fbpx

Inside the Patient Entrepreneur’s Mind: Ryan Stoll, PhD

Ryan Stoll Inside the Patient Entrepreneur's Mind

Managing a chronic illness is challenging, whether it is your own or a loved one’s. Starting and running a business also poses unique challenges. If you struggle with a chronic illness, have started a business, or want to start a business, this blog series can help guide you. “Inside the Patient Entrepreneur’s Mind” offers key insights into chronic disease and mission-driven entrepreneurship by some of the most innovative patient entrepreneurs in the world. 

Ryan Stoll is the Founder of COMPASS for Courage. 

As a patient entrepreneur, can you describe your personal connection to anxiety/depression and how this experience drove you to innovate the space?

I think there are two sides to this connection and the first is definitely the personal side. As a child and teen, I struggled pretty significantly with anxiety that was mostly social anxiety, self-doubt, and chronic worry about whether what I was doing was good enough. I felt the weight of overall anxiety and was suffering in silence, not necessarily realizing that what I was going through at the time was clinically dubbed as ‘anxiety’ AND something could’ve been done about it. That carried on pretty significantly throughout college. It took me away from social interactions because I was just too anxious to be around others (not that I didn’t want to connect). I took a job working nights at UPS and took all of my classes online. I stuck with my core group of friends that I had and pulled myself out of other situations to placate my anxiety. As that progressed, it was really when I shifted my career from art to psychology and got involved with the Courage lab (which I am still a part of today) that I started to get exposed to research and how we can address anxiety. I saw not only how I could help myself but also how I could help other kids who are in the position I was in as a child. These findings led me to attend grad school and specialize in focusing my effort on understanding anxiety in children and teens. Specifically, not so much as to how anxiety starts and why it sticks around but rather, how do we prevent it from happening in the first place. It is important to remember that anxiety is also a normal emotion. You can’t get rid of anxiety like you can’t get rid of your happiness. It’s all part of an experience that you can effectually manage and prevent from getting out of control. That being said, COMPASS for Courage came out of my own personal experience, my time as a researcher, and what was happening in my lab.

What makes COMPASS unique and how does it meet an unmet need of the anxiety community?

Obviously, beyond the prevention side of things and focusing on children and adolescents, what makes COMPASS unique is it is a true evidence-based intervention. It evolved from scientific grants years ago to what we have today, which is essentially taking 30 years of science, streamlining it, gamifying it and offering it to today’s youth. When we look at what is available on the market for anxiety, most of it is treatment-focused, teen/young adult-focused, or expensive, time consuming and challenging to use. Accessibility and ability to purchase is also an issue. With COMPASS, I’ve been able to remove a lot of these barriers to create something that is fun and leads to a better life for children.

We train school mental health providers and COMPASS is offered through the school beyond the classroom. Because this is prevention, we are preventing anxiety disorders at the first sign of suffering. We have to determine how high an adolescent’s anxiety is presently and if it is at a level that if we don’t do anything today it will become a disorder. In other words, they are on the trajectory towards an anxiety disorder later. We are in the business of courage building instead of anxiety reducing that we classify as strength-based, instead of weakness-based, intervention.

Are there any other unmet needs of the anxiety community that you think should take priority in working to address? How are patient entrepreneurs well-suited to meet these needs?

I think right now the biggest unmet need is human capital to actually support people and help them advance to improve their anxiety or other mental health problems. There is such a lack of trained mental health professionals in comparison to the number of people who need support. It isn’t just increasing the products or solutions that entrepreneurs can provide in the space that is needed, but also enhancing the number of licensed professionals. If we don’t have people to deliver these products and services, we can’t have the impact in reducing the consequences and burden of anxiety and mental health as a whole. Although at COMPASS we are already involved with individuals that are licensed mental health professionals, we are expanding it to individuals who can provide support without going to school for 8 years. We are doing this by transferring what we’ve learned in the world of science and research to individuals already providing support like parents, teachers, etc.

In terms of how patient entrepreneurs are well-suited, being that we have typically struggled with the target issue, we have a very unique perspective in terms of what is needed and where the gaps in care are just from our own experience. We have something you wouldn’t necessarily see or go through if you just want to innovate from the outside without going through it yourself. Having a deep understanding as an entrepreneur as someone who struggles with it and studies it professionally, we are well positioned to leverage our personal story to affect change beyond our personal communities.

