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Rick Torres – Revolutionizing Digital Pathology at Applikate – Ep.223

Rick and I talk about the digitization of pathology, where efficiencies are gained through their platform, the process for FDA approval, and what Rick’s learned building and leading teams as CEO.

Episode Description

Ep. 223: Alex (@aebridgeman) is joined by Rick Torres (@rick-torres).

My guest on this episode is Rick Torres, CEO and co-founder of Applikate Technologies, a digital pathology hardware and software business with a device that can examine tissue many multiples faster than traditional physical slide processes can today. I find this company fascinating given the life science and data element of the business and loved diving into the science behind pathology and how Applikate is making it so much more efficient.

Rick and I talk about the digitization of pathology, where efficiencies are gained through their platform, the process for FDA approval, and what Rick’s learned building and leading teams as CEO.

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Clips From This Episode

An Inside look at getting FDA approval

Learnings about Managing and Growing Teams

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(00:00:00) – Intro

(00:03:52) – What is Applikate?

(00:13:41) – Labor dynamics for histology

(00:16:37) – Do you need to be a histotechnologist to use the machine?

(00:22:33) – What are the key benefits of this faster process?

(00:27:16) – Where are you storing tissue data and what is it used for?

(00:33:16) – What are the steps for gaining FDA approval?

(00:44:17) – How does this timeline affect recruiting?

(00:47:00) – What have you learned about managing and growing teams?

(00:50:47) – What advice has stuck with you most?

(00:52:11) – What skill are you working on improving?

(00:54:14) – What brings you energy?

(00:55:56) – Leadership philosophies

Alex Bridgeman: Yeah, I’d love to kick off with a walkthrough of Applikate because it makes me think back to, like, high school science class, like you’re cutting open an onion and trying to, like, peel out just the thinnest layer you can find, put that in the microscope.

And it takes a lot of time to do one. And so to get all the 300 plus layers you want in a tissue, like 30, 40 hours is a long time. Now, you can do it digitally. That’s fantastic. So I’m thinking like, as you look through like onions or other tissues in science class, like that, I think back to that and think about this would be a lot faster and quicker, but yeah, could you give a walkthrough like what the machine does and what it does that’s Faster quicker, better than previous or more traditional ways of getting these slides.

Rick Torres: Yeah, that’s great that you’ve had that experience. Remember what it was like in high school because it gives you a framework for something that is actually quite arcane. People need to learn more about how tissue gets processed and prepared to be able to make a diagnosis. And the reality is that the process has been essentially unchanged since the late 1800s. 

For more than 125 years, it’s been done the same way: quite complex, very manually intensive, and very beneficial in terms of the meagre cost to produce a single slice of tissue. It’s applicable to a broad range of tissue types.

We, as a society and pathologists, have more than 100 years of experience looking through it. So there’s a lot of information that can be gleaned from it, but it’s pretty laborious. And I’ll start by just telling you how that’s done and how we’re changing that. It’ll highlight the contrast in terms of what we’ve been working on.

The process of doing a slide for diagnosis involves taking a piece of tissue that’s been removed from the body. Most people we know have, at some point, had some biopsy, or many at least. That piece of tissue gets sent to a laboratory in a chemical fixative, which just arrests the enzymatic processes so that the tissue doesn’t degrade.

Formalin is formaldehyde, a prototypical fixative agent that cross-links proteins and prevents enzymes from stopping working so the tissue doesn’t degrade. Once that occurs, the goal is to make skinny slices of the tissue and stain them so that they can be visualized under the microscope in great detail.

If you take a piece of tissue without doing that, making those thin slices, you look at it on the microscope; you can’t tell. It’s just wholly amorphous and looks like a blob. That’s the way people would describe it. So you have to make thin slices of it. Thin slices of this piece of tissue go through several chemical steps to be made.

One involves removing the water and then Infiltrating wax into it. There’s an intermediate step to getting the wax to infiltrate because you remove the water with alcohol, and then you can’t go directly into the wax. The wax is just candle wax. It’s what it is.

So you take pieces of tissue, infiltrate them with candle wax, and then put them on a machine to cut thin slices. They get picked up by skilled histotechnologists and put on a slide. Then they’re labelled, and then you stain them to look at proteins and nucleic acids in them, view the traditional view of microscopy, and make a diagnosis on that basis.

