We’re not doing research, we’re doing reduction to practice” says Noubar Afeyan about his start-up methodology in the embedded video below.

Afeyan is the founder and CEO of Flagship Pioneering – a novel healthcare and life sciences venture incubator and VC in Boston.

Afeyan’s learning is on what could be termed as the theory and practice of commercialisation. It is equal to leading practitioners among venture founders, VCs, and leaders of established businesses, incubators, and accelerators.

In the talk he addresses this question: Can disruptive, entrepreneurial innovation be systematic? He begins with the persuasive view that start-ups are the most significant invention or innovation of recent decades.

Afeyan’s career spans 30 years, across more than 35 start-ups including many IPOs, a current portfolio of almost 30 ventures, dozens of patents, and a 1987 PhD from MIT in Biochemical Engineering.

Here is a list of nine far-fetched ideas explained by Afeyan in his talk.

  1. There’s nothing rational about starting companies. Probability adjusted, it is probably going to be value-destroying.
  2. Experts hardly ever in my experience make major breakthroughs.
  3. Innovation is a search for unexpected solutions to problems in a competitive situation that isn’t simply a linear combination.
  4. If you say anything about the future you are chased out of the university, because it’s not scholarly.
  5. The mindset of an immigrant is essential to innovation. Innovation is intellectual immigration.
  6. We’re not doing research, we’re doing reduction to practice. The simple notion is that if you systematically do variation, selection and iteration – you get novelty.
  7. Failure is a necessary, rampant component of an emergent process, in fact if you take all the failures away you cannot have advances. There’s nothing efficient about evolution.
  8. Making something unreasonable seem reasonable is a really bad idea.
  9. The reason why in our model we can at least try to do this is that the capital, the teams and the science are developed in one entity.

Afeyan’s textbook speech, edited down to 15 minutes in the video, was delivered in Yerevan, Armenia on 31 October 2018 at the conference of the Foundation for Armenian Science and Technology (FAST) [that’s a LinkedIn link you can follow] or see https://fast.foundation. Afeyan is a co-founder of FAST, which is led by Armen Orujyan.

To end, in covering migrant entrepreneurs in its 5 November 2018 issue, here’s how Forbes magazine profiled Afeyan:

“Noubar Afeyan earned a Ph.D. program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in biochemical engineering and after graduating started PerSeptive Biosystems. In 1999, Noubar founded Flagship Ventures (now Flagship Pioneering) to develop new companies. Flagship Pioneering, which Noubar oversees as CEO, conducts or invests in research and forms new companies after the research bears fruit. Noubar has created at least 38 companies and has over 100 patents.

One of the companies Noubar Afeyan created is Moderna. Founded in 2009, the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based company is valued at $7 billion and employs 645 people. Moderna is developing drugs that can use messenger RNA to treat patients with “infectious diseases, rare diseases, cancer and cardiovascular diseases.”

Noric Dilanchian