People of Synthace: Fane Mensah, PhD – Life Sciences Business Director
Fane joined us in May 2019 to lead the creation and growth of the Computer-Aided Biology (CAB) Community. After a successful year as Head of Community, Fane moved into a role of a Life Sciences Business Director and is currently working on expanding our products and offering across the industry.
We are all on the same mission: to change the way we do biology."Fane Mensah, PhD Life Sciences Business Director
What is your role?
As the Life Sciences Business Director, I’m responsible for expanding our products and offering across the industry. I interact a lot with end-users and decision makers to fully understand the different challenges they’re facing in their journeys to digitalization and automation.
By having interactive discussions with the different personas around their vision and digital strategy, our team can provide them with solutions that accelerate biological discovery and optimization by empowering researchers with digital tools and flexible automation, through Antha, to address the problem of biological complexity.
Next to my day to day role I also run the Computer-Aided Biology Community, a focused network of people at the intersection of biology and technology. The core of my role here involves getting the right people to come together to encourage discussion, collaboration, and best practices to drive biological research and development forward.
This is important because Synthace’s software product, Antha, enables this new way of working, which perfectly fits with the vision of computer-aided biology, enabling biological R&D and manufacturing using 21st century tools. It is important to realize that Synthace will not be the only key player and that we will be more successful through connecting with people, learning, teaching, and building a community together.
Where were you before joining?
I literally joined Synthace straight after finishing my PhD at UCL.
Although I identified myself as a passionate immunologist, I saw an opportunity and potential to build bridges within life sciences and, in particular, between academia, biotech, pharma, and the start-up scene.
It was, therefore, easy for me to realize that I wanted to move into a role in industry rather than stay in academia.
Why did you want to join Synthace?
I heard about Synthace and the work it was doing through various activities I already initiated during my PhD.
The things that drew me the most were curiosity and the fact that I knew I had to jump on this exciting journey of driving the adaptation of 21st century tools: ‘computer-aided biology’.
Now that I have been here for some time, I have seen so many exciting developments within the company, which has confirmed even more that I want to be part of this great team!
Think about the expectations you had before you joined. Is life and work at Synthace in line with how you thought it would be?
This was my first job after finishing the PhD, so on some level I had no idea what to expect.
Joining a start-up I knew there would be hectic times and that the work would be challenging.
As Synthace is a small company, I quickly realized the work would be varied, and I really enjoy working in this environment with exposure to different areas within the company – Lab, Commercial, Product Development, etc.
Were there any concerns you had before joining that were either realized, or that turned out to be unwarranted?
The biggest concern about joining a start-up is failure. Not knowing what you are going to step into is a little scary. But since the beginning I have always felt that we are doing something really cool – I still see the potential, and we are continuing to move in the right direction.
Another concern was what the people would be like and what sort of opportunities there might be for career progression and personal growth. Being able to meet future colleagues and have various discussions with them as part of the interview process really helped put my fears at ease though.
During my own interview, for example, with JAJA (James Arpino, PhD) we talked through the different roles he had had and how he had grown within the company, which was a great eye-opener for me.
What do you think of Synthace's efforts to create an inclusive and diverse team, and a supportive environment that encourages equal opportunities for underrepresented minorities?
This is something I think a lot of companies in the STEM sector deal with. I think it has been difficult, and we're still on that journey at Synthace. What is promising and very inspiring is that we understand the issue, and different action points have been set in place to change this.
Why do you think some people from minority backgrounds may be put off by the idea of a career in STEM? What do you think could be done to help?
I believe there are definitely barriers, whether they are cultural or more skills or knowledge related.
Possibly the biggest barrier is the lack of role models and the feeling for people from minority backgrounds that they are somehow not represented. I think this is the case for those that are studying and definitely also for those that are considering leadership positions.
We are definitely seeing a change, and I think it’s important for people like myself to be active and visible - at bigger as well as smaller companies - to showcase our success and the impact we can have in our respective industries.
Another important thing we can all be doing is opening up the discussion with our colleagues and just making sure we all understand where we are coming from.
No matter what your background is you should always strive to break any type of barrier.
Were there any particular individuals who inspired or influenced you?
During my training - very few, but I have to say in the last few years there have been a lot of black people in the life sciences industry that have inspired me, including Dr. Michael Salako, Dr. Nneka Irechukwu, and Dr. Donald Palmer, just to name a few.
This was also one of the reasons why I wanted to set an example. On the other side I hope I can inspire others with my work.
How much do you agree with the following statement:
"I can clearly see how my work has an impact"
Yes, I strongly agree. It is so awesome that ideas I have and projects I work on are implemented.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
When I explain what we are doing in the CAB community and people ‘get it’.
At our launch event, we had about one hundred people in the room from across the industry. When people raised their hands and said “This is interesting, I want to get involved” or “Hey, I want to know more about this”, that was really rewarding and really formed the start of our journey.
Seeing how people are now getting involved – contributing, giving insights and feedback – all shows that they are fully on board and they want to push it forward and help other people to ‘get it’ too.
What do you enjoy most about #SynthaceLife (outside of your actual job)?
I enjoy the people. I think that because I have previously been in an environment where there were only scientists and everyone thought like a scientist, it is so nice to now be part of a more diverse group and that people can learn from each other.
One good example is the 101 sessions we run, where you can turn up and learn about topics like coding, management, networking, and more.
I also really enjoy the team breakfasts and lunches because I get to speak to people I do not normally see day-to-day. It is great having everyone just grab a seat and talk with each other about anything.
What are you most proud of when thinking about Synthace as a company and/or group of colleagues?
Probably what I am most proud of is that we are all on the same mission: to change the way we do biology. And not just as scientists or biologists: sharing this with exceptional engineers, software developers (who have worked in companies like Google and Facebook), and people with other backgrounds is truly remarkable. It is part of the Synthace culture.
A lot of people think that you need to be in academia or big pharma to have an impact in the scientific community. It is nice to be in a very cool emerging company that is making an impact through tools that enable change.
How would you describe the people and culture at Synthace?
Crazy and fun, in a good way!
There are so many people who are so funny and who just crack me up! It is so important to be able to laugh together and also talk with each other about things other than work.
On a related but more serious point, there is also a great deal of support for each other. People feel comfortable seeking help from colleagues. No matter what happens you know we are all working towards the same goals and we have got each other’s backs.
Some people may find it intimidating working with so many exceptional colleagues, but everyone is very down to earth and easy to get on with.
What advice would you give to someone if they were looking to apply to your team? What traits and/or skills are important?
You need to be good at planning and great at communicating. There are so many different considerations, and if we do not communicate clearly with each other, we can miss things.
Persistence and ambition are also important. We look for people who want to continue to progress and develop themselves and the company – standing still is not really an option.
Would you recommend Synthace to anyone considering working here?
This would be the right place for you if you have an open mind and if you are ambitious and curious.
Working here is not just about skills or qualifications, it is just as much – if not more so – about having the right mentality. You need to have a thick skin at times and you definitely need to be open to pushing hard, learning from mistakes and feedback, and driving forward.
You can also connect with Fane on LinkedIn.
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