Kafkadesk is a proud partner of the USA-Central Europe Women in Business Summit, organised by Polish-American Women Entrepreneurs and Cultural Vistas, that will take place on October 17 in New York City. By bringing together 350 business leaders, innovators, changemakers and entrepreneurs from across the USA, Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia and Germany, the exciting new initiative promises to be the largest and most important summit of its kind.
We spoke to Polish scientist, innovator and entrepreneur Magda Kordon, CEO and Co-Founder of intoDNA, about her work on enhancing the understanding and quality of DNA damage diagnostics and to improving any therapies where DNA integrity matters.
You are the CEO and founder of intoDNA as well as one of the inventors of its proprietary technology, STRIDE. Can you tell us about what motivated to launch your own business and how you got started?
Everything started when I was a PhD student and was running my own research project. Me and my friend – Mirek, who is also a founder of intoDNA – were studying DNA damage repair processes and we both experienced a number of hurdles when trying to convince our scientific audience about the validity of our theories. We needed a very precise tool for DNA damage detection and there was nothing in the existing technological portfolio that could satisfy our needs. Moreover, the available techniques were not accurate enough to provide us with reliable results. So after having a number of discussions, we finally came up with an idea, and this is actually how STRIDE was born.
So what is STRIDE?
First, it was used as a research tool at the university but later in time we started receiving a great deal of attention, also from outside of the scientific community. And this made us realize there were a number of other areas where precision in DNA damage assessment could be very impactful. So me, Mirek, Kamil and Jurek, decided to take the matters into our own hands, start the company and prove STRIDE could be a new “litmus test” for DNA damage.
What were the first challenges you encountered and how did you overcome them?
For me one of the biggest challenges at the beginning was the transformation from being a scientist to becoming an entrepreneur. I felt like it was a struggle between my heart and my head. It was the revolution of the way of thinking and making decisions. For example, it was hard for me to accept that some of the features of our technology that meant so much to us, did not mean much to our customers. I think that the support I received from my team and people around me was very helpful. I set the goals, began a fast learning process, I was reading a lot, looking for inspiration, I had a number of conversations with much more experienced people in the field and asked them for advice. I also think that participation in the Accelerator at BioCity UK was one of the catalysts of the change. Acquiring our first customers and delivering the service to them for the first time made our science real and made me finally look at it as an entrepreneur.
Figures show that, still today, discrimination poses a major hurdle to women who seek business funding. Would you say this is also applicable to the biotech and health industries?
The biotech and health industries seem to be dominated by men. But honestly, I never personally experienced any discrimination that would affect our business development process. I think it is great there is a growing number of opportunities to seek business funding and support both for women and men. And I am very happy seeing more and more girls starting companies in the life science sector.
You have a PhD from Jagiellonian University in Kraków and you were also a visiting PhD student at UC Davis, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and UMass Medical School. How would you compare the biotech ecosystems in the USA and in Poland? What could Poland learn from the USA?
In my opinion it is hard to compare these two ecosystems. The one in the US has been developed for decades now. In Poland, the whole process started much later, so we had less time to evolve. There is certain room for improvement and learning from each other. Both ecosystems are rich in talents and a fantastic level of expertise. What we could learn from the US is how to collaborate and be more effective in bringing innovative technologies to the markets. However, the pace of the development and growth of the Polish biotech ecosystem is incredibly fast and I strongly believe that this emerging market with growing competition and growing number of opportunities can soon become a comparative sector to the one present in the US.
Would you say that women are equally considered in the USA and in Poland or have are there still noticeable differences between the two countries?
Both countries put effort in getting rid of any bias or discrimination. There is still a lot to be done but it is great to see how things have changed in last few years and actually how girls’ and women’s attitude is changing and how they try to support each other. I would not say there are any noticeable differences between the US and Poland. In both places women are more and more successful in proving how strong and powerful they can be and that they have the same right to make their dreams come true.
You say intoDNA is on a mission to enhance understanding and quality of DNA damage diagnostics and to improve any therapies where DNA integrity matters. How far do you think technology can go in helping us understand, cure and even improve human health? Would you say there are certain ethical factors to consider?
I would say that without technology we could never make any progress. We create tools that enable us to discover and then solve existing problems in biology and medicine. People keep proving that revolutionary discoveries and pushing the boundaries in technology development can revolutionise our living. One of the best examples that comes to my mind is genome editing and CRISPR technology. It is a very powerful toolbox. It may seem scary that now with CRISPR we are able to modify human genome, and, indeed, this could be very dangerous, especially if used recklessly without considering the consequences. But on the other hand, it has a great potential to become a therapeutic in curing some incurable diseases, not to mention its usefulness as a research tool in many areas, also in drug development.
What are the next steps for you and intoDNA?
As I mentioned, STRIDE is a platform technology. There is a number of its existing applications. Every day we learn about new opportunities and new areas where STRIDE could immediately become a solution to the existing problems. Now we are focusing on supporting a certain sector of the oncology drug development market but we are also aware of its potential in the areas of diagnostics, space research, drug toxicity testing, genome-editing or CRISPR therapeutics development. Now we are aiming at helping pharma or biotech companies progress through their drug functionality testing process more efficiently and effectively.
I realise it is only the beginning of an exciting journey. We are now a small bunch of people but in order to fulfil our ambitions we know we have to build a great and strong team. Growing the team is our major challenge and focus right now. This will only let us achieve our ultimate goal in the future which is to make STRIDE a new gold standard for DNA damage detection in any area where DNA quality assessment matters.
What advice would you give aspiring women entrepreneurs from Poland and Central Europe who’d be interesting in the biotech and health sectors? What warnings?
I would say: never give up when pursuing your dreams, be courageous, always think big and believe you can. I think being thoughtful, analytical, meticulous and focused, surrounding yourself with excellent people, looking for top expertise, wisely assessing and managing risks and being the driver, not the passenger are the main elements of the right attitude. Don’t give up when things seem to go wrong (what can happen quite often in life sciences) – this can be a new, promising opportunity!
Madga Kordon will be speaking later today about starting and scaling up a business at the USA-Central Europe Women in Business Summit in New York. Tickets are on sale here. Don’t forget to check out intoDNA to learn more about Magda Kordon’s ground breaking work.
You can also learn more about the Summit by reading our interviews with: