Vancouver-based Aspect is working to help incurable diseases like Type 1 diabetes
The Kickoff: Nine years ago, Tamer Mohamed dropped out of school. Okay, that comes with a bit of a caveat. The school he was dropping out of was UBC, where had started a PhD in electrical and computer engineering after obtaining his master’s in the same field. You see, he had a conundrum: Aspect Biosystems, a 3D bio-printing company he had founded through his master’s research, was becoming extremely promising. Mohamed had to either commit to commercializing the startup’s technology, or stay
Action Plan: Much to the chagrin of Mohamed’s Egyptian immigrant parents, he took the path less travelled. So far, it’s worked out pretty well. “It’s a sci-fi-turned-reality story right now,” says Mohamed. Vancouver-based Aspect develops bio-printed tissue therapeutics that are designed to replace, repair or supplement biological functions in the body. While the company is still in its development stage, it aims to help currently incurable diseases, such as Type 1 diabetes, as well as genetic and acquired liver diseases. To that end, Aspect inked a US$2.6-billion deal with global pharmaceutical giant Novo Nordisk in April to develop bio-printed tissues that could help treat the root causes of diabetes on a cellular level. “We’re pioneers in this area,” says Mohamed. “Others are looking at [solving these problems] from the cellular level—what we’re trying to do is take things from the cellular level to create living, implantable tissues.”
Closing Statement: Back in 2018, Mohamed was a fresh-faced BCBusiness 30 Under 30 winner. Aspect had around 20 staff and Mohamed was expecting his first child. These days, he’s still fresh-faced, but Aspect has some 90 employees and Mohamed is expecting child number three. In that time, he’s taken some lessons to heart. “I’ve been amazed at how you can make up technical gaps if you have the right personality, experience and endurance,” he says. “You obviously have to have those technical chops, but some of my biggest mistakes have been valuing the technical stuff over character and culture fit. My growth as a leader is all about getting people to row in the same direction.” There’s also been a certain amount of resisting the pull to spread the company thin and instead focusing on the task at hand. It’s clear, even if Mohamed won’t say it directly, that many large companies were in the running to strike a deal similar to the one Aspect signed with Novo Nordisk. “It’s always about focus; there are so many things you can do,” he says. “We’re definitely saying no to a lot of different things. Right now, it’s the pancreas and the liver—those are the two areas. But yes, there’s always that temptation of what else we could be focusing on.”
What advice do you have for up-and-coming entrepreneurs?
Very few things are impossible. Flying on your own is maybe impossible. But there are many things that people think are impossible that aren’t. People often confuse impossible with very difficult. You can do amazing things if you’re willing to go through the intellectual grind.
What does success look like to you?
Our job isn’t done until we’ve cured the diseases we’re tackling, no matter the success we’ve been having with growth, discoveries, partnerships. All of that, for me, kind of means nothing until we cure these diseases.