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Burak Özkösem from Pera Labs

By April 2, 2021April 14th, 2021No Comments

I’m here with Burak, the CEO, and founder of Pera Labs, and Pera Labs is a next-generation fertility tech company that is transforming the way that the reproductive health field works and they’re using A.I. to do that.

Let’s talk about Pera labs.

Pera Labs. It’s coming from my Ph.D. Studies that are sitting in front of the microscope and just like try to spend several hours, do the sperm analysis and then talk to the clinic guys and just try to figure out, you know, how long this process takes. And then I was hoping that one day somebody should just, you know, this whole process that happened to be us. So, I think it’s the time was perfect in terms of the technologies that deep learning was accepted in the health care applications and microfluidic chips were also getting cheaper and more affordable for startups to integrate. So, we started in twenty eighteen, but altogether the company got together twenty nineteen officially, so with some software engineers and hardware engineer and me. And then we have another person in the medical device sales that. Yeah, that’s how we started.

How long ago did you start Pera Labs?

So that’s like as a project it started. I would say three years, but like the name, like all this official corporation stuff, it’s last year. So, it’s like 2019.

The hopes when you applied on the Launch Lane

So, I’ve been putting my eyes on Science Center since my visit last June, my first interaction was with Katrina, and so she showed around, she showed us around the science center. And then what accelerator’s I think they the digital health. She talked about her innovation programs and stuff. At that time, we were thinking to move to Philly and operate from there. And then I thought, it’s a really good community. So, I signed up for the newsletter. I was receiving the Ventura County newsletters and basically, although I wasn’t there. But then I saw the announcement for Launch Lane Accelerator. I said, OK, and we want to apply. So, I talked to Katrina and a few other people from Drexel and Temple and then they said, OK, that’s great to have you guys here. So, yeah, it started like that. So, I think it’s developing a network, opening a door for us. It’s more than a soft landing. It’s kind of you to feel like your little family, you grow together, they help you grow. And then you can you know, we can also give back to the community, to our peers and different startups or students. So, yeah, that’s it feels like a real incubator space. And the oldest tools and people are amazing. So, yeah, it’s more than I expected actually, in terms of the benefits to us.

What brings it beyond what you expected?

So it’s I think the personal touch like so when you talk to the folks at the program, like yourself and Nestor and you know, Erin Amien, so there’s like easy to talk and there’s the feeling is there’s always attention on each company or to each startup. I mean, this is a person. So, you feel you’re safe. It’s a safe environment to talk about things that maybe you don’t want to talk to others, you know, outside the launch lane or that basically, like I have no idea about like few legal things or like how to move forward or what not to do. And so, you learn from your peers that they’ve been through there and then or you did something that they might be interested in. So, I think that part and every Thursday, the two-hour-long meetings are amazing. That’s the best part.

The impact of working virtually

Actually, for me, was easier because I missed the first two meetings and then the third when I made it well, I made it like so the meeting was at three p.m. and my flight landed like a few hours before the meeting time, like one I rented a car from JFK and then directly drove down to Philly and then I was there. But the traffic was terrible. I remember seeing Aaron over you like we just finished it. So, and then the covid shut down everything. So that’s yeah. I’m OK. So, no complaints. Of course, one on one would be face to face will be better. But I think and it’s amazing like every Thursday everybody is there because, you know, there’s nothing else to do. So, it’s not like, oh, you know, I’m busy or I have a few other things. The perfect.

Things that changed because of the pandemic

Oh, yeah, it is like the Turkish culture is not I don’t want to say like your law-abiding citizens, but it’s there is chaos here in a way, the culture itself, if Istanbul is 18 million people live here, it’s never sleeping. So, it’s crazy in a way. But all this craziness disappeared like everything is shut down. It’s very quiet. People are like, you know, everyone just touching is so relaxed. You see, everyone is just like an arm-to-arm walk. Everyone kisses each other when they see each other. Nothing like that happens. That’s all it is. It’s yeah. So, it is different for people and very used to be more social. It is now completely the opposite of it. And then and I think half of the population is under thirty-five. So, it’s, it’s, you have like a forty million age under thirty-five. So that makes it difficult to keep them with the social distancing. Yeah, it is tough but for us like for startups. So, you know, most of the things were happening with the zoom or whatever other conference tools. It’s the same way the phone calls and most of our focus was Europe and the US. So, we were fine.

The impact of Covid-19 on your business

Yeah, so we were just about to start fundraising, so we had some meetings scheduled in Philly, in San Francisco, so they were all canceled like postponed being exact. So buttoned up, postponing, and never actually turning to a realization. So, the postponement turned. OK, let’s talk about it a few months later after covid. So, in that part, our talks became distant. I mean, it’s very difficult to talk to and explain yourself and what you do and how this is going to change the world. It’s difficult to do it over the phone or via the Internet and difficult to explain how, you know, your team is the right one and so on. So other than that, we had two pilots that are scheduled. So, they were postponed, one in the Netherlands, and then one was going to be happening in Philadelphia. So those are postponed. So, since we were Pretty Avenue, so in terms of the revenue generation, didn’t change much at the certification part since we’re producing a medical device for our technologies and diagnostic system. So, the certification part, I think it created a little delay, but the delay was kind of accepted by the authorities. So, then they delayed the deadlines and a few other things. So, I think it worked. Better than I expected for our situation.

