Running a marathon: Mikel’s zest for innovation and startup life

Aamir Akbarally

Mikel Larson is an engineer in the truest sense of the word. So much so that he left his PhD programme at the University of Cincinnati to enter the industry as a biomedical research engineer, where he has since gone on to lead teams of individuals specialised in various disciplines of the role; this is not, however, his only passion. In 2023, Mikel ran the 100km marathon. 14 hours of paced running – a product of many more hours of effort and commitment that has led to running being second nature to Mikel, much like startups.  

Mikel joined Nutromics in 2021, entering as the first of his team when the company comprised only 10 people. From those early days in a compact office in Brunswick, Mikel has continued to work hard to spearhead innovation and excellence at Nutromics and is currently acting as Lead Sensor Engineer.

Parallel Paths

Mikel’s path to engineering was not always a clear-cut one. He was set on pursuing a stable career in medicine driven by his desire to help people. However, he later recognized the potential for broader impact and opted to shift gears. “The primary reason I made that decision was because, ultimately, as an engineer, you have the chance to produce something that can impact millions of people,” Mikel shares.

Thus, his engineering journey in the startup world began, at a company that was utilizing the same DNA-based sensing technology that Nutromics employs today. The company aimed to provide continuous and real-time insights for medication through sweat. However, the harsh realities of startup life hit Mikel in April 2020 when the business ran out of funding and was forced to close its doors. “It was a major setback” Mikel recalls, but much like a marathon, he viewed the adversity as an opportunity for growth.

Navigating the Startup Marathon Landscape

It became clear to Mikel that a myriad of exhilarating highs and challenging lows marked startup culture. “Startups give you a ton of autonomy, which can be a double-edged sword. There are not a lot of clearly defined processes; there are lots of things we’re figuring out as we go, but it’s across the board”, Mikel remarks. When Mikel joined Nutromics, the company was in its infancy, lacking a dedicated engineering space or even enough desks for its small team.

Today, Mikel oversees the second-largest team in the company and manages a dedicated engineering lab for research and development. As Lead Sensor Engineer, Mikel wears multiple hats, balancing technical innovation with managerial responsibilities. A demanding role that, in a larger company, would typically be divided among multiple team leads. Yet, Mikel embraces it with persistence and a drive to surpass limits, principles he applies both to running marathons and working within a startup.

Sustaining Momentum in the Innovation Race

In navigating the dynamic landscape at Nutromics, Mikel draws many meaningful insights. Diverging from the iterative focus often seen in larger, traditional companies, Nutromics thrives on a continuous flow of ideas, tirelessly working to develop solutions that are not only technically feasible but also commercially viable.

Mikel sheds light on the capital-intensive nature of startups, likening them to “gases that expand to the size of the container provided. With ample capital, startups like Nutromics can explore multiple parallel options, minimizing risk and creating an environment that fosters positive stress for innovation.” This analogy captures the high-pressure yet collaborative atmosphere at Nutromics, which facilitates a culture of shared problem-solving that values ideas, regardless of their origin. Nutromics cultivates a unique blend of autonomy and shared vision, where every stride represents a step towards progress in the marathon that is innovation.

Despite the intensity and unpredictability of startup life, Mikel's leadership focuses on providing the necessary support for the team to not just cope but thrive amidst the challenges that come with the environment. Regular check-ins, and dividing teams to tackle specific problems are part of his and the company’s approach to safeguarding employees and handling high-pressure situations.

Mikel Larson’s journey in many ways mirrors the principles of a marathon – resilience, commitment, and a relentless pursuit of meaningful change. From the early stages of a startup to managing a thriving team, Mikel embodies the spirit of both an engineer and a long-distance runner. Leading groundbreaking advancements in medical technology and a legacy of impactful innovation. Mikel has helped pave the way for Nutromics to continue pioneering advancements in medical technology, fulfilling his mission to save millions of lives through continuous diagnostic monitoring.