Naji Gehchan: Hello, leaders of the world. Welcome to spread love in organizations, the podcast for purpose-driven healthcare leaders, striving to make life better around the world by leading their teams with genuine care, servant leadership, and love.
I am Naji, your host for this podcast joined today by Ashoka Madduri. Ashoka grew up in a small village in south India. After completing his undergrad and masters he obtained DAAD matching scholarship and moved to Germany. He completed his PhD in Organic Chemistry from University of Groningen, Netherlands, where he worked on anti-cancer complex natural products. He performed his post-doctoral research to understand pathways involved in multi-drug resistance in Mycobacterium tuberculosis at Harvard Medical School. Over the years he has worked in multiple biotech companies and developed expertise in business development & corporate strategy. He received his Executive MBA from MIT Sloan School of Management. Currently, he is a Blavatnik Entrepreneurial Fellow at Yale Ventures providing strategy & enabling multiple early-stage life science startups. He’s a Co-founder & CEO of TargetSite Therapeutics, a Yale spin-out, and Partner at Vestra Associates where he advises biotech companies on strategy and partnerships.
Ashoka – it is so good to have you with me today!
Ashoka Madduri: Thank you, Naji . Pleasure is all mine.
Naji Gehchan: Can you share with us, uh, first your story from growing up in a small village in India to Germany, Netherlands, US, and practically always being passionate about healthcare?
What’s, what’s in between the lines of this incredible story? Sure.
Ashoka Madduri: Uh, nai, it’s a long story. I think, uh, I will start, uh, my, uh, in a story from, uh, the s I grew up in South. We were, uh, we were a farmer’s family. My mother passed away when I was around six years old, and it was a really tough time for me and my dad.
My dad left us and, uh, remarried and left the villas. Uh, my, uh, my aunt, my dad’s, uh, sister took me in, uh, special woman who changed my life forever. Uh, so we used to, we used to form together to sustain. So we grew rice, cotton, vegetables, flowers to sell raised buffalos to salt their milk. Uh, so I couldn’t go to school full-time.
Uh, I had to work in a farm and take buffalos for grazing. Uh, so fetched, uh, drinking water from over two kilometers while, while I’m growing up, and sometimes the pot would break halfway. So, uh, so now your water is gone and your pot is gone. You can start all over. That is, that is really in a nutshell, my story when I’m growing up.
So, so basically, uh, uh, with that, uh, uh, growing up story in small villages, uh, I somehow finished, uh, uh, my childhood and my thought, uh, before I leave, I left my village right to bigger city to continue my college education. My aunt, the special woman in my life, taught me hope, optimism, and patie. That is, that is really, I took that to heart and I, wherever I go in my journey, I took it with me.
And that really helped me to, uh, you know, to be where I am and also spreading to the community I’m in, family and also industries. So, uh, I, I think, uh, uh, after I left my villages, uh, we, uh, I moved into, uh, town where I finished. My undergrad, my undergraduate, and also my master’s. So, Another religious during this time, another religious, my mom’s brother took me, uh, took me to stay with him, uh, for college.
Uh, it was totally different world in the city. I studied for Bachelor’s in science. Uh, the books were in English because, uh, in, during my villages, uh, my education was in, uh, local telegu medium. So I never exposed to studying textbooks in, uh, in English. So I had no idea what was written in them. So I purchased the same books in.
Local language and studied both books. Uh, side by side. The relative supported me temporarily. Even families can’t even make ends meet during this time. Even the small amount of Lao they showed. Done miracles in my life. So imagine if we can get even more in our families, industry and communities we are living in.
So that is something, uh, I always, uh, go back and remind myself, uh, how much, uh, smaller, uh, affection and, uh, care and love had impact in my life. So that is, that is my college’s life. Uh, uh, na you know, once I finished. Undergrad and masters in chemistry. I took, uh, my first flight to Germany, uh, by obtaining a dad matching fund scholarship.
Uh, so, uh, uh, follow following that, I finished my PhD in university, uh, CRO Netherlands, where I met, uh, uh, my wife, uh uh, my wife. Life, life law because this theme of your podcast is Lao, see Changed over my life Forever. Forever from there. And it’s a, it’s a, it’s a ki kind of big memory for me. Like during that time, I’m also discovering myself, uh, there is education part and also I’m also discovering myself, um, and found this, uh, law and, uh, spreading throughout, uh, in my college education and also meeting the communities, uh, under, under the impact it has, you know, in my, on myself and also the communities.
Uh, I’m, I’m, I’m living, I’m living at the time, so, uh, Nai, I’m sorry. I, I think, uh, I’m thinking, if you don’t mind, can you pause this? Sorry.
