Female Founder Stories: Ambika Bumb, Founder of Bikanta (YC S14)

by Y Combinator2/8/2015

Bikanta has developed revolutionary nanodiamond-based technologies that push the boundaries of what can be done with medical imaging for applications like the early detection of cancer.

Q: What was your background prior to starting Bikanta?
I did two post-doctoral fellowships at the National Institutes of Health and a PhD on the Marshall Scholarship at Oxford University. My undergrad was at Georgia Tech in Biomedical Engineeering with a minor in Economics. My career thus far has been in the field of nanomedicine research, with some involvement in science policy. I am very fortunate that I have been able to work with incredibly innovative and intelligent folks from and in different parts of the world.

Q: Tell us about your startup’s origin story.
The nanodiamond technology was developed during my last post-doc. We were doing so to have a better agent to answer particular biological questions we wanted to ask. But then we realized just how important the tools we had developed were. Based on the response after our publications came out and we presented on the conference circuit, the potential market for these technologies became very apparent. So I decided to focus my efforts toward starting Bikanta to allow many more people to access the nanodiamonds and to go the industry route to develop the diagnostic applications of them to their full potential.

Q: Tell us about your experience at Y Combinator.
YC is like a bootcamp for founders and their companies. It helps you find focus, achieve milestones, and leaves you feeling accomplished and like you’ve been rewarded much attention. You leave having a community of advisors and colleagues that you know you can reach out to for support and all sorts of advice.

Q: What is the atmosphere like at YC during those 3 months with Demo Day approaching?
Fast-paced, high productivity, high energy. Exciting and inspiring!

Q: What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned so far?
It is really possible to power through anything.

Q: Was being female either an advantage or disadvantage in working on your startup?
Neither. I think I’m obtuse and don’t really notice how my gender is affecting my professional interactions. I more analyze my presentation ability, skill set, personality, and work ethic. My team doesn’t make me feel different because of being a female but treat me as a leader for this company. I don’t enjoy confrontation and so I spend time self-reflecting if I’m standing my ground. But I think that’s my personality, not because of gender. I do feel like it is my responsibility to be the lead at home in terms of raising family while also managing my professional career. That is probably a mix of gender roles, culture, and who I am as an individual.

Q: Do you have any advice for founders making the switch from academia to startups?
In academia, you take risks scientifically and with financial compensation during your years of training, but in a structured environment where you have many colleagues and a path to follow. Stepping away from that into the undefined territory of how to start a company can feel very daunting and risky.

My advice is to reduce the perceived risk by reading a lot and surrounding yourself with mentors and colleagues. Join startup societies, incubators, meetup groups and find others who are doing or already have made that same transition. When you start learning how to tackle the questions you have (incorporation, IP, hiring, taxes, market entry strategy, fundraising, etc.) and have a network to bounce ideas off of, it doesn’t feel so daunting.

Academia already trains you in how to be forward thinking, creative, analytical/data driven, resourceful with limited resources, and independent. Much of the rest can be learned. “Knowledge is power” is something that most academics resonate with, so actively put yourself in environments where you can find and absorb that knowledge.

Q: What do you wish someone had told you when you were 15?
Nothing different really. Believe in yourself and your aspirations and then work really hard and with focus for them. There are no limits that can’t be crossed.


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