This scientist was catapulted into the limelight when he was featured in Forbes 30 Under 30 and received financing for his company DNAsimple from Shark Tank’s Mark Cuban.
In this latest installment of Haitians In America, Olivier Noel talks to Haitian Times about the weeks following his media unveiling to the world and what he thinks can be done to make sure other Black and Brown kids follow in his steps.
You’ve gained public notoriety with your feature in Forbes 30 Under 30 and appearance on Shark Tank. What was it like for you in those weeks following the appearance on TV and going viral on social?
It was quite the experience. Obviously there was a lot of excitement on my part following those two monumental events, but I think what I enjoyed the most was the positive effect it had on other people, the majority of whom I’ve never met.
It was really an honor to see folks finding inspiration in my success and be motivated to work hard to find success within their own field, and also reaching out to me to that effect. Ultimately, these two events served as a great platform for not only showcasing DNAsimple but also for being a source of pride and inspiration to my friends and family, the Haitian community and scientists in general inspired to become entrepreneurs.
What are some challenges you faced while creating DNA Simple?
I think one of the main things for me was learning on the fly about starting a company, and the complex process that comes with it. Before DNAsimple, I was more of a traditional biochemist/geneticist without formal business training; and so, it was a challenge to put the company together, build a team and ultimately raise capital.
Another challenge was being able to balance and find time for it all. I was in the second year of my PhD program when I started the company and it was fairly difficult working in the lab full time and also starting/running a company full time.
Studies show that minorities are underrepresented in science and technology industries. What are your thoughts on that?
Unfortunately, those are the facts and it has certainly been my experience thus far in medical and graduate school, and also as an entrepreneur. In fact, I have recently joined a committee at the National Institute of Health aiming at developing new tools and programs in order to increase the number of underrepresented minorities in the biomedical sciences field. Like in every other field, diversity makes a group better just by the sheer value of different contributing backgrounds, and unique perspectives and it is no different in science and technology industries.
I think for those of us underrepresented minorities working in science and technology industries, it is extremely important to be role models and active mentors to the younger generation to show that there are a ton of opportunities for them to become great scientists and entrepreneurs making a change in the world.
In your opinion, what can be done to attract more people of color and women to these fields?
There is certainly not one simple answer to this question as one can approach it from many different angles depending on the specific field or target group. But overall, I would say that mentoring is without a doubt a key ingredient. It is much harder for a kid to want to become something that he or she has not seen or been exposed to. That is why being the first to graduate college, or to become a doctor in the family is such a big deal because there’s a path to follow where there wasn’t one before. Exposing kids to different careers, or successful people who look like them will not only motivate them to want to be like these mentors and role models, but more importantly will also give them the confidence that they too can become successful individuals.
How has being Haitian in America impacted your life and/or work?
I think the biggest thing has been applying the work ethic and values that were instilled in me during middle school and high school in Haiti, as well as by my parents. It’s no question that I would not have been the person I am today or enjoy the success that I’ve had thus far without my experiences growing up in Haiti. So I’m very grateful for that background and it is something that I try to pass on to my current mentees and hopefully to my children in the future.