Feb. 16, 2023

Innovating Medical Devices with AI while Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

Innovating Medical Devices with AI while Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

I chat with Dragoš Duse and Diana Andritchi, co-founders of medtech startup Synaptiq. Synaptiq creates software solutions based on AI for improving medical devices, with one tool using revolutionary software to separate cancerous tumors and organs at risk. Currently, they have seven customers in Romania and are projected to generate 400,000 euros in 2023.


We discuss the importance of employee retention in comparison to other aspects of business such as client acquisition and investment deals. We also touch on the importance of being out of one's comfort zone and the feeling of imposter syndrome when asking for investments from investors (and how they overcame this feeling).


Do you wish to connect with our special guest?

Visit Synaptiq’s website: https://synaptiq.io

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Past Guests:


Past guests on Innovators Can Laugh include Irina Obushtarova, Yannik Veys, Ovi Negrean, Arnaud Belinga, Csaba Zajdó, Dagobert Renouf, Andrei Zinkevich, Viktorija Cijunskyte, Lukas Kaminskis, Pija Indriunaite, Monika Paule, PhD, Vytautas Zabulis, Leon van der Laan, Ieva Vaitkevičiūtė.


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#73 Eva Vucheva - How Bulgarian Startup founder Eva Vucheva is empowering producers to reduce their environmental footprint

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#50 Vidmantas Šiugždinis - Personalized Approach to Employee Benefits with MELP

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Connect with Eric:
Visit his website: https://innovatorscanlaugh.com

For the Innovators Can Laugh newsletter in your inbox every week, subscribe at https://innovatorscanlaugh.substack.com

Past Guests:
Past guests on Innovators Can Laugh include Yannik Veys, Ovi Negrean, Arnaud Belinga, Csaba Zajdó, Dagobert Renouf, Andrei Zinkevich, Viktorija Cijunskyte, Lukas Kaminskis, Pija Indriunaite, Monika Paule, PhD, Vytautas Zabulis, Leon van der Laan, Ieva Vaitkevičiūtė.
Additional episodes you might enjoy:
#55 Yannik Veys - From creating the Uber for service professionals to growing Hypefury
#53 Tzvete Doncheva - Overcoming barriers to get into a VC with Tzvete Doncheva
#50 V...


Yeah, my pleasure. So my guests today are Dragoš Duce and Diana Andriči, and they're both founders of Synaptiq. Synaptiq creates software solutions based on AI for improving medical devices. And one of their tools uses revolutionary software to separate cancerous tumors and organs that are at risk.

Guys, really excited to have you on the show today to talk about Sinaptiq.

But before we get started, why don't you just tell us, and Diana, you can go first, where you're from and how does that shape your view of the world?

I am actually from Moldova, from the Republic of Moldova. So I came here to Cluj for university and then I stayed here because the city is really nice. I'd say the place where I've been didn't shape that much or it was nothing so special or so different on the way how it shaped my, you know, my perspectives or my choices.

I wouldn't say it's that different from here, but, you know, probably in some, in my unconsciousness, maybe there are some factors that I don't, I didn't understand or I didn't see yet. Okay.

All right, cool.

How about you, Dragos?

Yeah, so I'm originally from, not so far from Cluj. It's a small town and the same, I came for university in Cluj. Then I had a trip of three years in Germany and then I came back because I realized this is a better place for long-term stay for me personally.

What were you doing in Germany?

I was doing my master's degree in computational physics and I was also working at some research institute. Okay. Okay.

So your German's pretty good then?

No, it's actually pretty bad.

I mean, the default for masters in Germany, it's English. So I think also most of the master's studies in Romania are in English and also at the institute there are so many international people. Of course it helped if you spoke German, but it was always easier with English. So I was basically only speaking German when I was going to the store.

I have a basic understanding of course, but knowing English was just the easier way. Yeah.

No, that sounds like my Romanian. I've got a basic understanding and I can say, la revedere, buddhah dimni atzat, things like that. Okay.

Now, Diana, I noticed something interesting on your LinkedIn profile. You had a quote there and the quote is, life begins at the end of your comfort zone. So I want you both to think back and think about a time that you put yourself into a situation and it was out of your comfort zone.

And why was that?

So Dragoș, maybe would you like to go first?