And you’re probably, depending on how you count them, 25 different manual steps that are involved in this. It usually takes several days. If you’ve had a biopsy, you have to wait several days to know what that result is. You can wait to share this data because you have to have the physical slide to look at it.

You can only apply image analysis tools to it if it’s naturally digitized. It’s just a piece of tissue on the slide. So many limitations are associated with it, even though it has all these advantages. It’s also analogous to the way that people used to take pictures, and it’s not popular these days.

But to have a traditional film camera meant that you would get some film, put it in the camera, take a picture, and then it’d have to process and go to the processing lab. You take the negatives, and you make your chemical process develop a film and print, and it’s like that to process tissue. After you have those physical prints, people realize that there’s an advantage to making it digital.

You want to be able to share it widely. You want to be able to put it on your Instagram. You also want to be able to do some image analysis on it. And so digit digitizing meant you take that print of a photo, put it in a scanner, and scan it to make it digital. But what happened for cameras was that they got transformed into, well, you can go directly to a digital image. The digital cameras Eliminated the need for any physical film and development and made it easy for people to do all the image analysis and also to be able to share them and all the advantages that come with it.

Plus, the quality eventually became better. Initially, it wasn’t, but the quality eventually became better. What Applicant is there’s a long way to get you to what Applicant does, which is essentially the digital camera for histology. It’s taking a piece of tissue and being able to process it minimally without having to make these physical slides, without having to physically infiltrate it with wax and cut physical slides, and then be able to look at it under the microscope and then have to digitize it subsequently.

But if we can image a piece of tissue and produce a digital image, it becomes the digital camera of histology with all analogous advantages. That’s what the applicant system does, and it’s a platform. It’s more than just one machine. There are multiple components to it.

There are Variations in the way that we process the tissue to make it so that we can image into it. What that means is that we take the piece of tissue, we allow fluorescent dyes to infiltrate into the tissue rather than wax, just fluorescent dyes, and then we make something that has been referred to sometimes as science fiction, but we make the tissue extremely transparent. 

What that means is that we normalize the optical properties of the tissue by removing the water and replacing it with a different liquid compound that allows light to pass straight through it. So you could take a piece of tissue that looks opaque, replace the water with this other chemical, and make it completely transparent.

By doing so, we can then use a particular type of laser microscope, a multi-photon pulsed laser microscope and collect optical sections rather than physical sections through the piece of tissue. Getting all of that to work correctly, fast, and produce high-quality images Has been the product of many years of work for applicants and something that now, finally, we’re making available in terms of being able to do this process for pieces of tissue without having to do all this physical, embedding and sectioning and the advantages that come from it being intrinsically digital as well. 

Alex Bridgeman: It also sounds like it would save a lab technician a lot of time from just not like the process overall taking much less time, but it sounds like while the slicing and imaging are being done, someone who’s running that machine could do other stuff while that’s happening.

They don’t have to examine slices or move them physically. The machine is doing that the entire time, physically under the microscope, photographing them and then swapping them out with something else. So you have things like the freedom to do other things.

While all this, all the imaging is being done. 

Rick Torres: That’s correct. It’s an automation platform. It reduces labour by about 80%. It addresses one key issue in this Arena that we work in, which is that skilled histotechnologists are very difficult to find. They are increasingly difficult to find and address labour challenges.

A critical aspect of being appealing to potential users is 

Alex Bridgeman: So, you talk about that part of it because what are the labour dynamics for histology? It sounds like talking about it is challenging, but what does that look like over the last few years? And what do you think that looks like going forward?

Rick Torres: Right. Great question. Data illustrates how the number of histotechnology graduates from programs has dropped severalfold over the last decade. It points out that it is challenging to hire new people for laboratories that are short-staffed.

There are massive pressures to increase throughput. More samples are produced when there are fewer people. Who is generating that data? So, it’s a chronic problem throughout the United States. Also, in other parts of the world, for instance, in the United Kingdom, they’ve talked about the fact that it can take weeks to be able to get a diagnosis for a patient who has had a biopsy, and 1 of the contributors to that is That there are challenges with being able to staff the laboratories enough to be able to process those samples. So, efficiencies in this arena are essential to the future of pathology.