Where do you draw your inspiration and motivation from to keep forging ahead as an entrepreneur in the healthcare industry?

It can be tough when you are trying to pitch someone prevention when the place you see ROI comes further down the line through the outcomes. My research team, my graduate mentors and advisors push me because they believe in what I’m doing. I’m able to tap into that belief in me to push forward in what I’m doing when investors say no. Additionally, my wife is absolutely an inspiration and believes sometimes even more deeply than me in what I’m doing. I also draw inspiration just internally and reflect on my own experiences. Really, being in a position of having my PhD and extensive experience in the research world as well as in entrepreneurship I’m in a position where I can really affect change. Specifically, what I experienced as a child with anxiety doesn’t have to happen to the kids of tomorrow. This sentiment helps me when I’m frustrated and discouraged with the process of being an entrepreneur by focusing in on the big picture. As much as COMPASS is part of that vision, it’s just one example and the bigger picture of increasing access to mental health care and whatever it takes to do that is what I tend to draw from and push forward with.

Lastly, what do you do for fun to manage the stress of running a business as both a person with a personal connection to anxiety/depression and an entrepreneur? Do you have any similar advice on work-life-disease management balance to others out there thinking of starting a business to meet an unmet need of a chronic disease patient community?

What do I do for fun? That’s a great question. It’s kind of interesting because as an entrepreneur when you’re focused on a goal bigger than yourself it tends to overwhelm your life. I definitely listen to a lot of music and keep it going most of the time while I’m working to keep the energy up. What I really do for fun to unwind is art. Well before I was a doctor, researcher and entrepreneur, I was a designer and photographer. That was my first passion in life and my major in college was art before switching to psychology. I tend to do that more now to manage stress than I had done in the past. Music, art, and hanging out with my cats and wife all definitely reduce some of the stress and turns down the hype. As an entrepreneur, nonstop worry and thinking also requires a space to turn my brain off and not react to anything that’s going on for a little while. I’ve started meditation recently for this purpose. It is important to keep in mind that this work as an entrepreneur in the healthcare industry, furthermore mental health which is more challenging, is really hard. It is okay to struggle and feel like you’re not producing enough. It is okay because this is really hard work and it’s challenging but so fulfilling. It is keeping that in mind and not letting the anxiety and self-doubt that comes with running a business prevent you from actually doing it.

Ryan Stoll Artwork

Inside the Patient Entrepreneur’s Mind: Chris Molaro

Chris Molaro Inside the Patient Entrepreneur's Mind

Managing a chronic illness is challenging, whether it is your own or a loved one’s. Starting and running a business also poses unique challenges. If you struggle with a chronic illness, have started a business, or want to start a business, this blog series can help guide you. “Inside the Patient Entrepreneur’s Mind” offers key insights into chronic disease and mission-driven entrepreneurship by some of the most innovative patient entrepreneurs in the world. 

Chris Molaro is the Co-Founder and CEO of NeuroFlow. 

As a patient entrepreneur, can you describe your personal connection to mental illness discussing diagnosis through current daily management and how this experience drove you to innovate the space?

Like everyone else in this country, I have been personally touched by mental health issues. Unfortunately, almost all of us have someone we care deeply about that has been through challenges related to depression, anxiety, PTSD or another issue of the like. In my experience, I led soldiers in the Army, where I watched many of them struggle with trauma-related issues, and it has been my mission ever since to make sure patients have improved access to care and can engage with evidence-based treatment.

What makes NeuroFlow unique and how does it meet an unmet need of the mental illness community? 

NeuroFlow bridges the treatment divide, helping non-behavioral health specialists better assess and design appropriate treatment plans, and then coordinate that care more efficiently.  We complement the care coordination and collaborative care aspect of the platform with an engaging patient app for remote monitoring and to allow for 24/7 access to evidence-based protocols and education modules.  This data is synthesized by AI algorithms and sent back to the care team for real time monitoring and risk stratification.

Are there any other unmet needs of the mental illness community that you think take priority in working to address? How are patient entrepreneurs well-suited to meet these needs? 

