Dr Pahini Pandya is the CEO and co-founder of Panakeia Technologies. She obtained her PhD in Cancer Biophysics at King’s College London, continued postdoctoral studies at Cambridge, and is also educated at Stanford and Cambridge business schools. Additionally, Pahini is a member of the Global Shapers Community, an initiative devised by the World Economic Forum.
Dr Pandya spent a decade in academia researching cancer biomarkers. With great understanding of the science, and following her own cancer scare for which she waited over a month for results, Pahini sought to build her own company to speed up the diagnostic process. From this, in 2018, Panakeia Technologies was founded. The company has built an instrument-free biomarker profiling platform, which uses diagnostic software which no longer requires lab tests to be conducted – ultimately accelerating the diagnosis and access to treatment at a much lower cost.
When starting the company, Pahini joined the Entrepreneur First programme, where she met her co-founder, Pandu Raharja-Liu. For those unfamiliar with Entrepreneur First, it is an eight week programme which exists to help connect business partners. Pahini explains, it is like speed-dating for business, during which you work with different people to identify problems and solutions. If successful in finding a co-founder and identifying a market, the programme runs for another four weeks during which the business is developed in order to gain market validation and traction. From there, the entrepreneurs build their pitch and have the opportunity to gain early seed funding.
For Pahini, this experience was intense, but vital for understanding the market and building relationships. She further emphasises the importance of finding a business partner who is at the right stage and with the right mindset, particularly as this will be someone you see everyday for many years. This should be someone who can be a friend, one with whom you can be honest and respectful and also negotiate with when differences arise. Furthermore, with Panakeia’s co-founder, Pandu, his expertise were complementary and combined, the partners formed the critical skill set required to establish the company.
When building the company, Pahini discusses, it can be difficult to form a company culture and work ethic. Partly, the company needed to grow quickly, but on the other hand, it was a challenge to hire too rapidly, particularly when a team already works well together. It can be difficult to bring in other networks and assess how well someone will integrate into the work environment. Pahini overcame this by analysing ‘the five pillars of excellence’ in what someone would bring into the company, but also with inclusion: how well people from different backgrounds and with different mindsets and skills could involve themselves into a team. Additionally, Pahini sought for employees who were customer orientated and stake-holder focused, as well as those who understood the requirements of patients – as all these people are crucial to the business.
A major challenge faced by Pahini was communicating the complex product to investors who did not understand the industry or the challenges faced by a company in such a market. In order to overcome this, she learned to communicate in as simple a manner as possible and found the value in questions posed at pitches. Additionally, she advises: don’t hesitate when you need advice, ask for help! The worst that can happen is a no, but not asking is a no by default. Also, don’t be afraid to try out new things – skills are built and initiatives grow over time, but if you have an idea it’s work giving it a go and seeing if you can build a career as an entrepreneur. The speed at which the field is growing is extraordinary, and whilst investment bias is towards AI, and certain challenges are amplified in biotech (such as the ethical limitations in cancer research), if you can be mindful of this, new technologies can be adopted quickly to deliver diagnostics. Pahini remarks on her surprise about how many of her academic skills are transferred into business – scientific communication, project management, long term planning – all the while making a difference in people’s lives. Her conclusion: ‘the future is today – go for it!’