Doctor of Innovation: When Passion and Health Care Intersect
September 15, 2021
Conversations can redefine the future of health care. In this episode of TechTalk, Director of Innovaccer Dipty Desai, Ph.D., joins EisnerAmper’s West Coast Technology and Life Sciences Practice Leader Amar Bhatkhande to discuss her journey as a researcher, entrepreneur, funder, and mentor where she uses technology to solve health care issues and explains how entrepreneurs can be at the forefront of innovation and science. Dipty also shares a memorable conversation that helps keep her connected to her native India.
Thank you for inviting me to your podcast. It's a great honor to be here with you. People often call me Doc or Dr. Dipti Desai, the triple alliteration. But just so your listeners know, I'm not the kind of doctor that fixes people. I'm not a MD or Doctor of Medicine. I have a PhD, a Doctor of Philosophy. I'm the kind of doctor that invents stuff, or comes up with innovative ways of doing things. That's me.
So, if I have to give a brief introduction of myself, I often tell people that I'm a tinkerer, a scientist, an experimental. And that there are three major areas that define me, that I am passionate about, that grab my attention. And those are: healthcare, technological innovations and U.S.-India interactions. I just love working at the intersection of these, and that's what I live for.
Ab: Very well said Doctor. As long as you fix things, whether it is people, or technology, or bilateral relationships, that's always helpful. Since you have outlined your passion so nicely, it is only logical for me to ask my next few questions related to your passions. Let's start with healthcare, as that seems to be a theme that's woven throughout your many roles and interests. What originally drew you to healthcare industry, and what continues to drive your interest?
DD: Yeah, so as far back as I can remember, I always enjoyed doing experiments, figuring out stuff, and the biological world, Amar, and the human body, is filled with incredibly tiny machines that work tirelessly like clockwork. And I always wanted to figure out what made them tick? What caused them to falter? So naturally, I came to the USA many years ago to do my PhD. And I studied at UCSF Med Center in San Francisco, but I worked on cancer research, and cell cycle regulation. And the idea was to figure out the signals that cause cells to grow and multiply, and those signals that cause them to grow without stopping, like in cancer. So, if we could figure out what controls growth, we can then better understand unregulated growth of cancer. Following that, I had my postdoc work at Stanford, where inter-studying what is happening in the cell, painstakingly one gene at a time, like I was doing for my PhD. We decided that it would be more efficient to look at all of the genes, about a 100,000 or so, at one go.
To do this, we had to do multidisciplinary approach which means we had to marry biology and technology and engineering to create an array of the genome. And, Stanford's really good at that, Google came out of there. And compare the regulatory profiles of normal cells and abnormal cells, and identify those that are up-regulated, down-regulated and so on. And so therefore, identify normal from abnormal. Now, this technology that was developed at Stanford, became such a powerful technology, that many companies were formed around it, and they became the technology company that adopted this particular platform at its core. Synteni that was acquired by Incyte, Affymetrix that was acquired by Thermo Fisher, and even NASA. I worked with them, and they adopted this technology to look how these cells, in space, differ from those that are on Earth.
This is very valuable if, for example, we eventually want to colonize space. Applications were endless. I also worked with Syntex and Siva again in Palo Alto that was acquired by Roche and Hoechst. And we continued using this technology to develop diagnostic markers. And this time I was a little bit more mindful, wanted to help the women diseases that were really underserved at that time to see if we could make a difference there. And then came the dotcom era in the late nineties where you must remember there was a dotcom bubble that began, there was a huge dirt of palette just like today. And a few of us wonder if you could follow in the footsteps of the high-tech industry and use the massive amount of highly qualified talent that was existing in India and go cross-border, create a win-win situation and implement solutions for enterprises in the U.S. by powering them through the Indian talent that was available in India.
So we found this company called Ogene and to me that was a beginning of creating a development group in India. Now, back then in India, we were using India as a service backend place. But today we see that many of the development groups, startups are in India. And so that was our development group in India, powering and creating solutions for the pharma healthcare biotech industry. So if you see, to cut it short, there's a pattern here. I love working at the intersection of healthcare innovation that is powered by technology and scaled through the use of U.S.-India collaboration, a win-win-win. I feel.