We have to be able to do more with fewer people. As a business, if you will, but as a field, that’s one of the critical drivers to finding new ways to automate various steps of this process. There’s also evidence that companies are trying to do this in other ways.

So, the producers of the existing method for producing physical slides have tried various forms to take that: the steps of putting tissue inside a wax bath, aligning it properly, and mounting it into a microtone, which is a moving blade that allows you to cut the thin slices.

Taking those thin slices and mounting them onto a slide and doing all the other steps associated with putting hover, slip on it, et cetera. It’s such a complex manual skill, and companies have worked really hard to automate it. It was largely unsuccessful, but that also points to the desire and need to alleviate the labour burdens associated with making and processing tissue specimens. 

Alex Bridgeman: Would this allow someone who isn’t scientifically trained to use the machine? Do you still need a histological? How’d you say it? What was the degree?

Rick Torres: Histotechnologist. 

Alex Bridgeman: Yeah. Histotechnologist. Do you still need to be a histotechnologist to use the machine? Or is there a lighter training path for someone to be able to use the machine and produce a similar output as someone more trained? 

Rick Torres: I love the way you’re asking the question because it is precisely correct.

There are other tiers of employees who can perform these tasks. Some technicians are generally more available, and so they’re lower-cost labor. There could be people who need to be explicitly trained to do these tasks that exist in medical environments. Because the burden is low, they can perform these tasks, Add them to their set of responsibilities without being overburdened, and ultimately alleviate the need for someone highly skilled at this. 

I am trained as a pathologist and work as a pathologist. If you asked me right now to go into a laboratory and produce some physical slides from a piece of tissue, I would butcher it.

I would not do it correctly, the specimens would look crappy, and I would have the people viewing it yelling at me, telling me to do it again, and, and At the same time, with our system, I’m able to take pieces of tissue and produce physical slides, quickly and be able to have information that’s, useful for being able to interpret.

That’s a testament to the fact that it does require lower levels of skill to produce. What that translates to, in my view, is that you could achieve better consistency moving forward. These are things that we have yet to demonstrate, but that is the anticipation of what we expect as we develop these systems further.

Alex Bridgeman: Yeah, that’s my next thought: It reduces the chance for human or user error. In making these slides, especially if it’s a pretty significant tissue sample and you want to have only one, if you mess it up, you have to. There’s no do-over. It is the only sample you can use.

So you have to get it right the first time. And so having a more automated process where it’s harder to screw it up if that seems like a pretty phenomenal tool. 

Rick Torres: Yeah, Alex, you’re getting it right away. And there are so many nuances to it. That is, it is challenging to communicate effectively in my role.

So, I really like what you’re getting at with this. It’s indeed less likely that you can make errors. And what are the steps that people make errors in? When you’re making a physical slide, typically, you have to label multiple assets. So you have the piece of tissue itself. It’s waxed and has one label.

Then, you’re going to put it onto multiple slides. Each of those has to be labeled. There are numerous labeling steps. You may label the piece of tissue on the slide once when you mount it, and then you label it afterward by attaching another label to it, a physical label. Then, when you talk, think about the number of assets that you have. You have the block, and you may have three or four different slides to it.

That’s multiple opportunities for you to either mix up specimens, lose specimens, or have to store and manage them, right? And that’s separate from making the errors. There are other nuances to it in terms of the efficiency that comes from it in that if you have a piece of tissue And the way that they are mounted onto a slide, sometimes it’s done on a water bath, and there may be floating pieces of tissue in that water bath. They sometimes attach to the wrong slide.

What that means is that people refer to them as floaters because they are floating pieces of tissue that end up in the wrong slide. These are some rather traumatic examples of Errors that have had real clinical consequences, such as the wrong piece, a little piece of tissue ending up in the wrong slide and being interpreted as a malignancy for the incorrect individual.

So, it only happens sometimes. I don’t want to give the impression that histotechnology labs are a mess because they are not. People are highly dedicated to making sure that these things don’t happen. Still, then you start to think about the effort that’s involved in making sure those things happen, and if you can reduce it a few times, that in itself is beneficial and then alleviates that massive burden of worry and management and quality control that’s related to all those little pieces of work are in my view, a natural, Asset to being able to have a direct to the digital path.

