Up and Running with Dr. Rosina Samadani, President & CEO, Oculogica

December 5  

Dr. Rosina Samadani has 24 years of experience with medical device companies, including 7 years with McKinsey & Company as a leader in their healthcare practice. Oculogica is her 4th startup. She has raised $11M+ from accredited investors, angel groups and venture capital, conducted multiple FDA interactions for disruptive, breakthrough diagnostics via the de novo and 510(k) pathways, led the procurement of $2.5M+ funding via Department of Defense, NIH and FDA contracts and grants, established successful relationships with major research centers and the Department of Defense, and authored multiple patents.

Oculogica is the winner of the 2018 Angel Capital Association Luis Villalobos Award for Innovative Startup, and Dr. Samadani was awarded the 2019 NIMBLE Health Vanguard Award for entrepreneurship in healthcare and, along with her sister Dr. Uzma Samadani, to the 2020 Fast Company Most Creative People in Business list. 

Dr. Samadani has her BS and MS from MIT in Mechanical Engineering, and her PhD in Biomedical Engineering from Northwestern University. 

Give us the elevator pitch for Oculogica.

Oculogica is a neuro-diagnostic startup that uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to address complex brain health issues faced by patients and healthcare professionals.  Our EyeBOX® technology aids in the diagnosis of concussion by providing an objective test based on subtle eye movement changes that cannot be detected by clinical examination.

This is your fourth startup – what advice do you have for someone launching their first startup?

It’s important to figure out the “product-market fit” as early as possible. After that, the next most important thing is execution. Execution happens well when you do 5 things:

  1. Every day counts
  2. Pick the right things to work on
  3. Be radically practical
  4. Act like it’s completely up to you
  5. Maintain your energy

Women-led startups received just 2.3% of VC funding in 2020 – what needs to change to move the needle?

This is the multi-million dollar question for every woman entrepreneur out there! Obviously – this has been said many times by others –  we need more women in VC. As importantly, we need all VCs to understand that they are losing returns on investment by looking at women entrepreneurs differently. It is literally bad business to not fund women founded and women led companies.

There are many things an entrepreneur needs to consider when launching a company. What, in your opinion, are the most critical first steps?

It’s a balance between figuring out “product-market fit” and trusting your instincts. Some people have phenomenal instincts early in their careers. Others figure that out as they get more experience. Each startup has honed my instincts and that’s critical at the beginning of a startup, as well as while you’re building it.

You’ve said there is little to no objectivity in the diagnosis of concussions. How is Oculogica changing that?

We have developed a test that is based on non-voluntary movements of the eye. Our test is not based on a subjective assessment, like how you feel, or how well you can remember a set of words, or answer a math problem. We are measuring something physiological, that you can’t voluntarily alter. That’s what we mean by objectivity.

You have a truly novel device and the path you’re blazing is full of firsts. What has that experience been like?

I am so lucky I get to work on this. I love waking up every day to work on a tough problem. It is challenging of course, and that comes with a whole host of other emotions and experiences you go through when working on challenging problems. But at the end of the day, tough problems energize me.

What has been the best advice you’ve been given? And the worst?

The best advice I’ve received is to be end-product focused and – I know you didn’t ask this – some of the most memorable advice was to over-deliver. The former helps me figure out why I’m doing something and keeps me focused on what’s important. The latter just speaks to me, it’s how I want to approach almost every aspect of my life, including my work. To over-deliver, you’re going to have to put in the work. That requires motivation and, for me I get that when I work on something that matters. If you’re in a startup, you’re going to work hard. You may as well work hard on something that matters.

The worst advice I’ve been given is not one piece of advice but, in general, recommendations to do something with the company where the advisor does not have the full context of the situation. The responsibility for figuring what to listen to lies squarely with me. When you’re a startup you have a lot of eyes and ears on you. You have a lot of people looking in and thinking, “they should be doing this or that.” I’ve learned that it’s okay to listen to all of that, take it all in, and reflect on it. At the end of the day you need to make decisions based on the full context of the situation, not because someone externally advised you to do something.

Startup life can be all consuming, what do you do to decompress and relax?

I am lucky. I love my work, I love that it is a challenge, and I love the people I work with. To decompress, I do other things I love.  I spend as much time as I can with my nieces and nephews. I exercise – or try to! – every day. I hang out with people that make me laugh as much as possible.

Oculogica is rapidly growing in Medical Alley – what about this community is so critical for your company?

Medical Alley is a part of the Minnesota start-up fabric. We need it for so many things: getting the word out, hiring, support, and community. Leading a startup is tough work. It is so much more than just a job. It’s much better to do it in a community of supporters like those in Medical Alley.

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