Ab:Well that's pretty impressive and that's true passion. However, it seems like you didn't stop there. You took that passion to a much higher level by being an entrepreneur and a venture partner. So based on your experience as an entrepreneur and your current role as a venture partner of Elevate Capital, what are the VC firms looking for in startups today? And what if anything has changed over this past year?
DD: Yeah, you said it right, being a researcher and technologist at heart, I was bit by the bug of starting something new. My dad was also an entrepreneur, so the next natural step, and I see this happening again and again, is that progress towards working with startups, either advising them or helping them find investors or investing in them. Right? So with that goal in mind, I, along with a few others, founded Falcon X, and also these were charter members from TiE that worked with me and actually were on my board and we work towards incubating, accelerating and funding startups over there. Again, parallel to this, we also, between other charter members from TiE, we brought to life startup Bridge India. The goal here was to connect the startups of India to the enterprises of U.S. Mind you, this was not an investor role. It was more like a customer role that we were playing, right? Helping them find customers.
And we replicated this model at USISPF, which I was there too with John Chambers, was a strong advocate for startups to kind of cater to the Series B and beyond startups. And also again, this model was so powerful that we replicated it with IT startups to cater to early stage startups with IT founders. So similar to my healthcare background where we had a platform that worked and we replicated it across many applications. Yeah, we found a platform that was really powerful, was useful and very valuable to startups. And we replicated it across various organizations. So I was actually working with entrepreneurs in all stages of the life cycle, but I have a soft corner for healthcare startups. And hence my work with Elevate VC. With such support, not only healthcare twenty-five percent of their portfolio funds, earmark for healthcare startups, but it also supports women and minority founded startups. So that's one of the reasons why I liked working with Elevate VC because their thesis was similar to what my passion was, right.
On the second question that you had on trends and investing, I mean, other than generically saying that trends abroad like in AIML is very trendy right now. You see a lot of startups there, blockchain, cloud, future of work, FinTech, and of course, health tech. All of that are areas where people want to invest money in, security too. I can't speak too much about all those other areas though I'm familiar with them, but I'd like to speak a little bit about the investment trends in healthcare, because that's what I focus on. To me, in healthcare, it's really broken and the pandemic brought that to light, right? And what I feel that the future of care is not going to be just convenient, like to make it easy for people to get care.
And it will not just be virtual first, but it will be designed differently. And it will be designed around the patient or the customer putting their needs first. Today, the patient is not in the center of care. That's what needs to happen. And we're seeing a lot of that transitioning already happening. And we're seeing terms of interoperability where all of the patient data is now getting unified. We're getting deeper insights and all of the data, the data collected by the clinicians, the data connected by the hospitals, the data collected by the patient themselves. All that data is merging together and giving you deeper insights via Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence. And therefore a holistic approach is being brought to healthcare, but more telemedicine, more telehealth and more personalized medicine being seen here.
In the pharma side, we're also seeing a move towards predictive and prescriptive analytics. And we're seeing more use of AI in drug discovery. We're seeing the use of blockchain to improve supply chains. We know that broke down tremendously during the pandemic, and that really blockchain will come to the rescue and will actually help us in the future, to not have the breakdown happen. It's also making clinical trials that costs a lot of time, a lot of money. And by adopting technology and transforming clinical trials and making them more efficient, pharma will be able to save a lot of money and bring the drugs to market faster.
You also see live science diagnostic therapeutics adopting and enabling tech infusion to bring in lower costs, deeper insights, and we are seeing telehealth being adopted, we saw, during the pandemic, suddenly everybody could not go to the doctor, right? The doctor had to come to them. We saw that happening more and more. So in short, the pandemic actually accelerated technology adoption across verticals, especially in healthcare. And I for one, am really super excited about that. And you also see that in the stock prices and the valuations of the enterprises and startups in technology doing really well through that pandemics similarly to health tech companies doing really well, a lot of money has come into it and these companies are doing really well. And I hope they continue to do well in the future.
Ab:And I'm pretty sure they will. I mean, I have several clients in health tech that have been doing really well over the year and the valuations are just through the sky. So thanks for sharing all that. I'm now going to diverge a little bit more from the entrepreneurship to collaboration. So I, as you know, EisnerAmper is an accounting and a business advisory firm. So my question is given your multifaceted background, how did you leverage business advisors along your journey to help you achieve your goals?