Alex Bridgeman: Yes. I’m thinking about the benefits a user has for using this machine. They would lower labour costs or involve less labour in this particular part of their business. They would have more accuracy, perhaps. It’s going to be faster. So it’s better, like customer or patient service, as a result of that, fewer errors.

And what else comes up? What are the key benefits of this faster process? 

Rick Torres: Many benefits are specific to use cases. And I want to emphasize that our system still needs to be FDA-approved for clinical use and make sure that we have that disclaimer on there, but this is a process that we’re going through in terms of getting the FDA approval for it.

But in a clinical environment, you can picture, for instance, the fact that being able to take multiple levels and having them be naturally aligned. And by that, I mean, is that. It’s the same piece of tissue in the same orientation. Data is being collected at each level. And when that data is collected, every level is aligned.

In our viewer, we have a web-based viewer that allows any pathologist in the world, the world’s best pathologist, to take a look at it within minutes of it being produced. They can look through different levels of this and get a three-dimensional perspective. One that is Actually critical for being able to understand what the pathologic pathological situation is, for instance, prostate biopsies. You want to be able to see how the glands are growing. That’s a part of the determinant as to whether it’s cancer or not and what grade of cancer it is. What pathologists do now is take one slide and put it on the microscope.

They take a look at it; then they take another slide that may be right next to it in terms of a cut. And they try to. In their heads, orient themselves as to what the different levels are; being able to see these levels naturally line and easily navigate them is bound to create more certainty in that beyond that, you can see more of the data in the samples if it were easy and it was not more cost. Pathologists would want to have multiple slices through the entirety of these samples. 

We found that already when we’ve done some of our studies, pros,tate pathologists, renal pathologists, and for the kidney, they want to see more things in there because they get more information, and that improves precision.

So, that aspect is not available to pathologists now, and the platform we have makes it extremely easy and accessible. The other aspect is that small pieces of tissue are often removed. It’s beneficial to the patient not to have big pieces of big chunks of tissue.

So, let’s say that you have a mass in your lung. You can use minimally invasive techniques to get a tiny piece of tissue to try to make a diagnosis. If you use that small piece of tissue to examine embedded in wax and you cut these thin slices, these specimens are small enough that you may consume, in quotes, all the tissue in order to visualize what it has.

When you make physical slides, you’ve cut through the entirety of the specimen, and there isn’t any specimen left, or the amount of specimen left is too small to be able to do other tests with that same piece of tissue. So, tissue conservation is a critical aspect of specific applications.

Small pieces of tissue through the applicant platform, you can process it. Evolved data that allows you to visualize the entirety of the sample. Then, you’re able to take the entirety of that sample, extract nucleic acids from it, and test the DNA, for instance. That aspect is one that we really anticipate will have a significant effect on improving specific patients, potentially avoiding them having to have another biopsy because not enough tissue was removed the first time.

Better direct therapies are needed because there is more material for nucleic acid analysis, and therapies are increasingly dependent on the type of genetic makeup of these specimens. So again, many possible specific advantages that are dependent on the Application, and we were excited about being able to demonstrate those further and further as we have more people using it and get more data on the advantages.

Alex Bridgeman: Where is this data being stored? Like, I’m a data business geek. I love studying data companies, and I hear you talking about digitizing all these tissues. And there must be a ton of value in having, like I talked about, the lung piece of tissue in your lung. There must be value in a doctor being able to see not only this patient’s tissue but 50 or a hundred other tissue examples of similar or slightly different tissues that could indicate different diagnoses.

Where does that data live? If you wanted to build a data, pool, or database from all of these tissue samples, could that be done? I don’t know how HIPAA comes into that, but where does something like that live or exist? 

Rick Torres: Yes. And it’s definitely a critical component in this field of data digitization.

It has been a massive move in the industry to take the physical slides and digitize them so that type of analysis can be performed. One of the aspects that are tangential to your question is that there are so many challenges from the cost and additional work involved in taking the physical slide and subsequently scanning it and producing this data that we see Applicant as being a solution that allows you to more quickly, produce digital data overall. And in that way, enable all of these downstream tools that you’re referring to. The way that that data is stored in most clinical environments Right now is preferred. It has been a preference to store that on the premises. And so, large institutions may have their servers. So sometimes, they’re just built on the fly. And other times, they’re more professionalized. But the data can be on the premises, and there’s been just mainly for the security concerns.

