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Diary of A Catalyst Grant Awardee Part One: Character & Values

17th August 2015
By Guest Author

AlokAlok Tayi is the CEO and co-founder of TetraScience (www.tetrascience.com).  Prior to TetraScience, he was a post-doctoral fellow in George Whitesides Lab at Harvard University.  Alok completed his B.S. and PhD in Materials Science at Cornell University and Nothwestern University, respectively.  He also co-founded the open innovation platform, PreScouter.  Alok has nearly 15 years of research experience and has published numerous high-impact papers in journals like Nature and Nature Chemistry.

The following is the first in a series of blog posts from Alok Tayi, CEO and co-founder of TetraScience. This series is inspired by a brief talk he gave at Digital Science’s Pitchfest, 2015.  Many thought leaders blog about the financial aspects of entrepreneurship: business models, pricing, value proposition, etc.  However, this series chronicles the deeply personal (e.g. moral, behavioral, etc.) questions that impact directly and indirectly the financial outcome of a business.

This is a topic that is of particular importance to me.  As an entrepreneur, we always have to make many tough choices.  Often, our decisions are financially motivated because money is important for our stakeholders: investors want a greater return, customers want more value, and employees want a higher wage.  These financial pressures can force us to make decisions that run afoul of our better judgement.  How many times have we heard others (or even ourselves) struggle with such choices?  (e.g. hiring someone simply to fill a role, raising capital from less-than-reputable investors, postponing R&D investments to hit quarterly cost targets).

In the midst of the whirlwind that is starting a company, it is easy to lose sight of who we are and why we do what we do…

I want all entrepreneurs to know that they should feel empowered to leverage their personal character and values as they build their businesses.

In a myriad of circumstances, I have had to make difficult, morally informed decisions.  Whether it is a supplier who makes inappropriate comments about women or investors who are not above board, we have seen this a lot.  Yet, at my startup, TetraScience, we remain resolved in choosing the right employees, partners, and investors who meet and exceed our high bar for character and values.

My commitment to this issue arose while I was a post-doctoral fellow at Harvard; at the time, a fledgling biotech company tried to recruit me as a technical co-founder.  The scientific co-founder had departed and the founder/CEO needed someone with a research background to drive the therapeutic forward.  I had significant reservations about the entrepreneur’s commitment and limited domain expertise.

However, I was most shocked to learn, in professional and social contexts, that the entrepreneur did not share my character and values.  She was intolerant of other faiths, discriminated against homosexuality, and made racist comments.  Though they extolled the importance of ‘values’, it became clear that the actions did not match the language.

That personal experience shapes my behavior as a leader.  In every meeting I have with an investor, partner, or employee, we always place character and values front-and-center.  Everyone should know TetraScience’s priorities and our commitment to them.

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