Sure. I think I'm most of the time out of my comfort zone because I'm a really outgoing person and I'm really curious and I always like to challenge myself. It's almost like, you know, these adrenaline junkies, I mean, maybe they do extreme sports and so on. I always like to wander around the boundaries of my capabilities just to get that challenging like adrenaline feeling.

So yeah, I guess, I mean, since we are in a startup, I guess this is the best example. Like first, when you start, you really have to be out of your comfort zone. You have no knowledge.

You have a lot of this imposter syndrome, you know, like, oh, what am I doing?

Am I even the right person?

Like maybe I'm just the fool thinking that I can do this and so on.

So yeah, lately, I think this was one of the most challenging situations where I was out of my comfort zone.

During this journey, when you guys started your startup, Centipede Care, what has been something that you felt really nervous?

Like was it when you were asking for investment or pitching to investors or was it when you were growing your team and you were having to speak in front of all your new employees?

Or was it when you were launching a product on the website and you weren't sure if you were going to get any signups?

I mean, is it all those things or was there like one specific thing that you felt like I'm really nervous about how this is going to go here?

Yeah, I think talking to investors, at least the first time, it's really scary because you feel like, I told you, it's a lot of this imposter syndrome that you don't even know if you can do it or you just brainwash yourself thinking that you can do it. You go to these investors and ask for hundreds of thousands of euros and you feel like you robbed them.

But this kind of went away when one of them just told me like, look, you have to realize that it's an opportunity for the investors as well because where do you find these motivated people that are able to work 12 hours a day, seven out of seven, who have all these amazing studies and experience and they're passionate and so on and they are ready to work for a small salary for years just to make this come to reality.

And for them, it's maybe not so much to risk 100,000 euros since they're already wealthy people. So when these investors told me that, okay, you should see the other way around that it's mostly an opportunity for the investor and they are the lucky ones that they have all these people working for so much just to get this and they don't have to do many things, of course, maybe an advice.

And then I just switch and I realized, yeah, this guy is right. So I actually, yeah, they are lucky too, you know, because we are.

Does that change your approach when you go to these meetings now?

Like, hey, listen, I'm short on time. You're really lucky to meet me. So if you want me to sign you an autograph right here. Okay.

All right, Diana.

Okay, Diana, how about you about a time that you were out of your comfort zone?

And did that happen recently or maybe, you know, a few years ago prior to Synoptique?

I mean, I have, I actually have this quote on my profile as you saw, but it's in many times it's more like to guide me or to remind me that I need to do this, but I am not that much outgoing as Dragozs is, unfortunately, but I aim to that. So I also have that code to remember to aim to that.

But yes, I also had many situations where I was out of my comfort zone even before. So before I was a recruiter.

So I had, I mean, I was nervous when talking to people, when like selling the jobs, when like convincing people to come to the company. And especially I went out of my comfort zone when speaking to really senior roles, like senior profiles. And I was like people with 20 years of experience listening to me of two years of experience.

And I use that experience now when talking to investors or with potential, you know, partners or potential clients. And even yesterday I was really out of my comfort zone. Yesterday night I had a meeting from 8 PM to 10 PM and it was, I had like in two hours I was pitching to eight different VCs and they were so very different with so different questions, interests and different like attitudes.

And it was really nice.

But why was it out of my comfort zone?

Because they were all like with more experience than I had. I'm really, I mean, I am really proud of the product we do and of the experience we have, but still staying like two hours face to face or I mean, it was online, but you know what I mean with this experience, people with various like interests and backgrounds and asking different kinds of questions.

And I was just there alone and they were like three, four.

Drakusz, where were you at?

Where was your support, Diana?

I mean, yeah, we split, you know, from like in different directions. So we don't spend like all the time in the same meeting. So because we have, you know, different focuses. But usually it's more of us, but it was just a coincidence that I was the only one. It was organized by a program. I was participating by an accelerator and usually I go on their activities. So that was the situation.

Which accelerator was this, Diana?

It was InnoVix. InnoVix.

No, no.

How do you, how would you grade yourself in your performance last night?

Looking back though.

I mean, I know it was great for like my learning.