Having set that in the non-clinical spaces Means things like research environments; pharmaceutical research produces a lot of histology data, and they need to do all sorts of analysis. Veterinary environments also do histology data. In these environments, there’s undoubtedly much more openness to having data on cloud services.

Cloud services have apparent advantages in terms of sharing, for instance, and also for being able to scale and maintain uptime. With all your experience and interest in these aspects, Alex, you’re more familiar with them than I am. At the same time, there is certainly a move from those more conservative institutions to go from on-premises to the cloud for storage.

And because of the benefits of being able to do this remote analysis, having cloud-based image analysis techniques, being able to. Take an image, as you’re pointing out. Recent research has demonstrated this principle: taking a picture and dropping it in something and finding similar cases that look like it. Faisal Mahmood, in Boston, has just recently demonstrated some generic tools for that and is making significant progress together with other investigators.

It’s a lot of future pathology. Advantages that come from that and having a cloud-based approach certainly facilitate doing so. So, the idea is that going into the cloud and being more having more access to the digital space by being able to produce intrinsically digital data with less work is where we see our role at this point is to be the platform that enables making an integrated, software platform where tools that are developed can be applied as well in terms of the, where the data lives, and how that gets managed, cost is becoming an increasing factor on it.

Without going into too much detail about different cloud providers, there’s high competition in that space. Still, it can get extremely costly to have data on the cloud unless you are savvy enough to understand where the costs can be incurred, regardless of the amount of data. Generally, the issue is more how that data gets processed, moved, stored, and characterized, how many files you have, whether individual files or single files, and how it gets moved. 

If there is computing time, that’s a cloud base. All of these are significant concerns for being able to make a cost-effective solution that’s sustainable and can grow, and we see that having people who are conscious of the cost engineering part. Some of the folks who we work with and work with our company talk about having both software cost engineers and hardware cost engineers, which have been around for a while to some degree, but on the software side, they are becoming more and more critical.

Alex Bridgeman: So you mentioned part of a big focus for you right now is getting FDA approval for applicants. What does that process look like? Where are you today? And what are some of the steps you need to complete next? 

Rick Torres: Yeah, so definitely, we are working. We started working with the FDA. There’s a lot of planning that goes into the FDA.

Where do we fit into what the FDA already knows about? So there are these whole slide imaging systems referred to as taking physical slides and scanning them. How do we compare to them and understand how we can present this information to the FDA in an understandable way? Also, think about where the risks lie and which ones are the same and which ones are different, and then plan for the studies that will demonstrate that we have appropriately addressed those risks and that they can actually be used in a particular way.

There is So much strategy that goes into that because you have to understand, we have to understand more and more, what’s possible to do, whether it makes more sense to do it and in which steps, whether to try to approach a solution that is applicable to every single tissue type and every circumstance, or whether we want to focus on specific Tissue types to start with, and then what does a study like this look like?

How do we ensure that when it gets reviewed by people in the FDA, it’s clear to them that they can understand what our technology is like, what our real risks are like, and present convincing evidence that what we’re planning to do is going to be 6 is going to be able to demonstrate what our goal is?

That’s a long way of saying that there was a lot of preparation. While we’ve had contact with the FDA and continue to do so, we’re still refining that plan in terms of what a clinical trial looks like. Another component that’s really so important is the quality management system that underlies everything that’s being performed from the engineering and software side.

One aspect that the FDA is really interested in is ensuring that the engineering development process uses what could be called good manufacturing practices or design practices and that it follows international standards of engineering development.

And that’s been a really great learning process for us as a company to see what is involved in that. What are the ways to design things for clinical use appropriately? That has guided us in terms of being able to improve our systems and make sure that as we’re developing our clinical systems, they are following these good manufacturing practices.

We have built our quality management system and are incorporating that in the design elements of taking things that we’ve built and that we have available for sale and making them so that they satisfy the rigorous clinical use requirements for engineering development. We are translating things that are available and work for research environments into clinical use instruments and platforms.

