Because while some companies help us manage disease, Asklepios finds cures
Most of today’s therapies are focused on relieving symptoms. With her Research Triangle, North Carolina-based company, AskBio, Sheila Mikhail wants to treat—and maybe even cure--diseases at the molecular level. Scientists at the company start with the shell of a non-pathogenic virus that’s capable of penetrating human cells, then remove its harmful DNA and replace it with genetic material that can create proteins the defective genes couldn’t. The treatment is injected into the patient’s body with the hopes of mitigating genetic disease such as cystic fibrosis or muscular dystrophy.
Mikhail co-founded AskBio in 2001, long before gene therapy was in vogue in the medical world--so much so that the entrepreneur says she was once booed off a stage for speaking about it. “They thought I was giving false hope, she says. They thought it was science fiction. Today, AskBio has treatments for heart disease, Pompe disease, Huntington’s disease, and Duchenne muscular dystrophy underway or set to begin. It has secured $235 million in funding, earned more than 500 patents, and has 185 employees spread across offices in Scotland, Spain and France.
For Mikhail, success has been about remaining dedicated--even if being early made that extra challenging. “Find the thing that you’re so passionate about that you won’t care about the haters,” she says. “Be tenacious about it, passionate, and persistent no matter what.” – Kevin J. Ryan
Because caregiving is big business, but not always treated as such
For adding just a little more activity to our days
In the year of remote work, many people's daily exercise consists of the walk between the kitchen, their couch, and perhaps to check the mail. But getting enough exercise was a problem pre-Covid as well, and it inspired Shivani Jain and two other University of Chicago business students, Arnav Dalmia and Ryota Sekine, to dream up Cubii, a small elliptical machine that fits under a desk that’d keep otherwise sedentary cubicle workers peddling while they worked.
The trio’s idea took off in 2014 when they raised around $300,000 through a Kickstarter campaign, and the product’s fanbase grew not only among desk workers, but those with limited mobility or recovering from surgeries. In 2016, the company released an accompanying app that helps users keep track of calories burned and other fitness statistics, and last year, the company took in $26 million in revenue and landed at No. 300 on the 2020 Inc. 5000 list.
Shivani attributes her company’s success in part on running any new idea past a value system for the company’s core customer. Says Shivani: “As a company, it’s very easy at times to see lots of growth and so much happening around you that you chase any and every opportunity and you forget to put your core customer first.” – Anna Meyer
For designing cookware that actually matches the way we live
For telling previously untold stories about the South Asian diaspora
Snigdha Sur, founder of The Juggernaut, says that when she started approaching investors in 2018, they asked: Why are you starting a media company now? But she was committed to her idea: to turn her free newsletter into a full-fledged, subscription-backed media brand, driven by original reporting and aimed at “South Asians and the South Asia-curious.”
A self-described Bollywood obsessive with a Harvard MBA, Sur saved up several months’ worth of runway while working at McKinsey, then quit her job and applied, successfully, to Y Combinator. Since launching in February 2019, The Juggernaut has raised $2 million, published stories by more than 100 freelance journalists, and grown its subscriber base more than fourfold, according to Sur. She attributes the enthusiasm to a longstanding lack of South Asian representation in mainstream media: “We're really, I think, pushing the boundaries and bringing perspectives that other people are just completely missing.” Next up: hiring more editors and engineers to bolster the company’s full-time staff. – Sophie Downes