I believe it is all about making sure that the patients engage with these tools and feel like they can trust the system and that it will work for them.  It may seem obvious, but patients are very different. A military patient is different from a high school student and they’re both different from a mother of five. Acknowledging patient individuality, they all respond differently to different types of content, coping mechanisms, designs, etc.  Patient entrepreneurs can lead the way in advocating for the end-user of these tools making sure that the solution being designed and built will actually be useful to unique patient users and accomplish its goal.

Where do you draw your inspiration and motivation from to keep forging ahead as an entrepreneur in the healthcare industry? 

20 Veterans a day commit suicide. 67% of the 50 million people in this country that struggle with mental illness never receive treatment.  These are huge and important problems to solve.  It’s easy to draw motivation when you’re mission driven by these large public health issues.

Where do you see NeuroFlow headed in five years? 

October of last year (2018) we had 2,000 patients invited to the platform.  Today, we have over 20,000.  We have expanded across 18 states and our platform is used by over 750 providers.  We want to ensure that anyone that could benefit from access to mental health resources can get them and no longer feel ashamed for doing so.

Lastly, what do you do for fun to manage the stress of running a business as both a person with a personal connection to mental illness and an entrepreneur? Do you have any similar advice on work-life-disease management balance to others out there thinking of starting a business to meet an unmet need of a chronic disease patient community? 

I love the outdoors, so I go for runs, hike, kayak – anything where I can enjoy the fresh air and get exercise.  The only advice I would offer fellow budding patient entrepreneurs is to take time off from work (obviously) but to also be deliberate with your time off work.  As entrepreneurs, your time is extremely valuable, so you shouldn’t waste a minute. If you are taking a few minutes to relax, make sure you actually get to relax during that time.

Inside the Patient Entrepreneur’s Mind: Maria Zannes

Maria Zannes IPEM graphic

Managing a chronic illness is challenging, whether it is your own or a loved one’s. Starting and running a business also poses unique challenges. If you struggle with a chronic illness, have started a business, or want to start a business, this blog series can help guide you. “Inside the Patient Entrepreneur’s Mind” offers key insights into chronic disease and mission-driven entrepreneurship by some of the most innovative patient entrepreneurs in the world. 

Maria Zannes is the President and CEO of bioAffinity Technologies. She is also a finalist of the 2019 Lyfebulb-Helsinn Innovation Summit & Award in cancer.

As a patient entrepreneur, can you describe your personal connection to cancer and how this experience drove you to innovate the space?

When I gave my pitch at the Cancer Innovation Summit, I shared a very personal story about my father. He was a glider pilot in WWII during a time when everyone smoked, and lung cancer took his life in his 30s. Additionally, my mother suffered from breast cancer and my brother, Tom, had survived lymphoma but later succumbed to glioblastoma. Given my personal connection to cancer, when introduced to the tech that bioAffinity has now developed, I was particularly taken with the possibility and real breakthrough characteristics in finding cancer early. Because of my background as a businesswoman, we chose to look at lung cancer because it is the largest cancer killer and this technology will help combat the fact that it is mostly caught at a late stage. It also has a high false positive rate, thereby our test, which takes sputum, would be used in conjunction with screening to label the disease early.

What makes bioAffinity Technologies, Inc., namely your lung cancer early diagnostic, unique and how does it meet an unmet need of the cancer community?

We’re unique in the human sample that we use. We collect phlegm. Although sputum cytology (taking phlegm from the lung and looking at it under a microscope) has been collected for some time now, we take sputum and actually look at all 21 million cells in a sample as opposed to the 40-50 thousand that typically come on a slide. We’re unique in that we are using flow cytometry instead of blood in the diagnosis of lung cancer and sputum is 100s more times concentrated in cells than blood. We’re able to get an important profile of the lung with different cell types by taking this type of sample. We also have reimbursement codes and the cost of our test is less for the consumer/patient. Lastly, it is becoming a very highly accurate test that can be used at a very critical juncture in a patient’s path to determine if they have cancer or not. For context, it is recommended that heavy smokers participate in a screen using imaging that can find lung cancer early, but the screen has a high false positive to find a number of other conditions. Our test can be used to hone in on who actually has cancer warranting a biopsy. This helps to avoid putting patients through biopsy—saving unnecessary tests, surgeries, and the emotional effects on an already compromised population.

