How Serendipity Found Ryan Olf

How did SPC impact the life trajectory of this physics PhD & biomedical engineer?

How Serendipity Found Ryan Olf

As Ryan Olf contemplated his professional future after leaving a biomedical startup in early 2021, he reached out to a few friends about creating a “journal club” to dig into new concepts and technologies and explore founding successful companies.

One of those friends, Rajiv Ghanta, countered with an introduction to some colleagues who, like himself, were already part of South Park Commons.

“It turns out the journal club I was looking for already existed, and it had organically blossomed into something so much more mature and powerful,” Olf said. He joined SPC in October 2021.

His path to the community echoes many SPC members’. Growing up in San Francisco and Monterey Bay, Olf spent his high school years building websites for friends, family, and local businesses. “Knowing that I could get paid to do something I liked reduced my cognitive load and career anxiety, freeing me to follow my curiosity and explore deeply in diverse interests,” he said.

That curiosity led to Caltech and Berkeley for a bachelors and then PhD in physics. Doctorate in hand, Olf knew he didn’t want to go back into academia. Instead, he joined a biomedical startup co-founded by his wife, Nano Precision Medical, starting in 2015 as a senior engineer and departing in 2021 as vice president of product development.

Ryan with some experimental physics contraption

Finding himself in the -1 to 0 stage of life, Olf discovered the perfect landing spot at SPC.

“Everyone is on their own journey, but they’re not alone; paths don’t just cross, they coincide for a while, and folks are eager to support one another,” Olf explained. “Seeing into other people’s journeys—their thinking, struggle, facility—helps me understand my own journey, my own strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities for growth.”

Olf created three goals for himself whenever interacting with his SPC colleagues:

  1. Learn about company/startup life from others to better generalize and calibrate his mental models in that area.
  2. Find people he might want to build with, or ideas he might want to build on.
  3. Flesh out and potentially validate a particular idea around new ways to interact with and share streaming media that he had been considering building into a company.

Ultimately, Olf made sure he remained open-minded and prepared for anything intriguing that came his way through the interactions and relationships that SPC provided.

“Ryan is a perfect example of how SPC can make a difference in our members’ lives and careers,” said Ruchi Sangvhi, SPC’s founder. “We have created a safe space where entrepreneurs can cultivate their ideas amongst a community of like minded people. Ryan’s another one of our many success stories.”

Remaining open to new possibilities paid off with a major life change.

During a happy hour gathering, Olf found himself in a conversation with SPC alum Nish Bhat. They chatted about Olf’s background in physics and experience in biomedical engineering. Bhat suggested he speak with the CEO of  a biotech startup in England that is building a platform to manufacture biologic drugs, which differ from traditional pharmaceuticals as they come from living organisms.

While initially intrigued, the prospect of moving his family from California to the United Kingdom felt more than a little daunting. Olf connected with the company founders and agreed to visit London for a brief consulting trip, and nothing more.

“To be honest, I didn't want to like it, but I felt like I had nothing to lose,” Olf shared. “But I did like it. We really hit it off. They’re really good founders, the company idea's so good, it's a hundred times bigger than any idea that I'd had.”

The business plans to work with smaller biomedical companies and startups, helping them create and scale new biologic drugs through the use of robotics and automation. Currently, Olf explained, this process ranges from difficult to impossible for small companies, significantly limiting the flow of capital to outfits exploring potentially life-changing drugs and therapies. Empowering small biotech startups with their own manufacturing capabilities could dramatically lower the costs of cutting edge drug discovery.

“We're going to keep the small-scale process and parallelize it, and then offer that as a service,” Olf said. “We'll start with small companies that are working on these gene therapies, where there's even less known about how to scale those. Also, working with startups can be beneficial because they often have more of an open mind to how you can do things differently.”

This unexpected opportunity also opened up the chance for Olf’s and his wife to pursue a longtime dream: living abroad. It had always been a goal of theirs, and the timing just felt right.

Ryan Olf: physicist, family man, beekeeper

“We as a family decided that now is the time, everything seems to be aligning,” he said. “And so we got excited about the adventure. Hopefully, it ends up being worth all the hassle of moving.”

For Olf, the serendipity of it all fit so well into his entire SPC experience.

“I was quite confident that just putting myself in the right environment and saying yes to conversations, to new possibilities, that a number of good things would come,” Olf said. “And they have. It's still hard to imagine, you know?”

Olf continues to give back to give back to SPC even as he plans a move across the world, serving as our Spring 2022 Membership DRI and shaping the future of what our community looks like. We're proud to have him as a member and excited to see what incredible work he does next.