Iranian tech entrepreneurs use adversity to disrupt business
This sponsored article was produced with the support of Fusedbone.
Amsterdam-based medtech founders, Navid Ardakanian & Shayan Meydanshahi reveal how struggling under sanctions secured their later success in Europe.
Iran produces some of the world’s most highly skilled migrants, Bloomberg reporting that many victims in the Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 tragedy were doctors, engineers and Ph.D. students on their way to top Canadian institutions. For those graduates pursuing careers in scientific research and tech in Iran, the infrastructure used by their overseas peers is simply inaccessible – meaning they have to do much more with much less.
Both founders settled in the Netherlands to start Fusedbone a company enabling the production of on-location patient-specific implants and medical devices using modified 3D printing technology. They participated in the Amsterdam-based Antler program, which is an early-stage venture capital firm and startup generator.
CEO and co-founder, Navid Ardakanian explains that the same limitations that prevent the country from buying, for example, new aircrafts can also prevent innovators within the medical industry from advancing certain technologies. Consequentially the cost to have common joint-reconstruction surgeries has risen steadily over the years, with many patients unable to afford the costs.
Fusedbone CTO and co-founder, Shayan Meydanshahi says, “The inspiration for Fusedbone came from our goal to find an easy, affordable way to create any implant. When I started my research into 3D printing solutions five years ago, the cost to have these surgeries was too high and nothing has changed. This means that many patients [in Iran] are not getting the procedures – they have to live with the pain.”
The advanced 3D printing technology capable of producing medical grade implants does not exist in Iran due to sanctions. Meydanshahi set out to modify the more basic Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM) version, working from inside a local hospital. At the hospital, Meydanshahi met many doctors who had returned from overseas placements to find that the equipment they had been using there was not accessible.
His adaptation of FDM 3D printing technology to create patient-specific moulds – coupled with the identification of an accessible non-metal hospital-grade material – is what turned their concept into a proven success.
Striving under sanction
Three-time founder, Ardakanian moved out of Iran in 2018 when it became clear that his petrochemical business, which manufactured a pressure vessel vital to the oil refining process, would not survive under the reinstated sanctions.
“My first businesses experienced ups and downs. In the early days my manufacturing business went well because importing this equipment for the oil and gas industry was too expensive. What we did was produce something of the same quality that was half the price of imports,” says Ardakanian.
He explains that engineers and members of the science and technology community are often “reinventing the wheel”.
“The same reasons motivating us to be more creative – like in the case of Fusedbone are also preventing us from participating in the advancement of other technologies. For example, in deep tech, we don’t have access to AWS, IBM, and Google foundational technologies, so it is very hard to develop something when you do not have infrastructure,” says Ardakanian.
The infrastructure he refers to is the output of years and years of work by highly funded, multinational conglomerates like Amazon. To try and build even the foundations within a single country is, he says, impossible.
“There were points in time where we had access to many other infrastructural technologies and they were used commonly. But now Iranian entrepreneurs do not even have access to Apple's App Store to publish their applications.”
What happens when there is no “abundance of tech”?
Ardakanian identifies two main benefits to starting his entrepreneurial career in Iran. Firstly, and perhaps most obviously, the experience of working under challenging circumstances (and with a less supportive government) prepared him well for all founders’ obstacles, which he now faces in Europe.
Secondly, the shallow foundation of existing tech forced innovators to be exceedingly cost-aware. He says, “We cut our teeth on projects that required us to do more with less – we had to achieve the same result in a lower tech and lower budget environment.”
The company is currently attracting seed investment and hiring into their Amsterdam location. Fusedbone hopes to achieve their first end-to-end surgery success within the year, claiming they can achieve the same result at just 10% of the regular cost.
Why the Netherlands?
With the hope of making implants accessible and affordable to people worldwide, Ardakanian explains why the Netherlands was the best choice for them. “The Netherlands was an obvious choice because of their advanced health system and because they are very receptive to new healthcare technologies. We are geographically well positioned here too – being inside Europe and under EU regulation, which is the better one to explore new technologies, in comparison to the FDA in the US,” he says.
He also believes it is beneficial being so close to Belgium, which is well-known for advancing companies in healthcare tech. He adds, “The Dutch themselves are good in business and we respect their focus on efficiency, which results in low cost and high output models.”
While the pair admit it was not easy to obtain Dutch visas, they are grateful to call Europe home for now and excited for what their company could mean for patients all over the world.