Matthew H.J. Kim | Crain's Miami

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Matthew H.J. Kim

Background:  

Vigilant Biosciences is a For Lauderdale, Fla.-based innovator and developer of solutions that aid in the early detection and intervention of oral cancer.

The Mistake:

I fell in love with a technology before understanding the impact or value the technology can have in the real world.

In my prior medical startup, I created a drug delivery platform which had a very novel way of delivering medication to the lungs systemically. I licensed and started the company and raised money, really just to promote the technology without looking at why the technology had an impact or value. After spending a lot of time and money developing the product, we simply weren't finding a niche that it could be leveraged for. By the time we did, it was very difficult to continue to maintain the momentum, and unfortunately, I was unable to take that product to the full potential it could have had.

When I came across the technology we are creating at Vigilant, it didn't really start with the technology itself, but rather it started off with the need for it. Both my parents are oral cancer survivors: My mom is a stage 4 survivor and my dad is a stage 2 survivor, so their struggle is very personal to me. Watching my mom's battle, in particular, was very emotional and very heartbreaking, not only in her battle with the disease but in overcoming the new normal she had to live with.

When she was going through it, I was wondering why she had to go through this ordeal, and why so many people were finding out they had cancer far too late. So I started looking at the technologies and the products on the market, and they had great applications and science behind it, but they weren't addressing the unmet need for early accurate attention.

So instead of trying out technologies and seeing what fits, because the unmet needs were very personal to me, I started looking at what was being researched and what was being developed in various centers of excellence. Once we developed our Vigilant technology, then we were looking at the ways we can leverage the technology across different platforms to really address the needs of front-line screeners, who are at the forefront of detecting whether someone has cancer.

Find what breaks your heart, what angers you or makes you passionate.

The Lesson:

I tell fellow entrepreneurs, don't fall in love with a technology and then see where it fits. Instead, find what breaks your heart, what angers you or makes you passionate, understand why that is and see if it translates to an unmet need, and then find the right solution for that. Oftentimes, if you focus on that unmet need instead of the technology itself, it gives you the flexibility to find complementary technologies, gives you the opportunity to pivot, rather than trying to find this one technology or trying to make it fit everything.

If I had learned that in my prior startup, I would have positioned the business plan around that, as opposed to trying to get people excited about the technology itself without really pointing out the unmet need that it was addressing.

After learning this lesson, we've been able to move forward with Vigilant. The company has been so much more successful, and my experience has been much more successful because we were moving with a product that meets an unmet need first and foremost.

Follow the latest news on oral cancer detection on Twitter at @AmerDentalAssn.

Photo courtesy of Matthew H.J. Kim

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