3 minute read and…a lifetime of reflection
New York, NY
Last month I had the fun of astonishing learning and growing from joining an Abundance360 business owners group trip hosted by my friend—the irrepressible Peter Diamandis. The week focused on the exponential changes and convergence in technology relating to health span: gene therapy, brain immune-gut axis, CRISPR, tissue engineering, regenerative medicine, brain health, neurodegenerative diseases, cardiovascular health, oncology/cancer therapies, diagnostics, bio fabrication, cellular therapies, the biological mechanics of aging, stem cells, drug discovery, organ procurement, and on and on.
There were dozens of speakers and early-stage company presentations. Domain stars we heard from included David Sinclair, George Church, Rudy Tanzi, Mark Allen, and Nir Barzilai. We had tours of the Advanced Regenerative Manufacturing Institute (ARMI) with Dean Kamen, hands-on sessions with Fountain Life and discussion with their CEO Bill Kapp and Medical Director George Shapiro, and a tour of newly public listed Celularity by their CEO, Bob Hariri—just to name a few highlights for me. Peter Diamandis curated all the speakers and consistently challenged them with insightful Socratic questions. Whew. Massive learning (and unlearning) packed into a week.
Are you preoccupied with your death? I’m not. But could increasing our awareness of how the end of life comes to each of us make our every day a little sweeter?
The top five causes of death in North America are: heart disease, cancer, pulmonary disease, metabolic, and neurological (in that order). Traditional medicine (sick care) has customarily thought of those diseases as discrete; developing methods, therapies, and pharmaceuticals to treat the symptoms of each disease individually.
The domain experts we met during our week of learning have solidly connected the dots. They focused on health span and life span; they see all those diseases as a function of aging. Not a cause of aging, but caused by aging. That to oversimplify (Mr. Simple here), for most people, if you get enough miles on you, you are highly likely to develop one of those diseases. Thus, it really doesn’t do any good to think only about cancer by itself, because even if you cure cancer…then heart disease, or pulmonary disease, or Alzheimer’s or whatever (you get it), are going to get you.
So, it was incredibly inspirational to be with entrepreneurs who are passionate about inventing new health span solutions, and separately with other entrepreneurs who are passionate about executing on them. I have no doubt that we are at the tipping point (not ten years, not five years, but like 12-24 months) of a time when we will look back and (sticking with the cancer example) think how medieval it was that we radiated people or poisoned them with chemotherapy with the hope of reducing their cancer instead of activating their natural killer cells, or genetically modifying what is going on in their own body so we could fight off the cancers that are already present within us.
What are my big takeaways as an Entrepreneur Owner-Manager?
First, from a mile high view, it’s abundantly clear that one of the most important “must haves” for the breakthrough new biological solutions for health span has been and is the accessibility of cheap and plentiful computing. Computational biology in particular, is booming. Diamandis: “It can’t be overestimated how important AI and ‘big data’ is in the drug/biotech field. The companies crushing it are doing massive data analysis. Biology is a science of ‘big numbers’.”
Basically, decentralized access to enormous inexpensive computing power typically through the cloud, is a general condition for breakthroughs in biology. Sound crazy? They are rapidly iterating and using AI and machine learning to speedily try stuff—to find out what works and what does not before it gets to the petri dish.
Its widely known that the Moderna mRNA COVID vaccine was designed in 48 hours, an astonishing achievement that was not possible only a short while ago. This kind of breakthrough it seems to me, is just the tip of the iceberg for the arrival of many other imminent advances from computational biology. (Naturally, the mRNA breakthroughs were probably just like your enterprise, an “overnight success, decades in the making”—you can read about the extraordinary story of Hungarian American Kati Kariko who has worked on the mRNA her entire career so far).
Second big takeaway. It’s almost sacrilege today to suggest that exciting scientific discoveries are not the pinnacle of all achievement. But these biological solutions are basically merely interesting academic papers until an entrepreneur-brain figures out how to make them, make them perfectly replicable, provide the risky capital for them, and scale their manufacturing and distribution. And they’re not usually contained in the same person.
Bob Hariri, MD, PhD, the CEO of Celularity, is an authentic “technical prodigy.” He is building a business to harvest placental stem cells, grow them, and provide them for healthcare uses from the campus they are developing in New Jersey that is the home of cellular manufacturing. Dean Kamen (who never graduated from college but has 41 honorary degrees) I would describe (with great affection and admiration) as a “technical tinkerer.” His engineering mind (how to design it), and manufacturing know-how (how to make it) are unequaled. Each of them has invested the biggest part of their working lives—decades—in scaling scientific innovation.