Once we have completed that, the next step will be to be able to do our clinical trial, have multiple systems in multiple places, and collect the data that we need, which we anticipate doing next year. So, it’s an exciting time to see that transformation of our system, which we’ve worked on for a long time and refined over a long period and converting that into what could have a really significant potential clinical impact and do so in a way that ensures that risk to patients is low. We have good reasons to argue that our risk to patients is low because we don’t actually impede doing the current standard. 

We can actually do it together with the current standard, so that’s a significant risk mitigation for us, but it’s preferential that we convert our systems into clinical systems. It has been an eye-opening process, and it has allowed us to produce better and better systems.

Alex Bridgeman: Well, it’d be a fair and reasonable timeframe for getting FDA approval and starting to sell your first machines. 

Rick Torres: If we plan it correctly. We are also able to justify clearly how our data is going to be convincing to ensure good practice. It should take a year to collect that data and demonstrate that it’s working correctly.

There are plenty of samples. The process itself is relatively easy, and it’s relatively easy to add data, which helps us a great deal. It’s different from a device that goes into a patient, for instance, because in those cases, you are faced with the challenge of finding individuals who are willing to be part of this development process.

They’re more challenging to come by. Suppose there are real risks to patients when a new drug well could affect the patient. There are unknowns, and it’s undoubtedly worth it to society to have individuals who are willing to participate as part of a trial, but it may be challenging to find them.

We have to make sure that all the risk mitigation around that study is substantial. Or the type of study that we’re doing where we’re really not, where we’re essentially collecting data along the standard process, could be a lot easier. And so, the complexity is lower, and the risks are far lower.

Alex Bridgeman: I was listening to a podcast the other day about the drug approval process, and it would take a decade-plus easily to bring a drug from scratch to market. And so, yeah, a year timeframe compared to that sounds phenomenal. Like, sign me up for that. That sounds much better. 

Rick Torres: Yeah, no kidding, and it’s very so it does make it so it’s much more reachable in a short period, and it makes me think a little bit about how the investor side thinks about different Industries and devices and that’s been an exciting thing to learn about as well in that there are Real challenges. 

I mean, the amount of capital, time, and effort involved in getting a drug approved is enormous. It’s so high. Obviously, the upside from an investor’s point of view is relatively high, and the barrier to entry is really high.

The potential upside is relatively high when you’re talking about a software app. Perhaps at the opposite end of the spectrum, you’re talking about a shallow barrier to entry because I know some teenagers who are excellent coders, but they couldn’t write an app. But then there is the competition, the barrier to entry.

So little competition is so high. Many people can develop it. Actually, It still has a pretty good upside. So, it’s partially the opposite, but achieving the market share that allows you to have that really high upside from a medical therapeutic is undoubtedly different for an app if you’re Google or Apple. For us, we’re in an exciting realm in the sense that we’re building hardware that’s not easy to develop and is often quoted. It is because there are just so many nuances to robotic sizing systems, and they need to work reliably, and unexpected aspects come in. You have to develop up to a certain point before you can test for software.

You can have much more rapid development, much more fluid development. So, we have the hardware’s challenging component. At the same time, because of the technology that we have, we risked a lot through a lot of testing. Still, because it is not trivial to do, then we do have a potentially high upside, meaning that we can be dominant in this arena; it can’t be just anyone that comes in and builds a Combination of a chemical processing method with a fast multiphoton microscope to be able to generate data of high enough quality to be able to make interpretations from it.

Then, we have the software component that comes with it, and it can serve as a platform. We see that as potentially having a tremendous upside as well. But certainly, the barrier to entry is lower. There are more competitors in the viewer space. And what we’re looking at is that combination of hardware and software.

But from getting back to the point about the investors, it can be challenging to digest and understand that the hardware that we have is unique enough and powerful enough that it could have a really high upside. Still, it also requires a certain level of patience and investment to be able to get to that point.

Alex Bridgeman: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. It would help if you imagined that that makes recruiting and hiring difficult. Like that timeline of being able to get out to market within a year or so, that has to make recruiting easier when you can tell folks that if you join our team and join our company, like we’re not that far away from being able to sell this, start growing the company and getting customer feedback and building those relationships like that must be a pretty compelling pitch To like an intelligent, hungry, ambitious person who wants to make something neat. 

