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Utah Business

Here’s what you should know about a career in deep tech

In March 2022, Utah Business and Altitude Labs hosted a half-day summit focused on the ins and outs of all things related to the deep tech industry in Utah. Moderated by Jack Boren, managing director of Epic Ventures, watch the entire second panel on pathways to leadership in deep tech by clicking on the embed above or reading the printed recap below.

What’s been your path to progression? What’s led you to this point?

Katie Rose Skelly | Co-founder and CTO | Known Medicine 

I think one of the common things that I’m hearing is that so many people grew up with a huge focus on education, and I’m certainly no exception to that. My dad worked in the public school system for my entire life. I grew up in the Bay Area and I went to college at Stanford, was dead set on staying in California, never intended to leave, but then I got a job out here at Recursion Pharmaceuticals and decided to take it despite having been to Salt Lake City, being a horrible skier, and knowing one person in the entire state.

Taking that risk was one of the best decisions I could have made, and a huge reason that I came out here is because I had a wonderful mentor. One of the biggest lessons that I’ve learned is that the most valuable learning experiences I’ve had in many of the places where I’ve made the most impact are in places where I was not invited to take the lead on something, but I had a unique perspective and saw a problem in a different way. The times when I did take the lead and just solved things that other people hadn’t really asked to be solved necessarily were often the work that I did that had the biggest impact.

Yolanda Chong | VP of Biology | Recursion

I’m going to take a slightly different approach to this question. When I first [heard it], I started to think, “I don’t feel like I have been limited in my opportunities and in my career.” It was actually a really interesting exercise to go through my journey and to think through any obstacles that I have gone through. I actually could remember many incidences of feeling like I was ignored for being a woman, being a minority, etc. But I had to dig through my memory to remember those, and that’s leading me to what I’m trying to convey as life learnings and lessons.

 I had choices. I could make choices, I could choose to dwell on those events, or I could choose to focus on things that I can make an impact on. And so I think for me, the lessons that I’ve learned are understanding what choices I have and understanding what’s important to me, and making sure that I stay focused on those things that are important to me.

What has been your approach to analyzing opportunities and ultimately making the choice to take on personal or professional risks in your career?

Olga Filippova | Vice President | Elphel

Sometimes life throws something that you didn’t expect. You know, not everybody can have their dream job, and most don’t have their dream job at the beginning of their career. You just make the best out of it, you try your best every day.

Tracy George | President and Chief Medical Officer | ARUP Labs

[I spent] 10 years at Stanford on the faculty, the dream job. I remember one of the fellows telling me, “Dr. George, how come you do all the clinical work?” And I was part of a section of probably 10 different pathologists in my area. This made me think,”What am I doing?” And one late night when I was at the hospital again, I about all of this, and I began applying for jobs as the division chief, which is the next step up. And I got off job offers everywhere, all over the country. 

Eventually, I went to the place where I saw leadership opportunities for women, with strong women: The University of New Mexico. And when I left there, I was vice-chair and I had been recruited here. And it was another risk to leave the group of faculty I’d grown to love in New Mexico, who were like, “We want you to be the next chair, Tracy.” But there was this really great place here, ARUP, which is owned by The University of Utah. And it was just incredible. And I thought this is the place where I can do, what I want to do. I told myself, “I’m not holding myself back anymore.” And so that’s what I’ve done, and that’s what I encourage everyone else to do.

Katie Rose Skelly | Co-founder and CTO | Known Medicine 

We started Known Medicine at the very beginning of the pandemic and ended up joining Y Combinator on March 18th, 2020. So, right as everything was shutting down, had just I quit my wonderful, very steady, very stable job at Recursion that I had absolutely loved, to start this company because I felt like it was the place where I could have the most impact. And that’s been my North Star with any of the risks I’ve made—where do I feel like I can have the most impact? 

Yolanda Chong | VP of Biology | Recursion

That takes me to my journey with Recursion. I was working at a big pharma company before, and my life was very comfortable. I think that people talk about working in pharma with golden handcuffs, you’re on a certain career trajectory you’ve made certain advancements and you’re pushing ahead certain initiatives, you’re leading projects, etc. And then Recursion came along in 2016 and here was this company that was doing everything that I was trying to do in big pharma but with a ragtag 20-person team of bandits.

When I decided to join Recursion, it wasn’t a calculated risk. I was told along the way that this was the biggest mistake of my life to leave this job to go to another company. I eventually looked at myself and I said, “If I don’t join this company, I will regret it for the rest of my life.” And I’m glad that it worked out, I’m glad that Recursion is doing very well, but if it didn’t work out, I think that was a risk that was still worth it because I followed my heart.

Liz Garske | Business Operations Manager | Ostrich Cyber-Risk

When I think back about risks that I’ve taken, I remember one specifically. [My father] came to me and he said, “I think you should go to Paris to a French school.” One week before this trip to France, one of my best friend’s husbands went into a diabetic coma and passed away. Here she was, dealing with that tragedy one week before I was going to France and she said, “Hey, is there room? Can I come with you?” 

I think my dad had high hopes that I would come back fluent in French. But the thing that I learned is that my friend, who was going through this horrific experience, was able to cover several stages of grieving through that process, and the most important thing I learned on that trip was how cool she was at her lowest point. She taught me tenacity, and what can happen when you persevere even in the most traumatic trial. I felt like that was such a powerful moment for me. 

What’s one piece of advice that you can share for aspiring leaders in the deep tech space today?

Olga Filippova | Vice President | Elphel

You should follow your passion and you should do what you are interested in. STEM is great, but if you don’t feel like you can sit and calculate the equations for a lot of time, [that’s OK too.] I wouldn’t recommend that everyone go into a STEM profession, but in general, follow your passion and try to find this “dream job.” 

Tracy George | President and Chief Medical Officer | ARUP Labs

I would add perseverance. Don’t let people tell you no. I would always be told no and I’d just listen and go around them.

Katie Rose Skelly | Co-founder and CTO | Known Medicine 

The hardest thing is to find direction. And the biggest advantage you can have is to find what you’re excited about as soon as possible. The best way to do that, I’ve found, is to try a lot of things that you’re really bad at. The more you can do that, the easier it will be to find something that you’re excited enough about to get good at.

Yolanda Chong | VP of Biology | Recursion

Following on the theme of perseverance, believing in yourself, knowing what’s important to you, knowing what you have to offer, believing in yourself, and pushing through, I’ve heard no more times than I can count as well. And just being able to continue to believe in yourself.

Liz Garske | Business Operations Manager | Ostrich Cyber-Risk

I would say that information is power, knowledge is also power but information, especially in this day and age. Get as much information as you can glean, that’s very powerful. I would also say that anything is absolutely possible, anything that you want to do or be or achieve it’s possible.

Utah Business provides award-winning, in-depth journalism on the tech and entrepreneurial businesses at the forefront of our nation's economy. Our print and digital publications reach millions of executives across the state and our live and in-person events provide deep-dive access into the industries shaping our future.

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