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创业20次,专利数百项:一位发明家的创业故事

Dinah Eng 2019年10月09日

1998年,米尔·伊姆兰投资了81家网站,只有3家成功,其中一家叫谷歌。

图为Rani Therapeutics公司创始人米尔·伊姆兰在该公司位于圣荷塞的实验室中。图片来源:Photograph by Winni Wintermeyer for Fortune

做生意对我来说是一件自然而然的事。我出生在印度的海得拉巴,从八九岁的时候起,我就开始自己制作玩具,卖给我的同学们。我很早就充满了创业的热情。9年级时,我已经开始制作装在火柴盒里的收音机,并在学校里卖了。

在我小时候,印度的腐败现象很严重。在学校里,一个来自于富裕家庭的孩子可以通过贿赂老师来获得更好的成绩。15岁那年,我决定离开印度,于是我向美国和加拿大的几所大学递交了申请。一直到我被录取之前,我父母都不知道这件事。

等到我被录取之后,我便向我父亲要钱。他想说服我在印度念大学,不过我对他说:“如果你不给我钱,我就自己想办法。”于是他向朋友借了4000美元,虽然当时在印度,借钱是一件很为难的事。我拿着这笔钱去了纽约。在那个还没有互联网的年代,赴美留学是一件很令人兴奋的事。当时我才17岁半,后来我进入了罗格斯大学就读。

那个时候,大学每学期的学费只有200美元,而且没有学时的限制。所以我把电气工程学学位的所有课程都安排在了头两年里。我那时住在一个由衣帽间改造的小屋里——这间屋子是我以每月20美元的租金从另一个学生那里转租来的。而且那时我没有任何社交生活。

1975年,我对单片机产生了兴趣。我创办了自己的第一家公司,主要生产家庭安全系统,然后利用周末时间销售和安装。一切成本都靠刷信用卡。后来我赚了一些钱,但是一边上全日制大学,一边开公司,还是行不通的。于是我把这家公司关掉了。

有一年,我看到新泽西州北部的一所学校招暑期工,工作内容是为脑瘫患儿提供服务。我和一个四肢瘫痪的7岁小女孩珍妮相处了一段时间,我还发明了一种设备,让她可以用脖子上的肌肉与人交流。这次经历也激发了我对生物工程的兴趣。

后来我拿到了研究生院的奖学金。我每月可以拿500美元的津贴,我从来没有觉得自己如此富有过。于是我把这笔钱省下来,寄给了我父亲。

在研究生快毕业的时候,我创办了第二家公司。这是一家证券公司,但是当时我并不知道该融资多少钱,上哪去融资,也不知道商业计划书是什么东西,于是这次创业失败了。我的创业生涯始于两次失败。

当时,有一位教授坚持劝我上医学院。学医也是一次很好的经历,它让我明白了疾病的原理,以及人类管理和治疗疾病的手段有多么匮乏。不过作为一名工程师,我只想知道事物的运行道理,而并不想以行医为生。

后来,有一位心脏病学家(米歇尔·米罗斯基)邀请我到匹兹堡跟他一起工作。他想制造一种植入式的心电复率器和除颤器。他原本以为花10万块钱就能造出这个设备,结果它最终花费了2700万美元,花了6年才研发完成。筹集资金和向美国食品与药品管理局报批的过程也让我学会了很多东西。再后来,我又开发了第二代设备,并且获得了美国食品与药品管理局的批准。美国的礼来制药(Eli Lilly)是这个设备的投资方,并且最终收购了这家公司。于是1985年我去了加利福尼亚。

当时的房地产经纪人都有一个黄铜锁盒,里面有一把万能钥匙。不少小偷都想偷这把万能钥匙,好用它来行窃。当年我卖房子的时候,我的房子就这样被偷了。于是我想,我必须解决这个问题。20世纪80年代末,我创办了一家公司,发明了一种电子锁盒,可以追踪每一位进入房子的房地产经纪人,并且记录日期和时间。它现在已经成了一种行业标准。后来我把这家公司卖给了Supra公司。