Advice for those who are applying for grants and loans in time of the pandemic

So, we applied. But since, you know, the company’s new lukewarm and we were declined. So, we haven’t applied to the PPP. And so maybe that’s one there’s still a window, but I think it will be the same situation again.

Learnings from this situations

I think it’s the agile being agile, it’s critical, or whatever it could mean in these circumstances. So, the recently submitted a project for I’m related to covid. So, because our technology can do a really good analysis, sperm analysis, and the selection. So, we thought we thought, you know, the previous and that the virus family-like SARS one and Murres and a few others. So, they were detected in semen, human semen six months later than the person lost all the symptoms. So, they were not able to detect this virus in the saliva or blood, but it was still existing in human semen. So, we don’t know. Of course, it would be the same case for the sars-Nov-2. So, we wanted to check out if we can detect human sperm because it will be important right now. If you are let’s say if you’re not HIV positive or if you don’t have any viral infections if there’s some state kind of pushes you to do the testing before they collect your samples. But some of them, they don’t if you don’t call them, they don’t show. But after a lot of people are recovering like millions all around the world and all these fertility clinics now will have to make sure that they don’t have the covid infection still. So, or they will be most probably they will be denied from having a child to immature fertilization. That’s especially for like gay couples. It will be problematic and because it doubles the risk for them. So, we wanted to do a little study with that. So, we wanted to see if we can use our technology for other things. So, then our value proposition remains significant. Yeah, yeah, those things I learned.

How would you say you’re disrupting with Pera Labs?

Yes, so that’s a good question. So far, like all the technology pretty much allows you do a really good analysis of the sperm, gives you a report. OK, you’re great. Like 30 percent of your sperm are in good shape or not sorry or good, but they cannot select the ones they analyze and then they determine that they’re really in good shape. They look at it and they go back and then they take another sample. What we do is so they can analyze it and then right away they can select the ones they just looked at it. So, it’s like if it’s a week, Ed, for you, if you do an analogy, what you see is what you get. But in the other technologies, you look at it, but then you go back, you mix this up and then you select one. But random, you may get it, or you may not get the best sperm. That’s what it is, I think.

Biggest challenged

so, it’s a touchy subject for a lot of people, and for the fundraising part, people don’t want to take a risk because it’s a really serious matter. I mean, you know, it’s not like some app that just like makes few things or I mean, I don’t want to compare the technologies, but it’s related to the life. It’s related to the future. It’s serious technology. It’s complex. So, and not everyone wants to talk about it. Like I remember one of the Pete Sessions, generally, I was asking questions. So how many of you know someone had had to go through IVF, like in the States or like in Europe? Like people raise hands. But when I did the same pitch in China, no one raised hands like no one in the room, maybe 100 people. So, you can see that. OK, so that’s like no one wants to talk about this. You can see the stress there. It just makes it difficult for, I think, the resources to kind of like approach us or they wait for us like we did all kinds of innovation, like medical validation, technical validation, market validation, and everything, and then maybe they will be interested. But then again, that journey’s a long, lonely journey for us. So, no one wants to help us now to go through the certification. That certification process is like 12 months that they could release in a difficult part for us. Yeah.

Certification status right now

Well, so thanks to launch Lane and the program. So, we are pushing now this month to the first filing, getting all the dossier prepared. So, we are doing a kickoff this month that will take us a maximum of 12 months. But then once we have everything in the file, we can show this to the kids that, hey, you already started. Here’s the document that we are in the process of. We’re just waiting. That will make a difference.

Would you recommend accelerators to other founders?

Yes, but I would say I’ve been to two accelerators so far, and I know a lot of friends have been to different accelerators or incubators, so they have to shop carefully. I think it’s they have to meet the people who run the program. They have to look at the previous cohorts, you know, where they are now and where they were before. So, they have to do some kind of due diligence, actually, for the accelerator. I highly recommend Launch Lane Accelerator. So, I don’t want to compare with all the other accelerators in the States. But, um, so for a deep tank or a technology-based startup, I think Launch Lane sits and they like him that as a bridge to the several doors they can help to open.

What kind of doors do you feel like Launceston was able to help you open so far?