Uh, thank you nai, uh, that is, uh, really a, you know, uh, a heavy question because I, I see this in a couple of parts. Uh, so one is a hard work education, uh, discovering. Family, friendship, work on giving back. So I will, I will, I will, uh, touch base, uh, e each, each segment one by one. So I grew up in a small village.
We were a farmer’s family. My mother passed away when I was around six years old, and it was a really tough time for me. My dad left us and remarried, left the village. My aunt, my dad, sister took me in special. Women who changed my life forever. We used to farm together to sustain us. We grew rice, cotton, vegetables, flowers to sell, raised buffalos sold their milk, so I couldn’t go to school full-time.
I had to work in farm and take buffalos for grazing, fetch drinking water from over two kilometers, and sometimes the pot would break halfway. So now water is gone and the pot is gone. So we, uh, so we can start all over. That’s, that’s, uh, my life in a nutshell. Uh, during growing up in a small village, during this all the time, my aunt taught me hope, optimism on patience.
I took this close to my heart. Uh, I always take this, uh, wherever I go, and I always try to cultivate this, uh, hope optimism patients in communities, families and industry. Wherever I worked, I’m applying to, uh, work going. So this is, uh, my childhood. Uh, now the released by me goes to City. Somehow I finished school and, uh, another lady, my mom’s brother took me to stay with, with him for college.
It was totally different world in the city. I studied for Bachelor’s in Science. The books were in English. I had no idea what was written in them. I purchased them same books in my local language and studied both side by side. Uh, the relatives, uh, supported me temporarily. Even families can’t even make Smit during this time.
Even the small amount of Lao they showed. Done miracles in my life. Imagine if you can get even more in our families, industry and communities we are living in. This is, this is really something, uh, uh, that really reflected on my life. Uh, imagine the small amount of care and love and affection changed my whole life forever.
Imagine. We can spread this throughout the communities and families industry we are living in. And, uh, what, what are the things we can change under the impact we can have in the. So, uh, uh, after, uh, uh, finishing, uh, my undergrad, uh, in the city, I obtained a spirit of, uh, excellent scholarship and, uh, completed a master’s in chemistry.
Following that, I obtained a prestigious, uh, dad matching funds fellowship, and moved to Germany. Uh, that is, was my first flight to flying to Germany. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Uh, so following that, I finished my PhD, uh, from, uh, in west of Krogan Netherlands. Uh, I found my. My wife, I fell in Lao and that changed, uh, my life, uh, uh, forever.
Uh, as this, uh, podcast theme is Lao and that is one of the important component, um, of, uh, finding Lao not only in families, but also in communities and also the education, the place you are in. Uh, so, uh, following the, finishing my PhD, uh, I crossed the pond once again, moved to hardwood medical school to finish my postdoc.
Continued my professional journey, uh, in, uh, in, in, in the, in United States here. Work in small and medium sized biotech companies. Uh, built teams. Started as a, uh, head of r and d research and development built teams from scratch. Uh, uh, continued my, uh, professional journey into business development, corporate strategy and consulting.
While I’m doing this, I also finished, uh, my, uh, m mba, uh, from m I t. Uh, currently, I’m, uh, also working as a blaa entrepreneur fellow helping faculty. To, uh, you know, helping faculty on, on strategy help, uh, strategy to take their companies to next level. Uh, so I’m also, uh, uh, running a, a small company that’s a el startup is target side therapeutics.
It’s a small team, uh, but still in, even in a small team, the. Care, nurture, uh, em, uh, empowering people is very, very important because we are building from scratch that set the tone for our next generation of, uh, employees that are going to come into the company. So I’ll stop, uh, here. Nai, you know, uh, uh, I’m, I’m happy to continue if you have any other questions on this.
Well, thank you
Naji Gehchan: so much for sharing. It’s just such an inspiring story. Um, and thanks for sharing openly, uh, all, all you’ve done and, and your leadership and beliefs, uh, that I definitely believe like you and, uh, can you share with us? You’re learning specifically on being an immigrant, like there is more and more discussions about the immigrant mindset being an immigrant and you know, entrepreneurship, et cetera.
I’d love to, to see if your story of, you know, immigration moving those countries, uh, with the hardship that you shared, has this impacted at all your entrepreneurial journey and how you lead teams?
Ashoka Madduri: Excellent question, naia. I think, uh, totally, totally right. Uh, for me, I see entrepreneurship as, Is, uh, rewarding, but first of all is a really high, highly risk taking.