I mean, going through this accelerator, InnoVix and some other programs really helped us in this pitching, presenting, you know, handling discussions. It was really, really helpful. But with each discussion you get to learn more. You get to, you know, to understand better what people want, what their interests are, how you need to pitch depending on who's listening or who's on the other side. So I think it was good.

So out of the eight VCs, two were really, really interested and the others were more moderately too high interested or at least it seems so. So I'd say that it was really a nice experience. I'm happy about the results, but we'll see what comes next. Okay.

So Diana, your strengths I know lie in company culture, recruiting and human resource activities.

What about you, Dragoš?

What are your primary strengths are as it relates to Synoptic?

Yeah, I guess mainly stressing people around with the things that we do. Is really good at that.

No, I actually, yeah, so I'm the CEO. So it's really hard to define the job of the CEO because sometimes you have to do really low level stuff because maybe no one knows that specific niche. And sometimes you have to think about the strategy because everyone is so busy with the day to day stuff. So now I really has the time to think where the company is going.

You have to be supportive, encourage people and so on. I'm just trying to be, let's say a medicine wherever I feel that the company suffers. And I just, yeah.

Yeah, no, that's so true, especially in a startup or early stage company. If you can get everybody with an attitude of like, hey, we're in this together and that can mean anything from having to sweep the floor. There's no one better or above than anybody else in this team culture. So when we think about culture and Diana, you have this experience in this background.

What are some of the things that you're looking to bring on the new hires in terms of attitude and personalities?

And in addition to these characteristics, are you using any sort of tactics or methods to try and get the best people to join the team?

Yeah, we were really careful when we chose the team. So at the really beginning we were five co-founders and we found each other or Dragos found us through the network. And of course we had some discussions, kind of interviews.

Which network?

It was high school and university.

And yeah, I knew a common person that he knew from high school. I knew from like the previous job and we kind of had a synergy and then we decided it's a good idea to go.

Did I hear you correctly?

Five co-founders. I've never talked to a startup that had five co-founders before.

So is that a decision you made on purpose, Dragos, or did you feel like, hey, I need these five key positions to be a part of this team here?

No, it wasn't that well thought through. And I don't think there is maybe a magic number. Probably you should be more than two because there are so many things you need to do at the beginning. And it's harder to convince investors if it's only one or two people.

But yeah, pretty much my attitude was I realized that it would be a luxury to have really experienced people with the correct attitude for startup, risk taking and all this stuff. So at the beginning, I just opened the doors for everyone.

I said, okay, you can join the project and you will give up yourself in two months if you feel like... So many people find it interesting at first, but then after two or three months, they have other stuff. I have my job, I have my plans, I have my kids, whatever, and they just love.

So first, I open the doors to everyone and I just let this natural selection be. And the people who are competent enough and who also have the right attitude stayed. And there were many people before as potential co-founders, which just gave up after one month, two months, three months, six months, something like this. Yeah.

I love the 18 to 24 month period because that's where the enthusiasm fades and the passion fades and that's when you really know who's going to be in here for the long run. Okay. So a couple of quick questions for you guys here.

Diana, again, and I cut you out previously, but what is it that you're looking for when you bring on new talents?

And the second thing here is my Mac, my laptop may die if it does. I'm just going to go get my plug and we'll come back into Riverside if it does die. Okay. So that said, I'll hand it back to you, Diana. Yeah. So we were really careful when we chose the next, like the first employees, we were looking for like great to use background.

Of course, we started building the R&D team, so research and development. So we hired three people and they like two of them had PhD and still have, of course, PhDs in artificial intelligence that was really important. One of them had experience at the International Cancer Research Center that was really great for us.

Another one has really many results, really gold medals and so on on different informatics contests and really great background. But apart from that, they also needed to have kind of an appetite for risk because it's not the same going to a giant company and, you know, just knowing your path every day or every year being promoted from year to year or whatever salary increase.

But you need to understand that this environment is more dynamic and to be open for that and to like to know what to expect. And then also the motivation to be driven by, you know, really be really, really motivated. So being able to get involved, you know, in various probably jobs.

I mean, of course, in the same direction, but, you know, taking the lead on different activities or coming with ideas or giving more than 100 percent on what you do and being driven by, you know, an inner motivation, not just financial or career growth.

Because we think that you can also do career growth maybe even better than a giant company, because you get more responsibility and you get to see a lot of areas. You are not just a really small segment in some big company, but still it's a different environment and motivation is really important when coming to a startup.