最早的时候,对我来说,挑战最大的事是理解商业规律和融资。我那时很不擅于拉投资。我有一种致命的恐惧,害怕公司一旦倒闭,我就再也不能抛头露面了。

我在科学技术方面很有天赋,但投资者都认为我是一名技术人员,而不是一名商人。很多科学家一进入商业,就不再埋首于实验室。但我在发展业务的同时,也在不断开发新产品。

那时,我的计划是为我发明的每一种医疗设备都创办一家生命科学公司。通常情况下,大型的医疗公司都会寻找新的疾病治疗方法,他们也很想拥有这些技术,所以他们就会找来,提出收购邀约。我甚至将三家公司挂牌上市了——但它们最终还是被收购了。

我创办公司的速度大概是一年一家,因为我想解决的问题太多了。我通常会聘请一名CEO,做一些工作,组建一个团队,然后再开一家公司。

1998年,我和几个朋友创办了一家名叫“亚当风投”(Adam Ventures)的公司。我们给81家网站和37家生物科技公司投了一些小钱。其中很多生物科技公司表现得都很不错,但是在那81家网站中,有78家扑街了,只有三家赚了钱,其中一家就是谷歌。

我创办的Rani Therapeutics公司关注的是如何解决蛋白质药物口服给药的问题。我们想把胰岛素和另一种糖尿病药物变成口服药。这将提高患者的用药配合度,达到更好的治疗效果,同时患者也不需要每天给自己打针了。

蛋白质类药物可以治疗多种硬化症、克隆氏病以及很多慢性疾病,所以说,我们的研究可能会对三四十种疾病的治疗产生革命性的影响。目前,我们已经从谷歌和诺华等投资者那里拉到了1.4亿美元融资,目前我们正在澳大利亚开展临床试验。

我很早就意识到,每一家公司可能需要6到8年才能取得临床上的成功。如果我解决了一个问题,再去解决另外一个,那么有生之年我最多才能解决5个问题。所以我决定同时研究多个问题。在任何时候,我都有6到8家处于不同研发阶段的公司。我可能永远都不会退休,因为我总是会有6到8个还没完成的生意。我希望有人能在我死后接手并且完成它们。

我一直在扩展我的知识边界。那个年轻人已经不见了,取而代之的是一个秃顶老头,但现在的我比以往任何时候都努力。我还保持着跟年轻时一样的好奇心和激情,除非身体条件不允许,否则我希望未来几年能继续保持高产。

我的最佳建议

米尔·伊姆兰,Rani Therapeutics公司创始人

选择正确的问题

在我看来,创新就是发现一个值得解决的问题,然后提出解决方案,在这个过程中,不要考虑你学过的东西。因为这个解决方案应该具有巨大的影响,而不是渐进式的改进。要选择正确的问题,就要考虑当前的解决方案、市场潜力、知识产权前景、成本的偿还潜力以及其他因素。

伊姆兰大事记

——创办了22家生命科学公司。

——发布了364项专利,另外还有343项专利正在申请中。

——投资了100多家医疗公司。

 

本文另一版本登载于《财富》杂志2019年10月刊,标题为《发明大师》。

 

译者:朴成奎

Doing business came naturally to me. I was born in Hyderabad, India, and started building toys and selling them to my classmates when I was 8 or 9. I was infected by the entrepreneurial bug. By ninth grade, I was building radios in matchboxes that I sold at school.

When I was growing up, there was a lot of corruption in India. At school, a kid from a wealthy family could bribe a teacher for a better grade. When I turned 15, I decided to leave India and sent applications to U.S. and Canadian universities. My parents didn’t know anything until I started getting acceptances.

When the time came, I asked my dad for money. He tried to persuade me to study in India, but I said, “If you don’t give me the money, I’ll figure out a way to do it.” So he borrowed $4,000 from friends, even though borrowing money was frowned upon in India, and with that, I went to New York. In the days without Internet, it was quite an exciting journey. I was 17½ and enrolled at Rutgers.

Back then, you could pay $200 per semester, and there was no limit on credit hours. So I fit all my courses for an electrical engineering degree into two years. I lived in a walk-in closet—subleasing it from another student for $20 a month—and had zero social life.

