In the dynamic world of entrepreneurship, success often comes hand in hand with overcoming challenges, building a resilient team, and staying true to a visionary goal. This insightful interview with Eddie Martucci delves into his journey – from growing up in Connecticut to founding Akili and taking it public.
Eddie shares his experiences on dealing with skeptics, building a meaningful company culture, finding a balance between personal and professional life, and navigating changing market conditions.
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Growing Up and Early Influences
Eddie’s upbringing in West Hartford, Connecticut, played a significant role in shaping his interest in science.
Raised in a supportive family in an upper-middle-class town with parents who owned a community-based independent pharmacy, he witnessed the dedication, hard work, and community impact of owning a small business.
Eddie’s early exposure to the healthcare industry influenced his academic journey and ultimately guided his path toward making a positive impact on patients’ lives.
Transition to Research and Entrepreneurship
Eddie remembers his father encouraging him to do his own thing as opposed to the default idea of taking over the pharmacy. While in college, his parents sold the pharmacy to CVS, eliminating the option.
Eddie went to Providence College, a small liberal arts school where he got to do a lot of research. Although initially drawn to biochemistry, which he majored in college, Eddie chose a research-focused path over the business side.
The school had several symposia that encouraged students to go deep into research topics and inspired Eddie to research a new drug design. His fascination with drug design and the intersection of sophisticated science and practical application led him to Yale University for his Ph.D.
There, working under advisor Karen Anderson, he gained insights into merging deep scientific research with entrepreneurship, challenging the traditional separation of these domains.
At this point, Eddie realized that he had the talent for taking new ideas and building new products out of them.
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Joining PureTech Ventures
Eddie’s transition to entrepreneurship took a significant turn when he joined PureTech Ventures. Embracing a role where he started companies out of new science, Eddie learned the ropes of entrepreneurship in an environment that blended aspects of both entrepreneurship and venture capital.
This experience laid the foundation for his future endeavors.
The Genesis of Akili
The idea for Akili emerged during Eddie’s work at a mental health company using a device to stimulate the brain. Observing the limitations of traditional mental health care treatments, the team envisioned creating a software application that could stimulate the brain and serve as a treatment.
The concept of an app treating a disease was groundbreaking at the time, setting the stage for the birth of Akili. Prior to Akili, the only available solutions were medicines or therapy. On the flip side, the consumer technology industry was thriving.
Although there was a digital health industry, it was more about tools, connections, and patient engagement. Eddie remembers spending around a year talking to neuroscientists all over the country and internationally.
He identified several different technologies, one of which he would license later. This technology has initial science showed they could predictably stimulate the brain through sensory and motor stimuli. But more than just treatment, Eddie wanted it to be an entertainment app.
EndeavorRx® and EndeavorOTC
Even before Eddie and his team reached out to the FDA, they were covered in the press since they had announced that their app would be the first FDA-approved video game platform. Now, Akili has two FDA-approved versions, one for kids and the other for adolescents.
As Eddie explains, Akili is a hybrid between medicine and a gaming company. They had to do clinical trials to prove that the treatment could actually work for ADHD. Akili products include EndeavorRx® and EndeavorOTC and are compatible with iPhones and Androids.
Patients can get EndeavorOTC directly from the app store to treat adult ADHD, while EndeavorRx® is a prescription through a doctor. Extensive clinical trials have ensured quality management, and they designed the products in partnership with neuroscientists.
Eddie recalls how Akili’s earliest employees included a medical device developer, drug developer, artist, and video game designer. They would build the prototypes, get people to use them, and look at the source code and frame-by-frame data.
Next, they would share the data with the neuroscientist co-founders and have them scrutinize it. These teams were interdisciplinary but took extremely painstaking care to develop the algorithm in a way that would maintain its kind of patented essence but actually adapt to a consumer product.
As for the cost, each month’s prescription is priced roughly at the same price as Adderall. As Eddie reveals, they are running two business models depending on the market.
Customers purchase the product directly with a subscription for a few months or one year and get continuous access to this piece of software.
Navigating Skepticism and Fundraising Challenges
Launching a healthcare video game was met with skepticism, with some investors dismissing the idea as a “glorified Pacman.” Getting the point across that they were trying to develop a new class of medicine was a huge challenge.
Eddie talks about how they had to adapt and shift gears with their business model since there were too many stakeholders hampering patients from getting innovative treatments. These stakeholders included doctors and insurers.
