Interview with Emmanuel Ghandilyan, MD, Co-founder of the first 3D bioprinting startup in Armenia
In this episode of HyeTech Minds I sat down with Emmanuel Ghandilyan, MD, who built the first 3D bioprinting startup in Armenia Foldink that provides 3D Bioprinting technology to biomedical scientists who are conducting research in tissue engineering and regenerative medicine.
The full recording of the interview (English language) is now available at these links:
Narine: Hello Emmanuel. I’m super excited to have you today at HyeTech Minds. How are you? How is there in Yerevan?
Emmanuel: I’m fine. Thank you. Here is warm weather here in Yerevan.
Narine: Last couple of years Armenia has been living its technology renaissance. Biotechnology is one of the growing sectors in tech. What made you move to the biotech industry?
Emmanuel: It depends more on my background because I am a physician and also a researcher. So working in the biotechnology field is my patient. Our company is working in the 3D bioprinting field, which is one of the novel and innovative fields in biotechnology. So also in biotech, there are many opportunities to put your efforts and do research and make inventions. So this is the reason why I and my colleagues are working in this field.
Narine: After receiving your MD in Yerevan State Medical University, Armenia, not many know probably that Yerevan State Medical University is one of the top medical education institutions in the region, you founded Foldink in 2018 Biotechnology startup which provides 3D Bioprinting technology to biomedical scientists. What is the story behind your startup? How did you come up with this?
Emmanuel: As we started our scientific project at the university, and we decided to work with 3D printers and 3D printing in medicine. So we have started with 3Dprinting on atomic models for education. After the great idea comes, maybe it is possible to print living tissues instead of plastic models or materials. After doing research, we found 3D bioprinting technology and we were excited with this technology and opportunities that can bio print, bioprinting give to humanity to scientists, to the physicians, etc. So, we decided to work and do research in this field. But after we found out that bioprinters are unavailable, there for Armenia, and like other innovative and novel technologies, you know, in that time, so we decided to create our bioprinters and do research with our products. We find out that many scientists like us have the same problem if they want to research in this field, but they have no funding or resources to buy this technology. So we decided to create a project which will help scientists from all over the world to start bioprinting research. So I and my colleagues founded a startup called folding. And the main vision is to make bioprinting available for all.
Narine: How many scientists you have currently on your team?
Emmanuel: We have five R&D specialists. Now. Also, we are expanding our team with the new team members, not only in R&D but also in other fields like engineering and marketing as well.
Narine: So, you’re one of the pioneers of 3D bioprinting in Armenia, and want to expand it in the country. Do you have intentions to move beyond the Armenian market?
Emmanuel: Yes, the main goal is to spread bioprinting technology to developing countries like Armenia. We already have some partners in Russia in the UK and other countries.
Narine: That’s awesome. Can we talk a little bit about 3D bioprinting, and Foldink’s technology solutions? What type of tissues and body parts FoldInk can print? Can you give us any real-life success stories of the applications you’ve been using?
Emmanuel: Yes, of course. Now, we have our MVP product bioprinters printers and bio-inks are special biomaterials, that are kind of fuels for the bioprinters. And we have done researching cartilage, 3d printing, bioprinting. So now, we are working on printing, heart walls, and bone scaffolds.
These are our ongoing research. So, it allows you to create an engineer mostly every type of tissue depends on which materials you are using and to what is your purpose.
Narine: Today, the global 3D bioprinting market size is valued at USD 1.4 billion and is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate of 15.8% from 2021 to 2028. Seems 3Dbiopriting is becoming a very competitive industry. In this sense, What makes your products and services unique?
Emmanuel: Yeah, it’s a good question. We are offering customizable products to our customers. So depends on which kind of research customers need to do what kind of tissues they are going to print. So the products will be just customized by your or your customers’ demand.
Narine: So you’re a researcher and entrepreneur, What are some of the challenges for enterprising academics like yourself? I think those are two opposite industries, and scientists usually have a hard time selling their products. How do you balance the academic world and entrepreneurship?
Emmanuel: Yes, that’s true. You’re right. It’s hard to be a scientist and at the same time to be also entrepreneurial. It was hard when I just started this startup. As a scientist you’ve always been in the laboratory, working with scientific data working in a lab, and you are talking with your scientific language. But if you are entering this startup world or a business world, you need to change your language. You also need to try to explain your idea, your product, simply, and with simple words. Right. So this is the main challenging part. And it’s also difficult to enter this terminology of marketing and finances. But I think business is very important for scientists, I agree I can and I can explain why. Because if you are a scientist or researcher, your research will have meaning if there is an opportunity to make your innovation or product shared with the world or make it helpful for humanity or someone and the main tool to make it available for all is commercialization and creating business on your product.
Narine: I think you just made a very great point. In today’s business-driven world, Commercialization is a huge part of good research. You need to know how to not only how to do the research but also how to create a prototype and bring it to market. If you do research and no one hears about it, or can not turn it into a product, your research might lose value.
So getting back to FoldInk, what are the main areas you’re focusing on currently?
Emmanuel: As I mentioned, the main area for our team and our research is creating the engineering heart walls and bones. So we have a project in the application of 3D printing in medicine as well, not bioprinting. But also 3D printing, because you know, it’s real to print implants or something like that. And using Kleenex, as you know, bioprinting is a little bit far from clinical applications, because it will need some time to be evaluated and to be approved from different organizations to be used in the clinics.