So I think, uh, coming, coming back to, uh, my personal story Rise, uh, and also, uh, it, it, it’s, uh, same story for any immigrant, right? Living their, uh, country taking risk to go to different country and new environment, new people, new language, uh, until, uh, uh, really. Kind of being com being comfortable learning that stuff, uh, and producing that is required.
Uh, you know, to sustain your life is not easy. Actually. I think that same thing you I’ll see in entrepreneurship too. It’s risk taking. It’s a lot of risk involved. Uh, so I think as immigrant, uh, I think it is, becomes a. Second nature to you to take that, uh, uh, risk and, uh, really build the companies.
Actually, I think, uh, that is the reason I see, I believe that, you know, um, uh, United States become United States just because that, uh, uh, you know, uh, risk takers like immigrants, people who come here and build this, uh, country, what it is now today. So
Naji Gehchan: you’ve been working in several biotechs and you co-founded one.
You’re running it as, as the chief exec, uh, officer. Um, and you’re also mentoring along the way, several other founders, biotech founders, life science founders. What, what is your key advice when you talk to founding teams starting life science companies?
Ashoka Madduri: I think, uh, the key advice is, uh, uh, I think of course we are in a very highly technical industry, right?
Science needs to be there for sure. I think, uh, more than science, right? I think, uh, building right team, right team is really important. Uh, I think, uh, Really, you know, last, first three or four people who are, you are really hiring, nurturing them, empowering them, and they’re the ones setting tone for your company’s growth, actually.
So I believe in really building team now, along with the, having a strong science foundation. So I think that’s where, uh, I, I, I put a lot of emphasis actually, you know, and this advice I’ll give to any entrepreneurs out there. Planning to build their company from scratch. Look for that, um, right. People actually who shares the value and to nurture the people, uh, that they work with.
Uh, that, that’s going to set the tone for the, uh, for the development of the company. So, so can you share,
Naji Gehchan: uh, with us a little bit more like those leadership skills? And how do you look at this, uh, in a founding team? Is it complimentary? Is it specific leadership skills you believe foundationally they should have?
I’d love to get your thoughts because specifically on this team, as you said, like this is the biggest piece. There’s science and team. Uh, how, how do you look through this and what are the skills and capabilities you
Ashoka Madduri: look for? I think, uh, uh, plus for sure, you know, Any, any, any team you’re building initial, right.
It’s always good to have complimentary skills. I think that is a, uh, uh, that is a given, uh, you know, uh, the, besides having complimentary skills, right. You know, I think, uh, people need to understand the vision, uh, vision of the company in, uh, in two ways. I see. One is really from technical point of view where we are.
Where we want to go in few years. And second thing is, uh, what kind of team we would like to build. So that’s where I really focus emphasis on actually whenever we are hiring, uh, new employees want to make sure that they share the same vision. For the technical side as well as for non-technical side, how to really build the teams and the company as a, uh, as a, as a, uh, as a, uh, you know, in, in small institute Right.
You know, ourself to nurture each other. So, so I think, uh, the important focus is really what values they share and, uh, uh, and, uh, whether they, they, they, they share the common vision with us to really build these teams, uh, uh, to take this.
Naji Gehchan: I love it. You mentioned a couple of times and you touched it on culture that this team is trying to build.
So there is the values, shared values, a shared purpose, uh, as, as you’re building this, especially when you’re a small team. Um, and then there is what you’re trying to build as a culture. And you said the first hires are key. Can I double click on this and ask you, what are you trying to build as a culture?
For example, if you take your, your venture now as a ceo,
Ashoka Madduri: I think, uh, culture is the key, right? Know, uh, na you know, the couple of reasons for this, right? Uh, you know, you attracting talent in this competent environment is not easy. Uh, you know, there’s plenty of options for, uh, People who are just coming out of school, uh, you know, they can choose to work in different companies, uh, in our at any time.
So keeping the talent in in-house or, that is very key actually. What it starts from is culture. It’s having the really culture actually, and the, uh, trust teacher there. And you empower each other and really having a, that, uh, caring affection love. I think that is very, very important at this stage actually.
I think, uh, money component is there. Some people really get motivated by money, but I think a lot of times I’ve seen is actually having that culture, care and empowerment and love, I think, uh, keeps the people together for longer time. I think that’s, that’s what, uh, for me, culture means. Actually. I think people who share these values and believe this is.
Way to go forward. That’s, I think, for me, the culture actually. I think, uh, this starts from first few people actually that you are in, in our company that is, I believe this is like, uh, uh, what’s your cycle? If you have three people and the share same values and you keep moving actually with the, with the team you build going forward.