Eddie emphasized the importance of perseverance and viewed fundraising as a process of data collection and refinement. The key was to adapt to feedback without compromising the core vision. Akili faced challenges, including market crashes.
However, the focus on demonstrating the product’s value ultimately helped overcome skepticism and secure funding. Akili acquired funding worth $150M over a couple of rounds before the IPO. At the time of the SPAC, Eddie and his team raised $162M.
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Taking Akili Public
The decision to go public through a Special Purpose Acquisition Company (SPAC) was driven by the desire for substantial fundraising and an immediate exit for investors. Eddie acknowledged the challenges posed by market fluctuations but highlighted the benefits of becoming a listed entity.
The public offering provided the necessary capital to launch products and solidify Akili’s position in the digital therapeutics space. Akili’s two products have now treated more than 50,000 people, and the number is growing.
Balancing Work and Family Life and the Transition to Chairman and Future Plans
As a CEO with a wife and three kids, Eddie acknowledged the difficulty in achieving a perfect work-life balance. He emphasized the importance of being present during family time and adapting to changing circumstances.
While he admitted to the challenges, he credited his incredible family, particularly his wife, for supporting him throughout the entrepreneurial journey. Eddie’s decision to step into the role of Chairman was motivated by the belief that Akili needed a new leader for its next growth phase.
Prioritizing time with his family and acknowledging the importance of maximizing time with his teenagers before they go to college, Eddie expressed an openness to new opportunities and ideas.
He is proud to be a trendsetter in the industry that now has about a hundred companies that are developing software products that are in different phases of clinical trials.
As Eddie opines, this field of medicine is now inevitable. Considering that AI, drug development, and biotech are going through an incredible technological revolution, he is excited about the possibilities of integrating them with Akili.
Words of Wisdom for Entrepreneurs
Reflecting on his entrepreneurial journey, Eddie shared two valuable pieces of advice. First, he emphasized the importance of stress but cautioned against trying to perfect every step.
Acknowledging that imperfections are inevitable, he encouraged entrepreneurs to adapt and focus on growth. Second, he advised entrepreneurs to trust their instincts, be open to change, and prioritize adaptability to navigate the complexities of building and scaling a company.
Eddie warns entrepreneurs to expect tons of opinions from their executive team, board members, and the general public. But, they should know how to strike the optimum balance between listening to their opinions and trusting their guts. Reading the data is always a smart move.
Eddie also warns founders to be aware that they’re dealing with the Imposter Syndrome, or the House of Cards Syndrome, as he calls it. All the great things they have built can crumble with a flick of a wrist. However, they shouldn’t get discouraged and keep exploring new ideas and concepts.
Eddie Martucci’s journey from a research-focused scientist to the founder and CEO of Akili and now Chairman provides valuable insights for aspiring entrepreneurs.
Navigating skepticism, fundraising challenges, and the complexities of work-life balance, Eddie’s story serves as inspiration for those venturing into the dynamic world of entrepreneurship.
As digital therapeutics continue to evolve, Eddie remains engaged, open to new possibilities, and dedicated to making a positive impact on the healthcare landscape.
Listen to the full podcast episode to know more, including:
- Eddie Martucci underscores the challenge of balancing professional and personal life, particularly when leading a company through changing market conditions, an IPO, and raising significant funding, all while managing a family.
- Growing up in a family that owned a community pharmacy, Martucci shares how witnessing his parents’ hard work and entrepreneurial spirit influenced his decision to pursue a career that directly impacts patients, ultimately leading him to the field of digital therapeutics.
- Martucci’s childhood fascination with science and learning, coupled with his parents’ pharmacy business, fueled his interest in making a tangible impact on healthcare, shaping his academic journey in biochemistry and later in research.
- From a background in research at Yale to joining PureTech Ventures, Martucci’s entrepreneurial journey began by bridging sophisticated science with business, leading him to discover his passion for building companies that turn innovative ideas into impactful products.
- The idea for Akili, a digital therapeutic company, originated from a desire to revolutionize mental health care using technology. The vision was to create software applications that could directly stimulate the brain to treat diseases, a novel concept a decade ago.
- Facing skepticism from investors who doubted the viability of a healthcare video game, Martucci emphasizes the importance of perseverance and data collection, advising entrepreneurs to stay true to their vision while remaining open to refining the operational model.
- Reflecting on his journey, Martucci shares his decision to step into the role of Chairman, prioritizing time with family and incubating new ideas, highlighting the importance of adapting to change and continuously trusting one’s instincts in the dynamic landscape of entrepreneurship.