Are there any other unmet needs of the cancer community that you think take priority in working to address? How are patient entrepreneurs well-suited to meet these needs?

First, the test itself is applicable to, and we will be developing it for, other cancers using samples that can be collected noninvasively like colon and prostate. In lung cancer, we also see that this will become a form of screening because it is a simple test where people can collect their samples at home using a simple handheld device. I think innovation, creativity, applied experience, and collaboration equals innovation and breakthrough and that is what we are looking at within bioAffinity.

If you’re focused, innovative, experienced, and creative, I think any organization can achieve great things. Certainly, passion in any form can help when there is a need to push through obstacle. A personal passion does wonders—it can make quite a difference. The drawback is “founderitis”—you don’t want to have so much of a passion that it blinds you to problems or to difficulties. I think we do it well here.  If you’re pursuing science, then it should be at your core of what you do—that means there needs to be objectivity to all of your work by looking at results of an experiment or clinical trial. At the end, you need to recognize “this is going to be used by someone” so sometimes that means changing course or that what you hoped for doesn’t come about no matter how strong you feel. IF you have a personal connection, like I do going through cancer with many family members, the last thing you want to give is false hope. Avoiding false hope keeps us all very honest in my field. I think passion plays a big part, and whether it comes from a personal connection or your own world view of where you can do the most good, it is very, very important. You have to have some kind of a tug to get into this—cancer research is a very humbling profession because cancer is a very difficult and remarkable disease in how it changes you and your ability to survive.

Where do you draw your inspiration and motivation from to keep forging ahead as an entrepreneur in the healthcare industry?

Obviously, from the beginning, I have been inspired by my mother, my father and my brother and their experiences with cancer. However, my inspiration comes from how they lived—they were not defined by a cancer diagnosis in any shape or form. In addition, I am definitely motivated by the science and the people with whom I work. We have a very passionate, dedicated team, made up of remarkably intelligent and skilled individuals. Every day is a learning experience. You always have to keep in mind that every decision you make will ultimately affect the patients. More than providing inspiration, patients impact the decisions I make as to whether we should do that test one more time or wait for an answer to a question before moving to the next step.

Lastly, what do you do for fun to manage the stress of running a business as both a person with a personal connection to cancer and an entrepreneur? Do you have any similar advice on work-life-disease management balance to others out there thinking of starting a business to meet an unmet need of a chronic disease patient community?

Laugh a lot. Find reason to laugh. I have two sons who are absolute delights and they make me laugh all the time. It is also important to make those personal connections with people. There are so many different approaches to building a company, and many are personal. it isn’t so much about the number of hours you put in, but rather how you spend those hours. You need to figure out all that you need to know as well as what you don’t know. In the cancer/health-related field, you need to have a sense of humility and ask for help and collaboration. I’ve gained a sense of perspective in that I am working towards a goal of finding a truth as a result of my family’s experiences with cancer. That helps me manage the stress that comes with the job, because I am in the business of finding the truth instead of putting a round peg in a square hole.

Maria Laughing With Sons

Inside the Patient Entrepreneur’s Mind: Ira Spector, PhD

Ira Spector Blog

Managing a chronic illness is challenging, whether it is your own or a loved one’s. Starting and running a business also poses unique challenges. If you struggle with a chronic illness, have started a business, or want to start a business, this blog series can help guide you. “Inside the Patient Entrepreneur’s Mind” offers key insights into chronic disease and mission-driven entrepreneurship by some of the most innovative patient entrepreneurs in the world. 

Ira Spector, PhD is CEO & Co-Founder of SFA Therapeutics. He is also a finalist of the 2019 Lyfebulb-Helsinn Innovation Summit & Award in cancer.

As a patient entrepreneur, can you describe your personal experience with cancer and how this experience drove you to innovate the space?

