Cultivate a diverse range of perspectives and experiences. I’ve lived in 12 countries and seen many different versions of healthcare — which means I can identify what’s really good here in the US, and what isn’t working. If living in different geographies isn’t a reality for you, seek out firsthand accounts of others’ diverse experiences with the issue you’re tackling, or bring more diverse staff or advisers into the fold as you grow your venture. Forcing yourself out of your own bubble (even when you don’t think you’re in one) is the most important way you can drive your innovation forward.
Companies are doing important work making monumental positive changes to society, health, and the environment. To highlight these, we started a new interview series about “Technology Making An Important Positive Social Impact”. We are interviewing leaders of tech companies who are creating or have created a tech product that is helping to make a positive change in people’s lives or the environment. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Pouria Sanae, CEO, ixlayer.
Pouria Sanae is a co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of ixlayer, a health infrastructure and data company that is building the future of healthcare, starting with health testing. His previous leadership roles include head of product partnership at Helix, where he led launch efforts for 22 genomics consumer products, and director of product management at Yahoo and Flickr. He was also founder and CEO of two startups — data mining company CMS (Complex Made Simple) and eCommerce platform Cityblis. Pouria holds a Master’s degree in aerospace engineering from Lulea University of Technology, Sweden, and spent the first seven years of his career within the aerospace sector working for the German Aerospace Center (DLR), Airbus space division, Syderal space, Oerlikon Aerospace, and TERMA group working in multiple countries and regions in Europe.
Iwas born in Iran and spent the first six years of my life there, before my parents migrated to Sweden, where I grew up and spent most of my teens.
The first step on my career journey began when I was accepted into the aerospace engineering program at the Lulea University of Technology, a public research university in Norrbotten, Sweden. This started my “space years” and opened up a career path that allowed me to work in multiple European countries in Europe and contribute to aerospace projects and technology that is currently a part of the ISS (International space station) payload.
In 2008, I had an epiphany: some of the same algorithms used in aerospace signal processing could be used in other sectors to advance both consumer experience and business efficiencies. This realization was the start of my predictive algorithm-based data-mining company, CMS, and the “entrepreneur years” of my career. The technology was ahead of its time and received grants for innovation from Sweden’s ALMI and the EU Regional Development Fund. In 2010, I became the youngest member ever elected to The Sweden International Trade Association (“SIFFEK”) Board of Directors.
My passion for creating impactful change was ignited in full at this point, and I knew I wanted to next turn my attention to an industry serving the most pressing needs of our human condition: healthcare.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
There are two Rumi quotes that have provided great life lessons for me, and I find myself turning to them again and again. They speak to the importance of remembering just how expansive our imaginations can be when it comes to problem solving, but also that the most important part of solving problems is sometimes simply choosing to take that first step — and then to keep moving.
Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about the tech tools that you are helping to create that can make a positive impact on our wellness. To begin, which particular problems are you aiming to solve?
When my partners and I co-founded ixlayer, we knew we wanted to create a fundamental change in the way people approach their health — starting with lab testing.
Why lab testing? If you stop to think about it, we still live in the dark ages when it comes to our health. We talk so much about data — we have such vast technology gathering and analyzing millions upon millions of health-related data points every day — and yet the vast majority of us do lab testing just once a year (at most!).
What this means is that we — and our doctors — see a single snapshot in time, rather than an ongoing read-out of how our bodies are doing. It would be like driving a car without dashboard lights, and only checking oil, gas and tire pressure once a year. What we really need is data over time, to see if high cholesterol levels, for example, are an anomaly or an ongoing concern.
What ixlayer does is make more frequent testing possible — both financially and logistically. The most exciting thing about our solution is that we are reimagining a complex diagnostic laboratory testing ecosystem, and removing the complexity. The future of consumer healthcare starts with testing, and by removing traditional barriers, we can shift the entire paradigm from reactive care to proactive care, improve access, increase speed of drug development, and create new efficiencies for stakeholders across the entire healthcare system.
How do you think your technology can address this?
If we could fundamentally shift our health care model from being reactive to sick patients and more proactive and engaging to “pre-patients,” almost all of us would have a higher quality of life. Being proactive requires better access and convenience to diagnostics that also provide more informative insights from test results, providing patients and caregivers with the information they need to make more informed decisions. To become more proactive requires us to reimagine the foundation and cornerstone of our healthcare system, lab testing. ixlayer makes it easy for people to test and monitor for health issues from the privacy of their home, and then take proactive steps to improve outcomes.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 70% of medical decisions depend on lab testing, making accessibility to testing key to a patient’s health. But lab testing requires intensely complex logistics that can take millions of dollars and several years to set up. Instead of reinventing the wheel each time a company wants to create a lab testing offering, ixlayer provides the infrastructure to enable trusted brands to launch accessible, convenient and customizable health testing programs — for consumer brands, healthcare and insurance providers, biopharma partners, or essential service organizations. We provide our partners with everything they need: white-labeled test kits, a user-friendly digital interface, and configurable technology that integrates with existing systems. Our solutions offer flexible sample collection options to ensure that we can meet more people “where they are” — making it easy and even enjoyable to complete their lab work. Ultimately, this means improved patient engagement and better health outcomes. It’s incredibly gratifying to know that ixlayer powers millions of tests each year.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
Each of my co-founders and I have experienced profound events in our lives related to lab testing — good, bad, and undecided.
