Founder-CEO Interview Series

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Sezai Taskin

Sezai Taskin has over 20 years of experience in the pharmaceutical industry. He was a recognized business leader in haematology and oncology at Roche, AbbVie, AstraZeneca and Owkin and has successfully launched many products. During this time he had local, regional and global roles and responsibilities. After a successful corporate career, he started his own adventure with his wonderful co-founders Nicole, Christan and Stefan.

Founder-CEO Interview Series

with Sezai Taskin

Tell us about yourself.

My name is Sezai. I was born in Turkey, raised in Switzerland, and worked in Sweden and Germany. I feel like I have three home countries. Besides Turkey and Switzerland, Germany is close to me as my wife is German. Our two wonderful kids don’t want to show their colours – Turkey vs Germany – and claim that they are only Swiss. Wani, I know you are a big fan of Switzerland. They are in your camp.

I worked at Roche for a long time and gained further experience at AbbVie & AstraZeneca and lately at Owkin. I had the opportunity to work on many many interesting topics and projects with great people across these organisations. Last year I decided to start my own company together with my first best friend in Switzerland, Christian Ruiz. We are lucky to be joined by Nicole Romano and Stefan Habringer

Congratulations on being part of the DayOne cohort of 2023! Please tell us what you are building at the moment.

Thanks a lot! First of all, being part of the first DayOne cohort was a great achievement for us as a team. It was our first pitch as a team and we could convince a well-regarded jury of MedTech experts. Over 80 ideas were reviewed and we were selected from 12 that pitched.

Basically, we want to bring AI/ML to haematology and cytology and help doctors across the world to identify the right patients for the right treatment faster and cheaper. We have more ideas, but I won’t be able to share more at this stage 🙂

In the last months, we have been busy building partnerships which we will announce soon…

How did the idea came about?

From our future customers! I’ve been discussing a lot with haematologists and oncologists in the last few years. During the discussions with haematologists at the Charité in Berlin and Dana Faber in Boston I was asked why AI is not yet in haematology. That’s how it started and that is why we strongly believe in our success. 

What was the reason that you moved from a more finance-related role into the more business-centric ones?

It’s been a long time now and I still get this question. I can’t really give you one reason, but the idea developed in Sweden where I was Finance Manager for the Roche affiliate. I enjoyed the business planning sessions with the product teams at that time. Their passion to bring our medicine to patients and all the ideas and solutions that they would develop to convince our customers. I realized also that I wanted to get broader experience and responsibility. That’s why I decided to change the career path that I started at that time. I don’t regret it.

Have you always known you‘d be an entrepreneur? 

A definite “Yes”! If you ask my friends you would also get this answer. I think they could probably not keep up with all my ideas. I always wanted to build my own company. It started back then after university when I was in Canada and discovered Starbucks. I thought it would be cool to open a coffee shop chain in Switzerland. Well, that didn’t happen, but now we are building Moonlight AI.

What is your view on failure? 

Interesting question …  If you read some posts on LinkedIn people always write that failures are important to learn for the next steps. This is certainly true. But, do people really confess that they failed? I doubt it. Failures are part of life and business and all of us have our failures. They help us to get better if we learn our lessons. Sometimes we do, but we make the same mistakes more than once. For me, the important thing is to have good friends that you can share your failures with. I doubt that people really confess failures in a work environment as people always tell.

We really liked your banner on LinkedIn “If your dreams don’t scare you, they aren’t big enough”. How have your dreams evolved over the years?

I have been using it since we started Moonlight AI. We have big dreams and they certainly scare me. There are probably many intelligent teams and scientists with a lot more resources than us. But I believe we have the perfect team that covers the whole value chain of our project – from research to diagnostics & AI, from medical treatment to commercialization. 

I am not sure if my dreams have evolved over the years, but as I said before becoming an entrepreneur was always a dream.

What are some lessons you‘ve learnt throughout your career?

There are always many lessons learnt throughout careers. Mine are probably not different from others’ lessons learnt. 

First of all, I always believed it’s key to be yourself. People only trust you if they feel that you are not playing a role. 

Furthermore, I am a strong believer that broad knowledge is key to success. By changing from finance to commercial I could gain broad experience. My manager at that time convinced me that I should take the step as it would broaden my knowledge and expertise. 

Last one – be nice to people as you always meet twice. This was advice from another manager of mine. I benefit now from this advice as I am getting a lot of support from former colleagues that I worked with in the past. It seems that I was nice to many people.

What would you tell aspiring entrepreneurs who are about to start a venture?

First, challenge your ideas with the right people as there are a lot of people out there that are really open to helping. Don’t be shy to ask for help in areas where you feel insecure and have less experience. Secondly, network in the start-up environment in Switzerland. There is so much support. Lastly, just go for it!

What‘s next? 

We will soon announce a new exciting partnership. Can’t wait to announce it! 

We are also starting two projects with our AI and research partner. To be announced soon as well. 

Last one – hopefully we are getting ready for a financing round later this year! 

Any final remark/advice to share?

I always believed that you need to enjoy what you do and have fun with the people you work with. I believe that’s at the end of the day what makes people wake up and go to work. 

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