Naji Gehchan: So this, this is, this is very powerful and obviously I’m, I’m biased. I’d love to know how you do it in a, you know, in a small team to show this. Because culture, you can, you can say, I want this, but obviously it’s the perception of what’s going day by day that is making it lived or not. So I, I’m intrigued, especially in a space where, You’re fundraising.
It’s tough. Science is tough, and it humbles us every day in drug development and discovery. You’re talking with VCs constantly, and then you’re coming with like, I have science and I have a team, and I have love and passion. I would love to know how you’re.
Ashoka Madduri: So I think, uh, there’s no magic bullet. Uh, na you know, I think everyone knows, you know, fundraising is hard, uh, and also, uh, being a c for a startup company, right?
It, it is also highly risky job. It’s not fun too. You know, there is a lot of things can go wrong. We are, we’re trying to get the data that required to raise the funding. You may not even get it actually. So I think, uh, the one way I’m keeping, uh, all the things together, uh, I’m also learning from each other, right?
Not only me actually also looking to my early employees point of view, what they see. What the issues we’re facing actually. So learn from each other actually, and also at the same time, right. Understand being a good listener, actually. So I think a lot of, uh, uh, times I see in, uh, early CEOs, right? You know, they do have some kind of idea how to run the company, but I think they’ve, uh, failed to listen to the.
The early stage employees actually who are key instrument of the company. I think listening, I think this is very, very important actually. That really solves majority of the issues, uh, that early stage companies are facing. So that’s something I cultivated. Uh, na or listen to your employees and, uh, and uh, and see what they’re saying, uh, and act according to that.
That, that going to solve really a lot of issues. So I think that’s something, uh, you know, like cultivated in our company. And also second thing is, uh, having that bigger vision, actually, yes, you do have upside downs. Maybe things won’t work out the way you want. Uh, maybe even raising capital takes more than time required data you are looking for.
It may not get actually, but I think, uh, having that bigger vision, right, that belongingness like, okay, we are here for each. We can support each other, we can get through this. Actually having that kind of mindset, you can, you know, that can sustain you for a longer time. So certainly, and
Naji Gehchan: you mentioned a key, a key point, which is belonging.
Uh, and, and I think focusing on this can solve a lot of issues on retention, feeling part of something bigger as you already shared, be before. Uh, if, if I ask you a question more, Technical practically. Now, you’ve, you’ve been helping so many biotechs and you’ve been on the edge of new technology. I’d love to get your thoughts on how’s the biotech environment in 2023, since we’re the first couple of months of the year, and what’s your take on it moving forward for this year and
Ashoka Madduri: next one?
I think a, for sure, right. You know, public markets, as you can see, uh, uh, is, is brutal right? Environment. So I think. Just because there have been plenty of money already being raised in Covid time. That disruption happened during Covid, so so. So basically a covid taught us so many things, right? You know, especially biotech, a pharma industry, even though as much as they allow, it’s still a conservative industry compared to other, other, other, uh, industries.
We have a lot of regulatory environment here. We need to follow certain rules and regulations, you know, to really keep this industry moving. So I think, uh, uh, coming, but again, I’m really optimistic actually. So I think it’s kind of, uh, I believe in, uh, Uh, blessings, uh, uh, in disguise. Disguise, sorry. Uh, disguise in blessings is, uh, sorry.
Nazi. Uh, can, can I pause here? You, if you don’t mind. Can I take that question again?
Naji Gehchan: Yeah. Do you, do you want me to say it again?
No, no, no worries. Drink
Ashoka Madduri: water. Yeah, maybe I can start the question maybe again. Okay. Yeah, yeah. Sure.
I can, I, I know the question actually, so,
Naji Gehchan: okay. So gimme just two seconds for us to be able to edit it. Yeah. So we Pause two seconds and then you can start again. Okay.
Ashoka Madduri: Yeah.
Got it. So I think, uh, that’s a great question. Uh, NAZA, you know, Covid, uh, really disrupted biotech industry a lot. Uh, I think, uh, in 2023, uh, we, we is still seen a lot of headwinds in, uh, in, especially in public markets and also some in, uh, private markets. But I’m really optimistic in, uh, uh, uh, the lessons we learned from, uh, COVID, right?
How to be flexible. You know, how to be resilience. I think that, that these are the lessons actually very, very important for biotech industry. How, how we can be more flexible and resilient in this changing environments. So I think the hybrid culture is really going to stay for a longer time. Uh, there is something, uh, you know, industry.
Never thought is is going to happen. I think this two years kind of, uh, accelerated almost like 10 years of a life, uh, lifetime in biotech industry. So, uh, I think keeping this in mind, right, hybrid environment and also technological, uh, uh, uh, uh, uh, evolutions that happening, especially in gene cell therapy and also mRNA, uh, the industry is, uh, good to do, uh, more things, uh, that, that.
