The glass ceiling can suck it
Blog post by ELP Student Aditi Deshpande (Cell & Molecular Biology | Class of 2019)
A month into my internship at Trials.ai, I finally got to sit down with the CEO and founder, Kim Walpole. Weeks of travelling and meeting investors had her out of the office for the majority of the time I had been here, and I was excited to finally meet the person steering the ship.
Kim is no stranger to startups – Trials.ai is her third company, and she’s loving every second of it. She first got the idea when her best friend was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. There were two treatments being tested – but before they could be tried, it was too late. That’s when Kim realized, there had to be a better way. A more efficient, quicker way, to get these treatments to the patients that needed them. And that’s how Trials.ai was born.
The journey hasn’t been smooth – Trials.ai started out focusing on the workflow of clinical studies, but a year in, the team realized that many studies prematurely fail purely based on how the trial has been designed rather than the workflow. “We realized we could leverage technology in a new way, to improve study design and protocol, rather than just workflow.”
At first, it began with just Kim and Tom (the CTO), but I’m struck by how Kim emphasized how important it is to make others just as invested in your mission through the power of storytelling. “It really boils down to your story. Do you have a real problem that you’re solving? Do you tell that story in a way that’s compelling?” Storytelling is important, not only to build your team, but also when it comes to convincing investors that the problem you are solving is worth it.
As not only a CEO, but the CEO of a company in the tech space, Kim is also familiar with the obstacles that come with being a female founder. “It’s challenging in the sense that I recognize that it’s tough, but on the other hand, but I don’t really want feed into that mindset of falling victim to how things are. I’m just going to do what I’m going to do. The glass ceiling can suck it.”
When I asked her how she copes with the inherent bias, she says, “I’m the type of person that when someone says I can’t do something, I work my butt off to make it happen. I try to let my work do the talking for me.”
Even when it comes to investor meetings, she has been confronted by the realities of what this bias brings, from having questions directed at her male counterparts instead, or being told that she should be more “serious”, and even cut her hair short. “I want to be recognized by the work I do, but on the same token, I think over the last couple of years I realized more, especially because of investor meetings, that there is an unintentional bias, and it’s more apparent when I’m presenting with one of the men from the team.”
“I just want girls to support other girls. We have to lift each other up and support each other if we all want to make it.”
Trials.ai has also been a part of Nex3 and EvoNexus, two of San Diego’s most popular incubator/accelerator programs. As we talked, two things stood out to me – building a network and community while going through these programs, as well as making sure the programs are getting the company where it needs to be next. Trials.ai is currently a Dreamit Spring 2018 Company, another choice that Kim is excited about.
During my previous internships, I hadn’t really had a chance to sit down with the founder of the company and ask questions like this. I walked out of our meeting having learnt more about not only what it is like being a founder, but also a real sense of the reason behind the company. I felt inspired and encouraged by what we talked about. If you have the chance to sit down and talk to your CEO, do it. I guarantee you’ll learn something new, and you’ll leave feeling more inspired than ever.
Some parting advice from Kim: “One, the only way you’re going to fail is if you stop; and two, worrying is the misuse of your imagination.”