Yeah, so I think I would put into two different like a big door, one is networking with potential partners in future. It could be medical device manufacturers’ compliance or the regulatory experts that we don’t know. I mean, there are hundreds of them out there, but you don’t know who is or, you know, there’s vetting. So, if someone vetted, then you know that you can trust them to work with them, especially if all this the covid related to the situation. So, we don’t have the opportunity to meet those people face to face. So that program gives us hey, OK, talk to these guys. And or the legal part is also another topic for us so far. But I think it’s the networking like they know people we will never know maybe, or it will take us zillions of cold emails or try to connect with them. So, there’s right there next to the door. So, it feels like that.

Things you looking forward to when things is over

Yeah, so OK, so, you know, I mean, nothing Argentine tango almost like 20 years, that’s my passion. I also had a business in that. And now we dance almost like every night in different locations, their dance festivals, marathons, and retreats, and a few other things happening all around the world almost every night. I think that’s the most important for me, that I miss dancing. And I think it will be it will take a long time for tango dancing to start again because of its proximity. And so, it’s not social distancing. So, I want to go back to dancing my dance shoes and they feel the embraces and the music. I miss it. I think that’s the most desirable thing I put on my list. Like a number one. That’s it.

How did you have time to get a Ph.D. to start a company and also do the tango? How would you manage to do both? So, when I was doing my Ph.D., so actually with my ex-wife, we a dance studio in Montreal. So that was two things. And then it was like that it like nothing else. I mean, like, you know, the Monterey Jazz Festival is really good. I, I was there six years and I think I was able to go like one you once. So of course then all of your friends from tango and then you know, you go vacation, you do the vacation related to tango, you go to Italy or somewhere that or Argentina. So, it changes things. But again, you still have time. And then so the deal was done. Then the startup parts took over and tango stayed pretty much so. But then I wasn’t doing much professionally then. I was just testing socially and then just more. And my focus was mostly on startup development. But again, you know, you go to a conference or you go to a pitch session in December. I was an advisee for two years. And when I was there, the first thing I look OK, so who I know in, you know, in this San Francisco area. And I met people and I knew some old friends. We went out dancing after the YC interview. They didn’t go well anyways. So, it’s like it’s always a good thing to have the release points socializing. It’s important.

How do you feel that dance has impacted the way you run your business? Yeah, so because. So, the dancing, it’s so you have to first or, you know, you’re not dancing by yourself. That’s like a different that’s like I mean, maybe if I did, hip hop would be OK. But when you’re dancing the tango, it’s a couple of dances. So, then you have someone in front of you. So, it doesn’t matter how good you are, or you think you are good you are. Do you have to be able to communicate with that person? And that’s not verbal communication, but it makes you might be really smart, but you might be a terrible dancer then all these things. So, then I think there’s some like some kind of a self-humiliation there. And then all the ego just goes away as much as possible in the dance because it’s not the same as they like him. You know, I would collect medallion, you know, the one side of the light and then the dark part kind of when you’re dancing, it’s you have to start over everything and then you develop new communication skills. And you trust the person in front of you all those things? Yeah. It’s a really good team-building exercise.

What would you say is your superpower? My superpower, my superpower, I take stress, really like stress doesn’t do anything to me, like, OK, so I would say I’m relaxed in a way or even I’m not relaxed. I don’t show that I’m stressed out. So then everything is going down. I’m still doing fine. I don’t know how to describe this, so resilience or so I can’t function, let’s say like my laptop crashed or something, and then I have a pitch happen in China. I just took the paper cups, water cups to do the explanation of how sperm go through the channels. I explain it like that. The spontaneous solutions. I’m good at it.

Experience being a founder

Yes, I think that’s yes, I mean, you know, I was in academia before I was it almost, I was becoming an assistant professor and then just going to the ivory tower. But the founder and the startup, it’s the ecosystem. It’s really. Helping me grow each day, I keep learning a lot of things that I now realize, it doesn’t matter how much you know about your expertise. It means nothing unless or until you can explain to people and then make it something bigger that I cannot do by myself.

What kind of things are you open to right now in terms of people reaching out? So, we are some level, its social media, so Twitter or LinkedIn, people can find us in Pera Labs it also wants the covid-19 loosens up and then more opportunities for meetups. Definitely. We are interested in like I would say, cross-disciplinary projects in terms of, you know, they could be university-related or education. So, it’s. I think it is our goal is to have a nice international community also inside the company to have this, you know like you have a potluck. Imagine that. So, we also have we’re going to have the potluck. So, everyone is welcome. Of course. So, we want to keep it. New talents, new ideas, and with more people joining. So that’s definitely. So, I think we will start hiring end of summer in Philly. We will have a few open positions. But I mean, you don’t even have to like work, but you can come to the seminars we’re going to be doing and we want to do at least one hackathon related to reproductive health. But since we have the artificial intelligence part and some hardware-related things, so we’re hoping to have some and new fresh brains to meet with us. Yeah.

 

Exactly. It’s the perfect match. And, you know, I’m excited about the work you’re doing with Pera Labs. So, thank you for joining me and talking a little bit more about it. Continue pushing through and hopefully this all pass soon as you get out and do some tango.

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