Rick Torres: Definitely. We’re hiring right now. We have two open engineering positions, and we’ve definitely had a lot of interest in people who understand that it’s high tech, whether you call it deep tech or high tech or whatever it is, but deep tech makes it fun.

Right. Interesting. It has been, and it’s possible to see where it’s going to have an impact pretty soon. The fact that we already have systems that work is also exciting because people can see what they can do. And that’s also been quite appealing.

And, so, it draws interest. It creates a lot of excitement among the people who work with us. We’ve kept our team relatively small, and as a strategy, we’ve done that. We kept it small and also worked with a lot of consultants, individual consultants, and group consultants, but that has worked well for us to make sure that we can adjust. Indeed, the economics of it are favourable in terms of saying, okay, we got to pause right now because we’re in a new fundraising stage, and we got to wait for funding to come in to be able to ramp up again. So it helps with that. But in terms of the people we have working with us and the consultants who we consider part of our team, they’re integral to our squad of consultants.

Technical and non-technical people, the enthusiasm is relatively high, and that’s really energizing because then you have that. And when you start to see that something’s not working quite right, and like, oh, we got to this, and there’s time pressure to get it fixed, and then you get other people who could remind you that, Hey, this is this; it’s fantastic.

It’s great. It works Awesome. We can resolve these things, and it gets you through those periods by having that enthusiasm around you. 

Alex Bridgeman: Yeah. What have you also learned about being a co-CEO in your situation, but what have you learned about managing teams and growing teams through this process, through this start-up?

Rick Torres: Yeah, very much. It’s one of the most challenging things that people do, which is to manage people. You need to understand them, and you need to understand yourself in how you react to certain situations and how to communicate appropriately. And, I would say that that’s 1 of the aspects, that latter part is 1 of the elements that’s been most important to me is to understand myself, how I react to certain situations, how I communicate and, putting on my receiving end hat and seeing what I say can be interpreted and how it can have the what’s most going to be most effective for having the intended effect.

The other aspect that I’ve learned about being in this role is that boy mentorship is critical, and having good mentors is essential. We participate through the Creative Destruction Lab, which is an incubator out of the University of Toronto, and we are restarted there, at least. And that was such a fantastic experience just being able to meet with so many people who had so many different perspectives, all within the business environment.

And I mean, it’s a little bit like what you’ve done, Alex, in terms of getting so many people that you can discuss and learn from and get different perspectives and, curious what you think about this also, but you get sometimes conflicting Input. Someone might say that you need to go faster; you need to go slower. It would help if you did it one way. You should do it the other; you should raise more money, raise less money; all these pieces of information and how to digest that and get the best out of it is challenging in and of itself. One of the parts that I continue to improve about myself is recognizing which aspects of advice I receive because I constantly seek it, which are going to be the ones that are most useful in that situation.

At this moment, this unique circumstance, knowing that everybody’s coming through a lens that has truth to it and then trying to get which components again are relevant to what I’m doing, has been an exciting aspect of being in this role: learning how to do that. And then, as I mentioned again, remember to know yourself.

Understanding how you react as a leader. Dustin Seal, a friend, released a book called Lead Through Anything this year. That book helps you know yourself, your leadership style, and how it affects how you lead others.

I found it helpful in learning how I react and how I can have the best impact.

Alex Bridgeman: What advice has stuck with you the most? 

Rick Torres: Oh boy, there is so much. Yeah, I think some of it, some of the advice that I’ve gotten that stuck with me, has been a little bit off; at some point, you are not able to get certainty of making the best decision, and you do have to move forward because you need to, ride the wave and surf is the way that it’s been presented to me. That’s been impactful because it makes me think that. Where there is a risk of overthinking certain situations, and sometimes you need to see how things play out and move forward.

And that’s a little bit generic, but I do think about that with some regularity. Another aspect that I have heard that has Stayed with me has been. See how I say this. Yeah, I think that’s a question that I’d like to think about a little bit more and maybe get back to it just because there are quite a few things that I could roll through my head and I constantly remind myself about, but not really finding precisely the right words to talk about it.