OK, so I think you guys have around seven different customers and are projected to do over 400,000 euros in 2023.

Who are some of these customers?

Do they only exist in Romania or are they outside of Romania as well?

They are in Romania. They are two chains of radiotherapy clinics, so seven clinics in total. And we plan to, of course, expand internationally. We are also in the process of acquiring the European level certification, which allows us to, you know, to sell the product wherever in Europe. But we started here in Romania because we had, you know, interest. We have here a stronger network.

But for the next year, we will not only focus on the Romanian market, but also in Europe and then medium to longer term on other continents too.

But, you know, we need a certain certification for different areas of the globe.

OK, and what is one of the things that customers really get excited about when they learn about you guys and when you guys are talking to them about being a potential customer for them?

I think Medic is one of like your most popular products.

Is there another product out there that people get excited about and why?

No, this is our first product.

Yeah, we actually, the algorithms we are developing, they can be used in many applications in medicine, actually in most of the medical image analysis tasks. But we started with radiotherapy because here is the biggest need, like 25% of the cancer patients don't get access to this treatment in Europe. And in other areas, it's even worse. So I think the doctors get excited because they face these problems every day.

So they don't have enough time to maybe treat the patients the way they want. And they don't have enough time to treat all the patients. So they must be suffering.

You know, they see all this. They see all this patient and when they receive help from a product like ours, of course, they are really happy because now they have more time and they can use it to treat all the patients.

Yeah, it sounds like patients have greater access now. And obviously, there's a productivity issue here, time reduction in terms of servicing the customers with this technology.

Okay, a couple of other questions here for you.

How are you guys growing right now?

What's worked best for you in terms of getting the word out there about Synaptic?

And what's another marketing tactic that you guys want to try in the future?

Okay, so I can take this.

For us, it's really important, as I said before, having a strong network because when selling a medical product, it's not working as you would sell an app on the phone or a pair of shoes. We don't need to go that much on advertising on Facebook, but what we need is really strong partnerships.

So being it medical or imaging clusters that could open the doors for us or having relevant partners or advisors that also are really well connected in this medical world. So because the trust you can build through these connections is more valuable than having a paid advertising on some social media. And then also like this chain, the word of mouth.

So if we manage to go get some clients and they are satisfied, we are certain that their reviews or they are talking in the market will help us a lot when knocking in some other doors. So it would be much easier for us if we already have satisfied customers, that they would talk about us and when we approach the new customers, the way would be much, much easier.

So that's what we are focusing on, building the strong network that would help us opening doors. Okay. All right.

Last question, Dragoš, what's the highest stakes negotiation that you've been in so far?

Are you talking about the clients?

It could be with investors, it could be on bringing a new employee, talking about salary or it could just be with investors or something else. For sure. There's a lot of negotiating as a CEO. You have to negotiate with the investors, keep them happy or maybe attract investors.

You have to negotiate with the clients, you have to bring clients, but maybe doing something for a client might upset the investors, might upset the employees because they realized they have to focus on something else. And you have to keep happy all these moving parts of the company. And that's a difficult task.

And even though if we're talking about money-wise, of course, the biggest stakes is always with the investors and the clients. But I think for me personally, the most important is when you negotiate with the people, like trying to encourage them, maybe they lost some motivation for a brief while or when you try to inspire them to revive their motivation for the project.

And I think that's one of the toughest and the highest stakes part. Because for me personally, I'm more set if employee or if let's say co-founder leaves the company. And I think it's more important than if you miss a client or if you miss maybe a good deal, an investment deal. Okay.

All right, guys. Thank you so much. This has been a pleasure. I enjoyed having you. This is Diana and Dragoş from Synaptic. And for those listening, until next week, la revidere. All right. Diana Dragoş, pleasure having you guys on. Thank you very much. Thank you so much for the invitation. It was a really great experience with you here. All right. My pleasure. Yeah. Thanks for having me.

I hope to see you again. Yeah. My pleasure. Thanks for listening to the show. If you enjoyed it, I'd really appreciate it if you could give us a review and star rating.

Also, don't forget to sign up for the ICO newsletter at innovatorscanlaugh.com where you can get the bio and details of each guest. Thanks.