One of the world’s most admired scientists of the Millennium is a techie-scientist-entrepreneur named Olivier Noel. Perhaps you’ve seen his name on Forbes 30 and Under 30 list. Perhaps you’ve seen the name of his company DNASimple in spreads on BuzzFeed column, or perhaps in the columns of The Boston Globe, or Fast Company? In the uncertain world of scientific startups, you better believe you’ll be hearing about DNASimple and its Haiti-born co-founder repeatedly in the next couple of years. The company matches potential donors with the genetics research world, and as it grows and expands, there’s no telling what else will be next.
Let’s talk with Mr. Noel, who’s based in the Philadelphia area. It must be nice to be the CEO and co-founder of a company that’s the pride of Pennsylvania.
Kreyolicious: How did your interest in science begin?
Noel: I’ve loved science for as long as I can remember. I recall my very first chemistry class and simple decantation experiment we did in high school in Haiti and I wanted to be a chemist ever since. I had terrific teachers who sparked my interest, and I would pick up additional chemistry books from the library for fun and to learn more about what made “things” as we know them and how they came about.
Kreyolicious: Some kids are just not interested in science. How can their enthusiasm get increased?
Noel: I think what ends up happening with a lot of kids is that its not so much that they’re not interested in science but rather the fact they don’t connect well with a particular teacher. And so they associate science to that teacher that they “don’t like,” which unfortunately ruins it for a lot of them from the start. What I highly encourage kids to do is to talk to different teachers or folks who are passionate and perhaps experts in the area that they’d like to know more about and learn from a different style. For example, I get a blast just talking about genetics to kids wanting to learn. I try to break it down in a way that’s fun so that they can see what I see and share my passion and enthusiasm for the field.
Kreyolicious: How did the idea for DNASimple come about?
Noel: I came up with the idea during my fourth year in the MD/PhD program at Penn State University, after attending a genetics conference in Philadelphia. One scientist at the meeting brought up the difficulty for researchers to find and connect with sample donors to advance important scientific research and from there I had the idea to create a system connecting people to scientists independent of location. I then created a company around the idea and now it’s a reality and helping multiple research groups.
Kreyolicious: Congratulations on making it to Forbes’ 30 under 30.
Kreyolicious: What would you say to someone who’s your age, but who doesn’t have the same accomplishments under their belt as you do and feels downcast about it?
Noel: To that I would say, you can start building your portfolio today. All it takes really is a vision and goal to start, and unconditional hard work and dedication will make that vision happen. It’s got to happen in the mind first before it can happen in real life. One thing people don’t often realize is that most successful people are not necessarily smarter than them. They just work harder than most people. And so to that effect, it’s never too late and there is no such thing as a “point of no return.”
Kreyolicious: What books have changed your life?
Noel: I’m not sure about changing my life per se—at least not as much as some experiences I’ve had—but my favorite book is The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama.
Kreyolicious: Do you visit Haiti often?
Not as much as I’d like to because of how busy I had been with medical school and graduate school the past few years. But the last time I visited was December of 2015.
Kreyolicious: What’s next for you?
Noel: Well, I just finished my PhD in Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics. I will continue to work on DNAsimple, develop the company and scale our operations and will then go back to finish my last 2 years of medical school. Ultimately, I want to specialize in Medical Genetics and work with patients with hereditary and genetics conditions. I also have other plans that I can’t talk about just yet!
CLICK HERE to visit the DNASimple website and to learn more about Olivier Noel and his achievements in the genetics research world.