Alex Bridgeman: Another frame of it could be, what skill are you working on improving the most right now, or over the next two months or so that you’ve committed to yourself to work on? 

Rick Torres: One aspect that I have come across is Becoming an optimist, focusing less on issues that seem like problems and discussing them in the context of just being a problem. In that way, I maintain the motivation and enthusiasm of those who are working with me.

That is a skill that, again, learning about myself and realizing that I’m someone who is going to focus on the fact that this is an issue we need to resolve and let’s focus all our energy on it and let’s solve it as a problem and what we need to be motivating others to work on the issue with an illustration of If we solve this. It’s going to be terrific to do so and have that positive motivation instead of presenting it like there’s a problem. We need to resolve it point away, which may be the way that would be okay for me to think about it myself because I could stay motivated, and that’s fine. 

But it’s good for getting the most out of others around you and establishing a positive mood, which helps everyone and creates a positive environment. It’s really critical because it’s so easy to get discouraged in an environment with so many pressures, and boy, it can be challenging, especially when there’s a lot of time pressure that becomes so heavy.

That’s something that I’m working on to improve how I function with others. 

Alex Bridgeman: What do you find brings you energy? If there are a lot of problems or a lot of stuff going on, that makes it hard to be more optimistic. Like what tends to bring you back and give you that optimism and energy back?

Rick Torres: For me, it’s just taking on an engineering challenge and solving it. I can still be satisfied with solving an engineering issue. It’s a puzzle. That’s when people. Engineers generally have this rush that comes from being able to take on a challenge and come up with a great solution.

And that helps, as well as being able to see some aspects of the system that we have and see it function. It just reminds me of, like, wow, this is something that works, and it can do all this that motivates me. And it helps me keep going when there’s some issue that comes up. And I use that to understand. Also, I encourage the engineers who work with us to say, hey, look, here’s this issue, and I work on it and focus on it.

Try to protect yourself from all the other stuff, not throw a barrage of issues that need to be resolved. But here’s one thing to work on. Let’s focus on it. Then, the satisfaction that comes from resolving that issue is that it’s not just me; others really can get our motivation from it.

Alex Bridgeman: What have I not asked you that you’re dying to talk about?

Rick Torres: There are some philosophical aspects, I think, of being a leader and in this arena that not that I am necessarily dying to talk about it, but just that I find something that I think about a lot are the philosophical aspects of being in this role in this business. These are things that you’d also find interesting, Alex, because I’m sure you’ve made some choices. You’re choosing to embark on some projects, et cetera.

Certain personalities and characteristics perform really well. As leaders of a new venture start-up environment, one of the characteristics that I’ve noticed is that stamina is a big deal.

I have a friend who has been successful in building companies. I’m really just impressed by the work he’s done to build companies in the medical device space. He’s also an ultramarathon runner, and that makes complete sense to me because I see his level of energy is consistently high, and I admire that. And, boy, it could be taxing, right? Energy to keep it up. There’s much to do. He’s like late in the day.

You’re trying to solve issues. That’s one aspect that’s not less on the philosophical side. Still, it’s more on the observational side, but from the intellectual side, and the way that plays in is understanding how you want to live. It’s like you want to, you, you, you have to be motivated by what you’re doing, which is what we’re talking about earlier in terms of.

Okay, I love seeing this work. I love seeing the challenges get resolved, and that’s really motivating. You have to have that because if you don’t, It could be a real grind, and then it might make more sense to do something different. So, knowing yourself and having a perspective of what’s essential in your life is really important.

It is critical to make sure that you succeed in a leadership role. Those are things that have been on my mind and are constantly on it, and I know I’m doing what I should be doing. I love seeing the technology being translated from a laboratory engineering design and seeing how and helping it get into Reality in a commercial space, so remembering that is also motivating. Still, it’s also critical that people who enter this arena recognize what’s important to them and know whether that’s going to be the right thing or not.

Alex Bridgeman: I love that. And it’s a great place to close. Rick, thank you for coming on the podcast. It’s been perfect chatting with you and learning all about the Applicant. We’ll get to see it here pretty soon. It will be very soon that it’s on the market, so I’m thrilled to chat about it for a little bit.

Rick Torres: Thank you so much, Alex. I really enjoyed it.

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