One of us lost his father to cancer — a disease that could have been caught earlier with the right testing. Another has a father who suffers from Alzheimer’s, and wonders about his own future, and whether the right testing might someday reveal better detection, prevention and even treatment.
In my past, I began to suffer from significant fatigue. One of my startups had failed, and I moved to a corporate job — so I assumed my exhaustion had to do with these major life changes. But around the same, my mother was randomly selected to participate in a clinical trial in Sweden that involved multiple lab tests. It turned out that she had markers for a chronic thyroid condition — prompting me to get tested too. Sure enough, I had the same condition, which often leads to fatigue. I was able to get the treatment I needed.
More importantly and much more dramatically, that same trial caught a tumor in my mother’s body. Thankfully, it was in a very early stage, and her doctors were able to remove it. But it was a shocking experience. It was pure luck that she joined that trial –if she hadn’t, she would have been a cancer patient.
This is the power of lab testing — getting needed information at the right moment. And it’s why I feel so passionately about ensuring that everyone has the ability to monitor their health and gain these life-altering insights far more often than a once-a-year doctor visit.
How do you think this might change the world?
Our vision is simple: if we can increase access to affordable and easy testing options, we can make the world healthier.
Right now, our health system — particularly in the US — is set up to be “sick care,” rather than prioritizing preventive care. There are a lot of reasons for this, but one of the biggest is that traditionally, frequent testing was incredibly expensive and logistically difficult. Today, ixlayer technology solves both of those problems.
According to the American Hospital Association, nearly half of Americans — 133 million people — have a chronic condition which often requires ongoing lab tests, and 60 million more have a chronic condition and don’t even know it! One of our best tools to identify health risks, and develop a plan for management or treatment, is diagnostic lab testing. Lab testing is shown to be one of the best ways to engage with patients, and one of the number one reasons patients log into their digital health portals is to view test results. Yet many lab tests are not completed, often due to transportation issues, inability to get off work or access to child-care, and other barriers. If we are going to change the trajectory of health care — and catch more people when they are “pre-patients,” before a condition progresses to levels of concern, it is essential to make lab testing easier and more convenient. And that’s exactly what ixlayer does.
Keeping “Black Mirror” and the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?
Any disruptive innovation will force changes to the status quo — but not all aspects of the status quo are necessarily bad! As innovators, we must consider and prepare for the impact of the changes we’re creating, and sometimes that can be as simple as reaching out proactively to gain input and educate about your vision. For example, the patient-doctor relationship remains critical to quality of care. Having a trusted expert and advocate you can turn to with questions about your health is essential. So, although changing the availability and dynamic of laboratory testing might shift the traditional order of things — perhaps consumers will be able to bring more frequent data to their doctors, as opposed to needing a doctor’s visit to prompt the lab work — it does not have to upend the relationship in a negative way. In fact, we hope it would spark more productive and proactive conversations — but we need to help others see that clearly, too.
Here is the main question for our discussion. Based on your experience and success, can you please share “Five things you need to know to successfully create technology that can make a positive social impact”? (Please share a story or an example, for each.)
In my experience, there are two key perspectives that really matter when it comes to creating technology that makes a positive social impact.
First, as a longtime product manager, I find that when you build a product that you need yourself, the byproduct is positive social impact. By identifying, pursuing and solving your own problem, you will inherently create something needed — and something that improves many more lives beyond your own. In fact, the most successful founders created products for themselves: Zuckerberg wanted a way to connect with more friends; Jobs wanted technology that he could more easily understand. Taking care of that one key persona — and a problem you know intimately — will serve you, and society, well.
Second, cultivate a diverse range of perspectives and experiences. I’ve lived in 12 countries and seen many different versions of healthcare — which means I can identify what’s really good here in the US, and what isn’t working. If living in different geographies isn’t a reality for you, seek out firsthand accounts of others’ diverse experiences with the issue you’re tackling, or bring more diverse staff or advisers into the fold as you grow your venture. Forcing yourself out of your own bubble (even when you don’t think you’re in one) is the most important way you can drive your innovation forward.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
Every young person has a problem they wish they could solve — no matter how lofty, and no matter whether it benefits them personally, or someone they care about. (I know that is a sweeping generalization — but I stand by it!) The funny thing is, it is a near certainty that others are plagued by the same problem. Positive impact can start small: seeking the answer to a puzzle, or making a simple process more efficient. But these actions inevitably unlock greater achievement and innovation. Creating a positive impact for society and the environment starts with trying to make life — your own life — a little better. Seeing just how far that benefit can spread is one of the greatest rewards.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success in your important work.
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