I had two parathyroid tumors removed in 2013 and I was very lucky that they were both caught early and localized. The only problem I had was a sequela of cancer treatment, because there is almost always other damage that occurs. For me, my body was overproducing calcium after cancer treatment so I have calcium deposits in all of my joints as well as my heart valve that required a lot of follow up cardiac care. In my case, I feel lucky that my tumors were caught early. Unfortunately, I have a lot of other personal connections to cancer and other illnesses that resulted differently than my case. My mother and father both had cancer, we lost my father-in-law to colon cancer and my brother-in-law to what we think was glioblastoma. I was also heavily influenced growing up with a seriously ill sibling in terms of guiding me to do what I do now. I’m fairly unique because I am in the drug development industry.  In terms of cancer, specifically, when I found the technology that was the basis for SFA, it was supposed to start as an anti-inflammatory platform. Almost  by happenstance, after looking at the pathways downregulated by this anti-inflammatory platform, I found them to also be oncogenes. When I discovered the downregulating effect of this anti-inflammatory platform on certain oncogenes, I learned that there were other cancers with an inflammatory component that we could go after with this therapy. 

What makes SFA Therapeutics unique and how does it meet an unmet need of the cancer community?

Cancer patients live the rest of their lives looking over their shoulder waiting for the cancer to come back—we think our drugs are the metaphorical umbrella to prevent recurrence. Other than addressing environmental factors like smoking, cancer prevention doesn’t get a lot of attention on the Big Pharma or development side. What we’re saying is wait a second, there are millions of people who have already been treated and now they are just living in fear—what about them! We think we have an approach to reach this community of people. With the exception of certain type of breast cancer, there are very few cancers where other drugs are used to prevent relapse recurrence. At least in terms of CLL and ALL, the path to reduce recurrence comes from this drug we are developing at SFA. We think there is a whole generation of drugs that are very safe and non-chemotoxic to help prevent relapse.

Traditional treatment of cancer has been based on the theory that cancer cells grow more rapidly than normal cells. Agents like chemotherapy or radiation have been used to kill those cells, while also killing healthy cells in the process, to reduce the cancer burden. Our thesis differs in that we believe certain cancers have an inflammatory component and there is a way to control that inflammatory response in the cell. Our drugs are designed to prevent recurrence of tumors by reducing chronic inflammation.

Are there any other unmet needs of the cancer community that you think take priority in working to address? How are patient entrepreneurs well-suited to meet these needs?

Cancer is all too often treated with the ‘let’s just get it out’ mentality and we need a more integrative approach involving the family and disease experience. There are others working on this too, and although we have to be focused with resources, we recognize that there clearly needs to be an integrated approach that improves cancer aftercare. Although we are focused on drug development at SFA, we as Patient Entrepreneurs recognize the general needs of the community are huge. There is a lot of stigma and psychology that could be addressed here. I have a tremendous sensitivity to the broader issues here and I recognize that is also not a very well met need societally. 

Where do you draw your inspiration and motivation from to keep forging ahead as an entrepreneur in the healthcare industry?

Patients. I’m an industry veteran involved in household name drugs. That being said, I get up every morning thinking about patients who haven’t been treated and patients who could’ve been treated by drugs that failed. The inspiration comes from the fact that we are not done and there is still a lot left to do. I know that has become my mantra now in the industry, but it has always been my driver. Getting out of the lab or business setting and going out into the field to talk to physicians, patients, and families—that’s why we are here. Almost everyone who gets into this have personal connections—both of my co-founders have personal connections. It’s just that simple. Pharma and biotech are rated the lowest of the low in public opinion polls, even though most of us who work in this industry are trying to change the world. Despite making a fair amount of progress, we are all vilified based on perceptions about things like costs and the opioid epidemic. We just soldier on regardless of the public opinion in the hopes of changing public understanding of how hard we work to help patients. 

Lastly, what do you do for fun to manage the stress of running a business as both a cancer survivor and an entrepreneur? Do you have any similar advice on work-life-disease management balance to others out there thinking of starting a business to meet an unmet need of a chronic disease patient community?

There are two activities that I engage in. In the summer, we move to the beach so I average 3-4 miles per day walking on the beach. I’m also an active swimmer. However, my other big passion is restoring antique cars. The goal isn’t to finish, but to just decouple by putting on the stereo (I’ve worked on a car for 5 years). On a bad day, if I can’t get anything done on a car because of the calcium deposits in my hands, I walk away and do something else like walk or swim. My advice to other budding patient entrepreneurs is that you need to have activities that totally decouple from what you’re doing and enable you to have a recreation that clears your mind. Do something completely different in order to unplug. You just need to have something, whether it’s music or sports, to decouple from the stress of the day.

Ira Spector Car Restoration

Interests - Select all that apply