Forbes 30under30 in science, and he is a co-founder of DNAsimple. DNASimple drew nation-wide attention from Olivier’s appearance on the popular entrepreneurship tv show Shark Tank, where his company received a $200,000 investment from, Dallas Maverick’s owner, billionaire Mark Cuban. DNAsimple’s business concept is — quite simply — a match making service between medical researchers and potential research participants. The company creates this relationship by paying willing participants $50 to spit in a test tube and be included in a database that medical researchers can use as a resource.
While the company part of Olivier’s life is quite compelling, it only adds to his academic accomplishments. Olivier is currently completing the clinical rotations portion of his Medical Degree (MD) program at Penn State’s College of Medicine. Prior to seeking his MD, Olivier received a B.S. in Chemistry, focusing on Biochemistry, from Queens College in New York. Olivier subsequently earned his Ph.D in Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics from Penn State University.
A question that is often heard floating around the halls of institutions of higher learning is, “where is the optimal intersection between academic theory and practical industry skills?” I believe the answer to that question is sitting across the table from me wearing his lab coat and a smile. We were fortunate to join Olivier for a conversation at the Center for Medical Innovation in Hershey, Pennsylvania.
The Entrepreneurial Mind: Plan. Lead. Innovate.
“Going forward, I anticipate balancing medical school, seeing patients, research and science, and also the innovation – bringing it all together.”
Olivier expressed that he has faced obstacles along his life’s journey. Born and raised in Haiti, he moved to the U.S. after completing high school. Olivier explained that during his college education in New York he faced financial challenges and worked a mix of retail and tutoring positions, a total of 5 jobs at one point.
Later, Olivier was faced with the extensive challenge of launching a cutting-edge biotech business (DNASimple) during his Ph.D. program. Olivier said that learning how to balance all of the responsibilities of running a business and attending school was quite an obstacle, but one he has overcome. Having a great team around him has helped.
Hear a little more about the obstacles Olivier has faced.
two elements of success
“Great planning and great discipline”
Most entrepreneurs understand the value of planning and hard work. But Olivier explained it is an important part of problem solving to have a plan A, B, C, D, etc. not because you are planning to fail, but to force yourself to see there are multiple avenues to achieving your goal.
Olivier also believes it takes great discipline to stick with those plans and achieve success. The ability to persist through the setbacks, and keep your ultimate goal in focus is key.
Hear more from Olivier about his take on habits for success by clicking here.
Perspective – Young Entrepreneurs
“It is a difficult path … It takes a lot of perseverance, it takes a lot of determination, it takes a lot of will … I like to say there are a lot of good days and bad months.”
Often, young entrepreneurs are told that if they have a “great” idea they should pursue it. Olivier adopts a more traditional approach to guiding young entrepreneurs: he feels it important to first find a problem in need of a solution and then reverse engineer the business steps.
To hear more advice from Olivier on being a young entrepreneur click here.
Balancing School and Business
“You just can’t simply hope that you can do it, and balance it, and make it work.”
Throughout the conversation Olivier touched on the topic of balancing school and entrepreneurship. When asked to expand on his experience of balancing the two, he smiled and suggested he is not recommending it for everyone. However, if you are going to do it, you must have more than just hope, you need to have a plan. It is important to visualize what it would look like in a perfect world and be honest with yourself when determining if it would be possible to manage.
Olivier finds it important to look at your level of performance in both school and business and to be critical in evaluating whether you are reaching the level of performances you expect of yourself. That is, you must be honest with yourself about how much help you need from your business team members and support system.
If you want to hear Olivier talk more about the keys to managing school and running a company click here.
Advice for Law Students
“I think the relationship is fundamental and establishing trust early-on will go a long way.”
The relationship between a lawyer and business owner is one that receives a lot of attention in law school. However, it was refreshing to hear from the entrepreneur’s point of view. Olivier first spoke to the critical importance of establishing trust. From that trust, the entrepreneur can treat their lawyer like a co-founder or partner – as a critical member of the business’s management team. Olivier also spoke to the value of using the lawyer proactively in a full-spectrum of business decisions as well as the importance of keeping the lawyer apprised of future innovative ideas.
Listen to more of Olivier’s thoughts on the relationship between the lawyer and the business owner here.
“When people think of mentors they often think of a one all-purpose mentor, but I think in reality it does not always happen like that.”
What are Olivier’s feelings on mentorship? It is a crucial part of his story. He believes it is important to have different mentors for different areas of your life; taking the approach of creating a personal, trusted board of directors to provide mentorship. Olivier has mentors from college, graduate school, the business industry, and the science field, all who play a regular part in his personal and professional development.
Olivier’s humility was evident throughout our conversation. He explained how grateful he is to have an incredibly talented team helping him, one of them being his former fellow graduate student Joel Coble. Olivier expressed how he enjoys letting smart and talented teammates do what they do best without needing his constant oversight.
If you want to hear more on Olivier’s take on the value of mentorship click here.
“Dreams from My Father, by Barack Obama”
Many law students, like myself, have an innate love for learning and reading non-legal works. When asked to share some of his favorites books, Olivier replied that he is a big fan of audiobooks and Tedtalks. However, he loves autobiographies, particularity autobiographies of U.S. Presidents, explaining that President Obama’s 2004 novel, Dreams from My Father, was especially inspiring to him.
“The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”
Before the conversation concluded, Olivier and I shared some of our favorite authors and quotes. Ultimately, he left us with a great piece of advice he believes is important in life and in business by quoting the famous leadership author Stephen Covey (see quote above).
Want to learn more about Olivier’s future projects?
In addition to all the impressive endeavors outlined in this post, Olivier is committed to helping fellow medical innovators. He is preparing to launch his Bench to Bedside to Business Pipeline this coming fall, a database designed to connect like-minded medical innovators and allow them to share ideas. Olivier’s new business will also potentially allow companies interested in investing to invest in projects in the Pipeline. To hear Olivier, discuss the Bench to Bedside to Business Pipeline click here. (Olivier’s presentation starts at video time 6:30)
Videos containing Olivier Noel’s powerful insights can be view by clicking the links throughout the article.
If you would like to get in contact with Olivier – please reach out through his personal webpage.
Olivier’s Social Media Contact Information
Zach is a second year law student at the Dickinson School of Law, where he is an active student leader. He is actively cultivating relationships with outside resources to give opportunities to his classmates. He is passionate about using his experiences in both the private and public sector to find innovative solutions for the world’s agricultural, energy, and environmental needs. Look for the other blog posts that Zach has written for this blog.
Photo source: http://www.teenpodcast.com/balance/