Dianox CEO sat down with the Danish Chamber of Commerce (Dansk Erhverv) to discuss entrepreneurship, pandemic preparedness, and biotechnology.
The full article can be found here in original Danish: https://www.danskerhverv.dk/presse-og-nyheder/nyheder/ivarksatterinterview-med-dianox-konkurrenter-gor-os-alle-bedre
The biotech company Dianox has taken on some of humanity's greatest challenges and made it a huge opportunity for the benefit of public health. The world may face more pandemic threats in the future. While there are several diagnostic tools available, most are not scalable. There is therefore an urgent need for radical innovation in diagnostics to enable a broad screening of populations.
Dianox is one of the companies that has rented into Symbion's office community, where startups share everything from coffee machines to laboratory equipment. The office community simmers with creativity and entrepreneurship: Here there are floating office spaces, soft chairs and men in suits who put on the freshly polished leather shoes to take a nap on the sofas. In addition, the ceiling is high and nature is drawn into large potted plants.
The balance between nature and its future development is essential for Dianox. The company develops diagnostic self-tests for deadly infectious diseases. Using deep biotechnology, Huram Konjen can call himself CEO of a company whose product can detect biomarkers in saliva without medical staff or laboratory equipment. Early detection is the best way to strengthen global efforts to eradicate deadly infectious diseases. With the development of the new technology, Huram hopes that in the future we can limit the spread of infectious diseases.
For Huram, the entrepreneurial dream started abroad. In his volunteer work, he quickly learned that globally there is far too little focus on diagnostics: “We are privileged in Denmark. When we encounter a challenge, we do not experience the problems intimately as some people do in other countries. That is why it is crucial that our product is launched and has an effect on the world. Hepatitis B has been an overlooked challenge, and it is astonishing because it kills more people than HIV. We vaccinate our way out of health challenges in the Nordics, which is why we do not see them in our daily lives. ”
“There is a lot of talent in Denmark. We have high-quality education in this country and dedicated people”.
In addition to the humanitarian challenge, it is also the biotechnological complexity that drives the team behind Dianox: “A big drive for us at Dianox is that this is a complex challenge. Research is often done without creating a concrete product. With our product, we want to transform research data so the findings can be utilized and have an effect in the world.”
In other words, it was a burning desire to innovate that drove Huram to start Dianox and involve some of Denmark's most talented bio researchers: “There is a lot of talent in Denmark. We have high-quality education in this country and dedicated people.”
And it was necessary to find the most talented people, because Huram, who has a background in marketing and innovation, discovered that for years professionals in diagnostics simply repeated what they used to do, or at most sought to improve existing technology gradually: "The incremental improvements were ultimately redundant because the measures gained no significance or value for the patient. The work can be done a little faster for the laboratory technician by improving existing technology, but the patient does not get a faster result. In other words, it is useless for the consumer. It is silly because it does not make sense not to be focused on the patient. It is precisely the patient who needs the diagnosis as fast as possible.”
For the vast majority, COVID-19 has been a great challenge, but the root of Dianox's product is to create great value for society and human life, even when nature has its own way:
“Our product and technology are very much in focus at the moment due to COVID-19, but the challenge of diagnostics is not limited to coronavirus. The great awareness of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals, which also focus on combating deadly infectious diseases, has meant that suddenly much greater attention has been paid to diseases such as hepatitis and tuberculosis. These are diseases that are deeply stigmatized in the world and that are rarely diagnosed. It is astonishing that epidemics continue to be a challenge for humanity even after we have known the diseases for decades. I think it has to do with the way we diagnose. This is an area that we do not pay enough attention to today. Pandemic preparedness is a societal challenge that cannot be reduced to COVID-19, which we can simply solve with a super vaccine. That it why it is a problem that society is obsessed with returning to a 'normal' everyday life - because it means that the necessary infrastructure is not being built to meet the challenges of the future. It is not unthinkable that within our lifetime we will experience a pandemic with higher mortality than COVID-19. We must be prepared for that. We cannot be caught off guard again, as we did with coronavirus.”
"Pandemic preparedness is a societal challenge that cannot be reduced to COVID-19, which we can simply solve with a super vaccine."
That is why it bothers Huram that a worldwide pandemic was needed to emphasize the importance of diagnostics: “COVID-19 has been an eye-opener for many people. In the past, diagnostics has been difficult to pitch because it was not profitable to invest in. That has changed now. On top of that, there has been a greater focus on how many resources we spend on testing, and how many people work on the front lines and thus are exposed to life-threatening diseases. In fact, we do not need to be tested by other people at all. You can easily test yourself, but it requires that you have access to the right tools. ”
When Dianox saw the light of day in 2018, Huram started by building a strong team:
“The most important experience I have gained in building a strong team. There are different principles that you can follow as a new entrepreneur, but there is not one universal recipe for success. If you have a strong team, then you are well on your way. I have a really good team behind me who, like me, wants our product to be launched and have a lasting impact. I think it is important to have a shared vision. It shapes and strengthens a business. In addition, we are very focused on diversity in Dianox. Our different backgrounds give us a better product where we do not get stuck in the mindset of 'how things are usually done'. It ensures that we develop a product that someone actually wants to buy.”
In addition to a strong team, competition in the market has been a major driving force for Dianox:
“The competition has been healthy for us. It has strengthened our business case to spar with others. I think one of the most important things I learned is that it can be helpful when more people chase the same thing because someone will have proven the value of the business case. It provides a better opportunity for investors to be able to point to other success stories within your own industry. In other words, we have a positive experience of meeting competing companies, and especially those who were not successful. By examining why they did not succeed, we are already one step closer to our goal. I do not think we should be so afraid of competition. Competition makes us run faster.”
"As an entrepreneur, you have to be willing to take huge risks, solely because you yourself believe in your idea and your abilities"
Despite the fact that Huram's idea was conceived on the international stage, he is happy that he came home to start-up in Denmark. He mentions how crucial it is to get inspiration from abroad: “We have a passport that can do everything. My advice to new entrepreneurs: Use it! Travel and get inspired.” That statement prompts the question: "Why did you start the company in Denmark?" To this, Dianox's CEO responds without hesitation: "I could not have imagined doing it elsewhere. But it gave me a clear advantage to have spent time abroad to get inspiration. In Denmark, we are influenced by the Law of Jante, which is a Scandinavian cultural marker that dictates how people feel about standing out from the crowd. I think that inhibits the startup culture in Denmark. As an entrepreneur, you have to be willing to take huge risks, solely because you yourself believe in your idea and your abilities. Unfortunately, it is my experience that great ambitions are often met with critical questions about whether it is realistic to dream so big here in Denmark. It does not make any sense to downplay the ambition of entrepreneurs. If we do, we will get nowhere. There has been space to dream big. We did.”