Featured founder stories.

Morteza Ahmadi

CEO Qidni Labs

Morteza Ahmadi is the founder and CEO of Qidni Labs, which is developing he next generation of renal replacement therapies for three million patients with End Stage Renal Disease.(ESRD). He has a PhD in Systems Design Engineering and has won numerous awards and fellowship placements from organizations like The Kidney Foundation of Canada. Qidni Labs graduated from IndieBio’s third class and is based in San Francisco, USA and Waterloo, Canada.

Did you have any expectations coming into IndieBio?

I actually called most of the founders from the second batch and asked them all the same question. “What happened to you at IndieBio.” The main thing I was impressed with that most had raised money which was a really important learning for me. They were impressed, raised money, and happy about their decision.

Were there any other big factors in making your decision besides knowing that many teams had raised money?

We had the opportunity to get a lot of grants in Canada, but we saw how fast we could move if we came to IndieBio. I visited San Francisco to talk with the IndieBio team and see the pace of the program. After being in the environment I decided the acceleration the program offered was a lot more valuable for Qidni long term than the ability to get Canadian grants by staying back home and as a Canadian company.

So fast-forward to the start of IndieBio, did you have any idea of what it would be like?

I wasn’t really sure what to expect from the program as it kicked off. After that first week Ellie and I were wowed. We didn’t expect that amount of work and time commitment, but we loved it. It was really busy but that’s what we came for.

Did you have any startup experience before IndieBio?

Qidni was actually a company in Canada for almost two years before joining IndieBio. Like I said, it was based in Canada and just moved very differently. The pace was very different in the incubator we were based out of. It was a more bachelors focused space where many people just had ideas, and it was also a learning experience for the university that housed us. Waterloo is an established place for software companies, and they wanted to experiment with science companies. They were experimenting with the model and it mostly served us since we needed the lab space.

So how would you compare the incubator to IndieBio?

It’s not comparable really. The style and speed are very different. It’s just not as serious. That’s a university experiment and at the end of the it still has a long way to go. Most of the founders are undergrads who still need to learn the science. It works for software since you can learn to code at a really young age and you’re ready to start a software company at a pretty young age. It doesn’t work for science companies since you need a deeper fundamental understanding and training to be able to derisk the company. It comes down to founder maturity.

Did the maturity level of other founders at IndieBio impact how you interacted with other teams?

Yes, it felt a lot like grad school again. I almost felt at home again.

Why did that grad school feel matter?

I felt like I couldn’t have gotten to the point I’m at without it. The expertise I gained there was crucial for derisking our science. At IndieBio we got pushed really hard to reach our milestones faster than we initially thought possible. That let us get to the point where we could really push the business side by partnering and raising money.

Anything you might have done differently starting or throughout the program looking back on it?

On the science side I would’ve figured out our Demo Day milestone as soon as possible. That way we would have a super clear goal, and by surpassing it we would be in really good shape to raise money and know what to present at the end of the program. For example, I thought our first animal study would need eight months, but we were able to do it in four months by the time the program ended.

Anything you might have done differently starting or throughout the program looking back on it?

On the science side I would’ve figured out our Demo Day milestone as soon as possible. That way we would have a super clear goal, and by surpassing it we would be in really good shape to raise money and know what to present at the end of the program. For example, I thought our first animal study would need eight months, but we were able to do it in four months by the time the program ended.

On the business side I would have started major medical device investor conversations from day one. I also would have started conversations with every single person or group that would at some point be involved in the product we’re trying to build. Every company that’s building part of our device is a potential partner we could have engaged with right away.

If you’ve never been in this pace before how could you pick the right milestone?

For us, it was a mix of figuring things out with Ron to turn a complex problem into a simple one. We combined our experience to figure out what that one main problem we needed to solve was, what we could ignore, and what we had to focus on and drove relentlessly to get there. Once we had that big vision stated we could revisit it as needed to adjust, but it was crucial to first define the end goal.

We also got lucky due to all the visitors that come through IndieBio every day. We met someone very early on who was really helpful for us when we were working to set up our animal study. So that’s a huge reason why it’s so important to be at IndieBio as much as possible. People are coming every day and you never know who can change your life.

You mention all the visitors that came by, did you have a plan or strategy with engaging with them?

It was actually pretty easy. Everyone who came by had some level of interest in what we were doing so I just had to be clear on what we were doing, our goals, and be on my toes to see how each conversation fit into the big picture. Each pitch is fluid and dynamic so the most experience a founder has the better they’ll be able to adapt to each person they’re talking to.

Would you have changed your pitches at all looking back?

Start talking about money early in the batch. I saw a lot of derisking the tech before getting serious about fundraising which doesn’t leave a lot of time for meeting with investors. I think founders should be very serious about fundraising early and have a plan for it in the same way you do for scientific milestones.

Even though I’m ok talking about money, there’s that scientist part of me that isn’t quite comfortable with it. You need to be a businessman first when it comes to raising money.

How does you approach change between the two?

I actually don’t see much difference, just a slight shift in focus. When you focus on something it becomes clear how to get there. So with the science it’s de-risking, with the business it’s fundraising and closing. Apply that same drive with fundraising and you’ll get there.

Any final thoughts or advice for someone looking at coming to IndieBio?

Talk to people who’ve done the program. This is a once in a lifetime experience. For a scientist this is like going to Harvard, Stanford, etc for your research, but instead of a project this is about building your own company. It’s four months of hardcore startup building and unlike school there’s real money involved.

Learn More About Qidni:

www.qidni.com

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