University of Nairobi

Scientist to CEO

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Three Ways Being a Molecular Biologist Helped Me Become a Successful Entrepreneur

By Nina Dudnik, PhD, Founder and CEO, Seeding Labs

Throughout the last decade, I’ve been asked time and again how I made the leap from molecular biologist to founder and CEO. It’s true I didn’t have an MBA or other formal training related to entrepreneurship.

What I did have was passion for the mission, which gave me the courage to learn by doing. Along the way, though, I found that 3 aspects of my training as a scientist had an enormous influence on the way Seeding Labs grew.

1. Ask the Right Questions

As a scientist, you learn to take complex, messy phenomena and home in on focused, concrete, testable problems. Entrepreneurs, particularly social entrepreneurs, are trying to address big problems that don’t immediately present simple solutions.

When starting Seeding Labs, I recognized that there are many obstacles facing global scientists: securing funding for research, balancing time spent teaching with time in the lab, and working in locations isolated from colleagues in their fields, to name a few.

Trying to solve all of these obstacles at once would be impossible. As a scientist, I knew firsthand that lack of access to lab equipment equipment makes or breaks your career. This was a concrete, definable problem that I could solve.

2. Don't be Afraid to Experiment

By definition, science is about experimentation. What that really means is that most of your time is spent doing things that do not work. As a PhD student, I spent 3 months developing a single experiment, tweaking individual steps in the protocol and repeating it until it was just right.

Was it frustrating? Absolutely. But that’s just how experimentation works, and you have to define each attempt as progress, not failure. If we were all afraid to admit our experiments didn’t work, no great discoveries would be made.

That experimental mindset was critical to starting Instrumental Access. I lost count of the number of people early on who told me it couldn’t be done - but as a scientist, that’s not a reason to shy away, just a reason to think smarter about how to try.

I’m proud of how we continue to experiment at Seeding Labs to constantly improve our programs. In social entrepreneurship, being willing to admit to mistakes and improve on them isn’t just smart, it’s critical to improving the lives of the people we serve.

3. Collect and Learn from Data

An experimental mindset is nothing without data and the ability (and willingness) to analyze and learn from it. A large part of a scientist’s education is learning to define not only the right question, but what to measure to answer that question.

From day 1 at Seeding Labs, I have built in systems to document everything, and the effects ripple throughout the organization: from ensuring we had the financial data and platforms to successfully secure a government grant, to maintaining relationships with our partners worldwide.

Most of all, it’s helped us collect short- and long-term measures of the outcomes and impacts of our programs to make sure we are doing what works.

After 10 years, I continue to find that my scientific training forms a solid foundation for my work, and I hope to inspire many more scientists and others without the “proper” background to make the leap into entrepreneurship.

Photo at top: Nina Dudnik (left) touring labs with members of the Department of Chemistry at the University of Nairobi in Kenya.


Nina Dudnik
Nina Dudnik, PhD

As Seeding Labs' Founder and CEO, Nina has experienced science on a global scale. Before launching Seeding Labs as a graduate student in 2003, she was a Fulbright scholar at the Africa Rice Center in Côte d’Ivoire. Nina obtained her PhD in molecular biology from Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and a BSc in biochemistry from Brown University.

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Comments 2

  1. I admire your foresight and determination. I am glad our University was one of the latest Institutions to benefit from that foresight.

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