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          創業20次,專利數百項:一位發明家的創業故事

          Dinah Eng 2019年10月09日

          1998年,米爾·伊姆蘭投資了81家網站,只有3家成功,其中一家叫谷歌。

          圖為Rani Therapeutics公司創始人米爾·伊姆蘭在該公司位于圣荷塞的實驗室中。圖片來源:Photograph by Winni Wintermeyer for Fortune

          做生意對我來說是一件自然而然的事。我出生在印度的海得拉巴,從八九歲的時候起,我就開始自己制作玩具,賣給我的同學們。我很早就充滿了創業的熱情。9年級時,我已經開始制作裝在火柴盒里的收音機,并在學校里賣了。

          在我小時候,印度的腐敗現象很嚴重。在學校里,一個來自于富裕家庭的孩子可以通過賄賂老師來獲得更好的成績。15歲那年,我決定離開印度,于是我向美國和加拿大的幾所大學遞交了申請。一直到我被錄取之前,我父母都不知道這件事。

          等到我被錄取之后,我便向我父親要錢。他想說服我在印度念大學,不過我對他說:“如果你不給我錢,我就自己想辦法。”于是他向朋友借了4000美元,雖然當時在印度,借錢是一件很為難的事。我拿著這筆錢去了紐約。在那個還沒有互聯網的年代,赴美留學是一件很令人興奮的事。當時我才17歲半,后來我進入了羅格斯大學就讀。

          那個時候,大學每學期的學費只有200美元,而且沒有學時的限制。所以我把電氣工程學學位的所有課程都安排在了頭兩年里。我那時住在一個由衣帽間改造的小屋里——這間屋子是我以每月20美元的租金從另一個學生那里轉租來的。而且那時我沒有任何社交生活。

          1975年,我對單片機產生了興趣。我創辦了自己的第一家公司,主要生產家庭安全系統,然后利用周末時間銷售和安裝。一切成本都靠刷信用卡。后來我賺了一些錢,但是一邊上全日制大學,一邊開公司,還是行不通的。于是我把這家公司關掉了。

          有一年,我看到新澤西州北部的一所學校招暑期工,工作內容是為腦癱患兒提供服務。我和一個四肢癱瘓的7歲小女孩珍妮相處了一段時間,我還發明了一種設備,讓她可以用脖子上的肌肉與人交流。這次經歷也激發了我對生物工程的興趣。

          后來我拿到了研究生院的獎學金。我每月可以拿500美元的津貼,我從來沒有覺得自己如此富有過。于是我把這筆錢省下來,寄給了我父親。

          在研究生快畢業的時候,我創辦了第二家公司。這是一家證券公司,但是當時我并不知道該融資多少錢,上哪去融資,也不知道商業計劃書是什么東西,于是這次創業失敗了。我的創業生涯始于兩次失敗。

          當時,有一位教授堅持勸我上醫學院。學醫也是一次很好的經歷,它讓我明白了疾病的原理,以及人類管理和治療疾病的手段有多么匱乏。不過作為一名工程師,我只想知道事物的運行道理,而并不想以行醫為生。

          后來,有一位心臟病學家(米歇爾·米羅斯基)邀請我到匹茲堡跟他一起工作。他想制造一種植入式的心電復率器和除顫器。他原本以為花10萬塊錢就能造出這個設備,結果它最終花費了2700萬美元,花了6年才研發完成。籌集資金和向美國食品與藥品管理局報批的過程也讓我學會了很多東西。再后來,我又開發了第二代設備,并且獲得了美國食品與藥品管理局的批準。美國的禮來制藥(Eli Lilly)是這個設備的投資方,并且最終收購了這家公司。于是1985年我去了加利福尼亞。

          當時的房地產經紀人都有一個黃銅鎖盒,里面有一把萬能鑰匙。不少小偷都想偷這把萬能鑰匙,好用它來行竊。當年我賣房子的時候,我的房子就這樣被偷了。于是我想,我必須解決這個問題。20世紀80年代末,我創辦了一家公司,發明了一種電子鎖盒,可以追蹤每一位進入房子的房地產經紀人,并且記錄日期和時間。它現在已經成了一種行業標準。后來我把這家公司賣給了Supra公司。

          最早的時候,對我來說,挑戰最大的事是理解商業規律和融資。我那時很不擅于拉投資。我有一種致命的恐懼,害怕公司一旦倒閉,我就再也不能拋頭露面了。

          我在科學技術方面很有天賦,但投資者都認為我是一名技術人員,而不是一名商人。很多科學家一進入商業,就不再埋首于實驗室。但我在發展業務的同時,也在不斷開發新產品。

          那時,我的計劃是為我發明的每一種醫療設備都創辦一家生命科學公司。通常情況下,大型的醫療公司都會尋找新的疾病治療方法,他們也很想擁有這些技術,所以他們就會找來,提出收購邀約。我甚至將三家公司掛牌上市了——但它們最終還是被收購了。

          我創辦公司的速度大概是一年一家,因為我想解決的問題太多了。我通常會聘請一名CEO,做一些工作,組建一個團隊,然后再開一家公司。

          1998年,我和幾個朋友創辦了一家名叫“亞當風投”(Adam Ventures)的公司。我們給81家網站和37家生物科技公司投了一些小錢。其中很多生物科技公司表現得都很不錯,但是在那81家網站中,有78家撲街了,只有三家賺了錢,其中一家就是谷歌。

          我創辦的Rani Therapeutics公司關注的是如何解決蛋白質藥物口服給藥的問題。我們想把胰島素和另一種糖尿病藥物變成口服藥。這將提高患者的用藥配合度,達到更好的治療效果,同時患者也不需要每天給自己打針了。

          蛋白質類藥物可以治療多種硬化癥、克隆氏病以及很多慢性疾病,所以說,我們的研究可能會對三四十種疾病的治療產生革命性的影響。目前,我們已經從谷歌和諾華等投資者那里拉到了1.4億美元融資,目前我們正在澳大利亞開展臨床試驗。

          我很早就意識到,每一家公司可能需要6到8年才能取得臨床上的成功。如果我解決了一個問題,再去解決另外一個,那么有生之年我最多才能解決5個問題。所以我決定同時研究多個問題。在任何時候,我都有6到8家處于不同研發階段的公司。我可能永遠都不會退休,因為我總是會有6到8個還沒完成的生意。我希望有人能在我死后接手并且完成它們。

          我一直在擴展我的知識邊界。那個年輕人已經不見了,取而代之的是一個禿頂老頭,但現在的我比以往任何時候都努力。我還保持著跟年輕時一樣的好奇心和激情,除非身體條件不允許,否則我希望未來幾年能繼續保持高產。

          我的最佳建議

          米爾·伊姆蘭,Rani Therapeutics公司創始人

          選擇正確的問題

          在我看來,創新就是發現一個值得解決的問題,然后提出解決方案,在這個過程中,不要考慮你學過的東西。因為這個解決方案應該具有巨大的影響,而不是漸進式的改進。要選擇正確的問題,就要考慮當前的解決方案、市場潛力、知識產權前景、成本的償還潛力以及其他因素。

          伊姆蘭大事記

          ——創辦了22家生命科學公司。

          ——發布了364項專利,另外還有343項專利正在申請中。

          ——投資了100多家醫療公司。

          ?

          本文另一版本登載于《財富》雜志2019年10月刊,標題為《發明大師》。

          ?

          譯者:樸成奎

          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 17? 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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