In 1975 I got excited about ¬single-chip microcomputers. I started my first company, manufacturing home security systems, and was selling and installing them on the weekends. I financed everything with a credit card and made some money, but going to school full-time and running a business didn’t work, so I shut it down.

One year I saw a summer job posting for a school in northern New Jersey that served children with cerebral palsy. I spent time with a 7-year-old girl named Jenny who was quadriplegic, and I developed a device she could use with the muscles in her neck to communicate. That cemented my interest in bioengineering.

Then I got a scholarship to graduate school. I’ve never felt richer than when I started getting that $500-a-month stipend, and I saved the money to send back to my dad.

Toward the end of grad school, I started a second security company that failed because I didn’t understand how much money to raise, where to raise it, or what a business plan was. My entrepreneurial career started with two failures.

A professor insisted that I go to medical school. It was a great experience to understand the disease process and how poorly things were managed and treated. But as an engineer, I wanted to understand why things work the way they do and decided not to practice medicine.

A cardiologist [Michel Mirowski] who wanted to create an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator invited me to work with him in Pittsburgh. He thought it would cost about $100,000 to produce the device, but it ended up costing $27 million and took six years to develop. Raising the money and talking to the FDA taught me a lot. I developed the second-generation device, which got FDA approval. Eli Lilly came in as an investor and eventually bought the company. So in 1985, I left for California.

Realtors at the time were using a brass lockbox with a universal key that thieves stole to obtain house keys. While I was selling my home, it got burglarized this way, so I thought, I have to fix that. In the late ’80s, I started a company to invent an electronic lockbox that keeps track of every realtor who enters, with a time and date, which has become the industry standard. I sold that company to Supra.

Early on, my biggest challenge was understanding business and fundraising. I had such a hard time asking people for investment. I had the mortal fear that the company could fail, and I could never show my face again.

I was talented at science and technology, but investors saw me as a techie and not as a business guy. A lot of scientists stop working in the lab when they get into business, but I kept developing products while I grew my businesses.

My plan was to found a life-science com¬pany for each medical device I invented. Invariably, a larger company would be looking for new categories of therapy, wanting to own those, so they’d come and make an offer. I even took three companies public—they still got acquired.

I was starting companies at a pace of one a year because there were so many problems I wanted to solve. I’d hire a CEO, do some work, build a team, and start another company.

In 1998, some friends and I started Adam Ventures. We wrote small checks to 81 dotcoms and 37 med-tech companies. Many of the med-tech companies did well, but of the 81 tech companies, 78 went kaput. Only three made money, and one of them was Google.

The problem we’re addressing today at Rani Therapeutics is how to deliver protein drugs orally. We plan to convert insulin and another diabetes drug into an oral pill. This will improve patient compliance and get better outcomes, taking away the need for self-injections.

You can treat multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, and a long list of chronic diseases with protein drugs, so we could have a transformative effect on the treatment of 30 to 40 diseases with this process. We’ve raised $140 million so far from investors like Google and Novartis, and are currently in clinical trials in Australia.

I realized early on that each company can take six to eight years to reach clinical success. That would have meant I could solve only five problems and take them to completion within my lifetime, if taken one at a time. So I decided to work on multiple problems. At any given time, I have six to eight companies at various stages of development. I doubt I’ll ever retire because I’ll always have six to eight unfinished businesses. My hope is that someone will take them over and complete them after I die.

I’m constantly pushing the boundaries of my knowledge. The young man is gone, and in his place is an old, bald guy, but I’m working harder than ever. I have the same curiosity and passion, and unless the body gives out, I hope to keep producing for years to come. 

My Best Advice

Mir Imran, founder of Rani Therapeutics

Choose the right problem.

To me, innovation is about identifying a problem that’s worthy of a solution and framing it without thinking about the methods you were taught. The solution needs to have dramatic impact rather than incremental improvement. To choose the right problem, look at current solutions, market potential, IP landscape, potential for reimbursement, and other factors.

Imran by the Numbers

—Founded 22 life-science companies.

—Was issued 364 patents, with an additional 343 patents pending.

—Invested in over 100 health care companies.

A version of this article appears in the October 2019 issue of Fortune with the headline “Master of Invention.”

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