Some of my longevity-geek friends are imagining how long they can live, and what the future can be—and look, imagining is the first step in creating anything. I love that. It’s impossible to create the future we want (health span) without first envisioning it. Believing it is possible and funding the research into it, makes it more likely to happen. But focusing on “longevity” without “health span” is a no-win game for all of us. Happily, most of the minds we met last week get that. I am incredibly uplifted and optimistic from what I learned.
Maybe the biggest takeaway of all is how thinking about increased health span can activate a positive mindset in the present. I resonate with how my friend Dan Sullivan of Strategic Coach® described his interest in longevity to me over coffee one morning: “The most important reason I am working on envisioning my long life is to transform how I live in the present.”
I appreciate being a member of the Abundance360 entrepreneur business owners group. It gives me insight to other ecosystems that I benefit from learning about and that are different from my own professional domain.
What I am Reading / Listening to
The Practical Genius of Chris Bouzaid, on the Yachting New Zealand podcast Broad Reach Radio
Chris Bouzaid is one of my closest friends. Together, we tried to remember when it was we first bonded and we think it has been over 35 years so far.
Chris is one of the most gifted sailors ever, both as an ocean racing sailor and circumnavigating cruising sailor. Probably best known in the yachting world for being the first New Zealander to win major international keelboat regattas, Chris Bouzaid has been called the father of New Zealand international keelboat yachting, inspiring the likes of Sir Peter Blake and Grant Dalton. He was the first non-Australian to win the Sydney-Hobart Race, first non-European to win the World One Ton Cup (which, in those days, sat only behind the America’s Cup in terms of importance), he won the legendary Fastnet Race, and was part of the New Zealand team that finished 1, 2, and 3 at the 1971 Sydney-Hobart Race, something that had never been done before, and which resulted in New Zealand claiming the Southern Cross Cup. These achievements saw Chris named "New Zealand Sportsman of the Year," be inducted into the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame, awarded a Member of the British Empire, and recognized as one of New Zealand’s “Sportsmen of the 20th Century.”
I know Chris well—really, really well. We’ve been travelers and adventurers together, cruising sailors, business partners, and raised hell in various corners of the globe. But, it’s the practical wisdom that Chris shares about his entrepreneurial thinking—both by water and by land—that is why I found this podcast so uplifting and captivating. In this podcast, Chris recounts his time as a sail making apprentice, the premature death of his father requiring he and brother Tony to take over Dad’s business, the transition to America, how he came to lead Hood Sailmakers worldwide, and why circumnavigation was vital for him.
It’s transformative for me to hear game changing entrepreneurs like Chris demonstrate how his independent practical way of thinking about opportunities, (along with utterly no need to conform) enabled him to “connect the dots” personally and professionally, allowing him to share with us such a hopeful expectation for the future.
Entrepreneur Owner-Manager Quote
“Bigelow, your leadership along the journey of this transaction is what got us here. Thank you!”
Happy New Year?
I don’t know why exactly, but for me, Labor Day always feels like a new year. (Could it be the grooves worn into my unconscious by the public school educational-industrial complex?)
So, feeling like New Year's, yesterday I pulled out my weekly planners (yep, I still love paper for some stuff) from 1981, 1991, 2001, and 2011. I haven’t looked at them much. But I am insatiably curious, and I was just satisfying my curiosity to revisit where I had been investing my energy in those years: who I was spending time with, what I had been working on in terms of purpose, what traveling I was doing, what successes or failures could I see from a mile high, maybe even…what I was/am learning.
I found it energy creating but not in the way I anticipated. I didn’t feel any particular sense of sentimentality or romanticism, as I thought I would. Rather, I was struck by what are the constants and what are not. My sense of purpose and high energy around it continues to unfold and I see more discovery in front of me than I do looking back. Some of my relationships are the same, but caution—some I had to deliberately shed because of the resistance they were giving me to unlocking my potential or holding me back. I was struck by the fact that what I had and have been working on is so incredibly long term, and how I have been investing time, energy, capital, and that’s been compounding. I looked back at some meetings and some dates and thought, “Wow, I was advocating for EOMs and their ability—no, their right—to build positive legacy and Enterprise Value even back then.”
So, for me it didn’t feel like “a trip down memory lane” and give me some insights as I thought it might. Rather, it made me ask the energizing question: since I conclude those last chapters were just the beginning, then what’s in store for the next chapter?