Narine: Who are your primary customers, clinics, hospitals?
Emmanuel: As I mentioned, 3D bioprinting is now a research field and our partners and customers are mostly research institutions and academic institutions, universities, and some of the most parts of interested people are working in this kind of organization. So clinics also could be interested, but if they have research units, in your companies.
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Narine: How do you see 3D bioprinting developing in the future? Can we get to the point when not only clinics but also individual patients can use 3D bioprinting solutions?
Emmanuel: I think it will be real after 10 years maybe. And because bioprinting needs to be developed, because there are some challenges for bioprinting to create complex tissues and maintain these tissues viable, creating vascularized tissues and just giving them to meet it to mimic the natural structure of the tissues and organs. So we need time to researchers need time to develop this technology for reaching clinical application, as you described.
Narine: I’m kind of optimistic about it Technology is boosting innovation and every minute you can see new solutions, new applications. So, I wouldn’t get surprised that we will get to the point where patients can have direct access to 3D bioprinting.
Where do you see Foldink in another 3–4 years?
Emmanuel: FoldInk will become not only a 3d bioprinting company but also a life science company, and will have several scientific directions in biotechnology and will provide scientific devices. And not only in bioprinting in tissue engineering but also in related fields. So we hope to become one of the most successful biotech companies in the world.
Narine: Well that’s a very big mission.
Emmanuel: Yes, it’s our vision.
Narine: What about competition in your niche. Is your industry very competitive? You’re located in Armenia that is a pretty small market size.
Emmanuel: Of course, there are good companies in the world, based in different countries like the USA or Europe. So they have great success already with the researchers. Yeah, I think our field is competitive. But it is most motivating to create great products to be on sale to be competitive with this. corporations who are already players in the field.
Narine: I really like your mindset. You are not afraid of competition. Are there any other startups other than FoldInk in Armenia developing complementary technologies like FoldInk?
Emmanuel: In Armenia, we are the first company, okay. In this field, I think Armenia is too small to have two companies. Because it’s very difficult to organize. And producing is difficult and because you need scientific facilities and a quiet acquire equipment, etc, but in Armenia, also developing other fields of biotechnology and medical technology. So, I hope and I’m confident that Armenia will become one of the great countries with a strong biotechnology background.
Narine: Talking about Armenia. I think Armenia is a perfect location to develop Medical IT. Armenia has one of the best medical schools in the region. On top of the education, in Armenia, you can find a high-qualified tech talent pool that is also highly affordable. What do you think, how Armenia can expand its potential in biotech and what should be done to attract more startups to get into the biotech industry?
Emmanuel: First of all, we need to encourage entrepreneurship in the biotech field and Med-Tech. COVID-19 and war indicated the necessity of having strong biotech and MedTech companies based in Armenia, to supply medical devices or helping patient care, or supplying scientific devices. So, the government should use grants, scientific grants, or entrepreneurship grants to encouraging intrapreneurship in biotech. They need to offer more grants to the startups and newly established companies and some exchange programs that will give opportunities to the young researchers to go abroad to study new technologies abroad and bring those skills back to Armenia. Also, it may be great to have some programs, which will help and encourage Armenian people in the diaspora not only biotech or med-tech youth also from the IT field to come to Armenia and start companies here and not in other countries, so they also can have offices and in different countries. But I think, to be helpful for Armenia, it’s necessary to have the headquarter in Armenia to be in Armenia physically.
Narine: So you’re a scientist yourself and entrepreneur. I’m sure you’ve overcome many challenges on your road to success. What would be your advice to other scientists who are thinking of starting their own startup?
Emmanuel: First of all, it’s not necessary for the scientists to if a scientist is not very young is not necessary to learn all this business stuff, it can be successful to find the right partner, although if scientists can, you don’t want to learn new things in business. So, you can find a great partner in the business field. And found a company. So, he will be covered, he will cover the scientific and technical part and his partner will cover the finances and business part. So, it is one of the opportunities that scientists can discuss. And the next part is starting a business on his own and working on his finances and business stuff one by one.
Narine: Seems you’ve been successful in building a value-driven partnership with your team. What is your secret to finding good partners?
Emmanuel: You know, if you are, if you are searching for a partner, you need to understand his vision. Because if you are founding a company, you need to have a similar vision to the company’s future. So this is the main point of future success. And of course, being kind people. And you need also to choose people not by their qualities, but also for professional qualities. So if your partner is very good, man, but he doesn’t have any skills that can help your business, then you can stay only with him. But for finding the right co-founder, you need to choose by his skills and qualities.
Narine: Integrity is also an important attribute to a good partnership, respect is important, you need to respect your partners, and share similar views on how to conduct a business.
Emmanuel: Yes, of course, it’s very important.
Narine: So, Emmanuel, what is the best way to learn more about FoldInk and get in touch with you in case there are listeners who want to explore more?
Emmanuel: Yes, they can visit our website. There is information about our company, our team there and we are active in social media as well like LinkedIn and Facebook. So people can also visit our social media and learn more about us and about our activities and research.
Narine: Well Emmanuel, thank you so much for a great interview. Wishing you good luck with all your endeavors and your mission to turn FoldInk into a very successful 3D bioprinting company in the world. And I’m confident with your determination and hard work you can achieve all these. All the good luck to you and stay safe.
Emmanuel: Thank you very much, and wish you success with your podcasts and your initiatives.