DD: Well, that's a good question because I have to say when you are in a large enterprise, people always think about working with accounting firms and business advisors. In my case, when I was at Roche or Hoechst or CS Bio, NASA, that was not a decision that I was making, but however, I know that there were, these firms were being used. The accounting firms, the business advisory firms were being used with McKinseys and EisnerAmpers of the world were being used by these companies to make decisions. However, sort of smaller companies and the startups, which is where I was working in the latter half, we don't immediately think of such firms. And I know now that is wrong. For me, personally, whenever I had a question in these areas, either in business process or in accounting, my brother was a consultant at McKinsey was always there for me.
So I would always tap into his brain, which is kind of the cheating thing, right? But I would say that startups should increasingly think about hiring accounting and consulting firms. It pays off, right? Even if they're strapped for cash, there are alternate ways they can work with accounting and business advisor firms, equity being one.
Company formation is a good case study for employing them. For example, when I formed companies, Ogene, and then later Falcon X, having someone other than the founders, would have helped because it always helps everyone see a clearer picture without having the emotions cloud it, or a third party that always brings in an unbiased opinion that can often save relationships especially if you're starting a company with a few friends and you don't want to burn bridges or get the short end of the stick, right?
So a company like EisnerAmper can come in and list the agreed strategic goals of the business. They can brainstorm and list potential challenging decision points and they can agree. They can help the founders agree on simple protocols for addressing the issues identified. Business advisors do that. They advise you on how to structure and run your business. And not only for large enterprises, but also for startups. So I didn't personally use that much of this service. I think it's a great service and I'm so happy that you are doing that. And I believe you are working more and more with startups. So, that's a really good trend.
Ab:I have to completely agree with you Dipty on that. I mean, so many times when I go on panels, I say that, entrepreneurs should focus on what they are good at, right? Building products, selling them. For everything else, there is help out there and they should get it, right? So that has always been my mantra to everyone that I have been able to talk to. With your passion for innovation and entrepreneurship, and having been at the forefront of technology innovation and science, tell me what are you most excited about as you look ahead?
DD: As I look ahead, once again, my three passions come back to me on the forefront. We still have a lot to tackle in healthcare. There are big problems remaining to be solved there. Technology will continue to be the enabler and startups will rule as a nimbleness and agility, will help them survive. Again I feel that there's still a lot that can be done in the U.S.-India corridor. So with that in mind, I had to share that this just happened to me last week. I just made a big decision to join a pre-IPO healthcare startup that is using technology to solve healthcare problems and is thinking of going global, possibly India in the future to make an even larger impact. So super excited of this upcoming journey. And hey, I'll be neighbors with you. I'll be in San Francisco.
Ab:Congratulations. It seems like you have gone full circle and are back to where it all started, healthcare. At EisnerAmper, we believe that conversations are at the root of entrepreneurship. As my last question for the day, can you think of one conversation in particular, that's had a lasting impact on you and would you be willing to share that with our listeners?
DD: You know, you're right. Conversations are key. And if I had to think just one conversation comes up in my mind, this is one that I had with my dad almost 30 plus years ago. And that still guides me. So before I left for the U.S., I remember telling my dad, you know what, I'm going to come back to India after my studies. But, he was much older and wiser than me and he said, I know that you will not come back, but whatever you do, do not forget your country. Do something for it.
All these years later, every time I'm doing something, I always keep that in mind and say, how can I plug India into what I'm doing? How can I make it a win-win for U.S. in India. As a result, I've had the opportunity to work with some amazing organizations like TiE, The Indus Entrepreneur. Amar, I know you're part of that too. IIT, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), I always feel that they are the Stanford and Harvard of India. And even U.S.-India Strategic Partnership Forum (USISPF). And today I'm on the board of both TiE and IIT and I've worked closely with the USISPF board in helping the Indian entrepreneurs grow and scale in the U.S.
Ab:That's so powerful Dipti and believe me, everyone at TiE, and all the other organizations that you work for, really appreciate it. Your contributions are invaluable and everything's really appreciated. Dipti, thank you for taking time to have conversation with me today. And thanks to our listeners for tuning into TechTalk. Subscribe to EisnerAmper podcast to listen to more TechTalk episodes. Join us for our next podcast episode or visit eisneramper.com for more tech news, you can use.