Kind of can’t imagine actually 10 years ago. So that I’m, I’m really optimistic for this industry and, uh, I’m, I’m, I’m, I’m going to play one of the small company c e o key role going forward actually to really bring a transformation therapies actually that much more safe and focus for patients. That’s
Naji Gehchan: And we, we, we need so much of all the innovation we are all working on, uh, patients actually cannot and should not wait. So it’s, um, thanks for all you’re doing with, with your new adventure and also advising all the other biotechs too. I would give you now a word and I would love your reaction to it. I’m, I’m sure you were ready for this section.
Sure. So the first, the first one is leader.
Ashoka Madduri: So for me, leadership is, uh, all empowerment. You know, uh, expand on that, you know, especially after Covid, people gone through so many transformations, being hybrid, uh, I think empowering, empowering is, uh, is kind of undervalued actually. So I think I really touch base on, uh, you know, any leaders out. Empower people around you.
I think even the small change, the small, uh, you know, feedback, the positive feedback that you, that you give to the person, that changes the life, that per of the person tremendously. So I think for me, empowerment, leadership is always empowerment. What about health equity equally? Health for all. That, that is, that’s what comes to my.
But, uh, is it really truly happening, uh, in our, the country we are living in? It’s still far away. Hopefully as a leaders, we collectively find the answers to make that, uh, e equal to all happen soon. The third one is
Naji Gehchan: fireside shots.
Ashoka Madduri: It’s scary. So, uh, but I think, uh, It’s scary. Uh, but if, if you, if you take that, uh, you know, moment to think about it, what kind of impact it can have, the organically sharing your story and genuine to and truthful to who you are, I think, uh, that can change your, and also that can change a lot of people life actually.
And I have a, in a positive way, having greater impact. Uh, it, I totally support, uh, five set charts in. There is something, you know, you won’t really see that you see normally, uh, you know, in other stories. So, uh, highly, highly recommend that you know any, any entrepreneurs, leaders, how do themself and also ask other people to do this.
Actually, that’s the only way we can, we can build a strong community.
Naji Gehchan: Just as a background for our listeners, the fireside chats are actually moments where we share our stories and we, we, I, I had the opportunity to be in the same program as, as you Ashoka, this, it’s really those moments where you have the opportunity to share your story and tell it.
Um, and it’s definitely. Powerful moments as you did today, sharing your personal story with, uh, with all of us here. Uh, the last one is spread love in organizations.
Ashoka Madduri: So it’s a, it’s, it’s a continuous, right? It’s a journey. So I think, uh, as someone said, life is a journey, not as a, not a destination. I totally believe save.
Same is true for Lao. Love is a journey, not a Destin. The reason I say this is, you know, you can even in a family’s right? You know, he found Lao, he got married. That is not enough. Same thing I see in industry and communities. Once he found Lao, you need to not share, uh, Look at the, look at the issues that you are saw, uh, going to stop, solve and facing every day and find solutions.
Actually, I think, uh, I feel this law is a journey. It’s not a destination and we should keep, uh, uh, cultivating this culture throughout our career, not only industry, also in family, and also in communities we are living in. And we’re
Naji Gehchan: trying here to do our part, bringing incredible leaders like you who believe in this.
And hopefully we can keep growing this, uh, this journey together to, to lead from a place of love for us to be able to execute and deliver for the patients we serve. And all the stakeholders. Any final word of wisdom for healthcare leaders around the world?
Ashoka Madduri: Empower people. Uh, empowering people is, uh, one of the thing, uh, I take, take very close to, uh, my heart, uh, uh, na, you know, uh, and what you are doing, uh, through your podcast, uh, you know, spreading Lao, I, uh, I love the theme. And this is, this something, uh, hope many people, many leaders will spread the law and empower, empower their people and, uh, empower their people.
Uh, this is, uh, this is, uh, you know, this is the way we can build a stronger communities and we can have a greater impact, uh, on society as a whole. So. Well, thank you so
Naji Gehchan: much, uh, Ashoka for being with me today and for this incredible chat.
Ashoka Madduri: Thank you, Naji. what you’re doing is great, and, hopefully, you continue doing this and spread love across the world.
Naji Gehchan: Thank you all for listening to spread love and organization’s podcast. Drop us a review on your preferred podcast platform
Follow us on LinkedIn and connect with us on spreadloveio.com. We’re eager to hear your thoughts and feedback. Most importantly, spread love in your organizations and spread the word around you to inspire others and amplify this movement, our world so desperately needs.