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Thinking Fast and Slow in Startup Culture with Dimitrios Skaltsas from Intelligencia.AI

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Next on The Recursive podcast, we meet with Dimitrios Skaltsas, the co-founder and Executive Director of Intelligencia.ai. A company that helps pharma and biotech companies reduce risks in drug development and bring new drugs to market faster. 

Prior to that, he led the Big Data and AI department at McKinsey New Ventures. Dimitrios Skaltsas has an MBA from INSEAD and he has been an executive resident there. 

He lives between New York and Athens, the city that hosts Intelligentsia’s R&D powerhouse.  

In his conversation with Irina, Dimitrios Skaltsas reflects on his path to entrepreneurship, his key takeaways about what it means to scale a startup, and how you find the right people to do it. 

Dimitris’s first entrepreneurial venture was a business he ran with his brother – exporting traditional Greek cheese pies to New York and selling them. At the same time, he also had a consultancy job at McKinsey. It was a very hands-on experience for him, rolling up his sleeves and knocking on every door. But also one that taught him that you should be 100% invested in a business in order to succeed and that your skills should match your desires. “Startups are like babies. They need a lot of attention. You can’t be part-time”, Dimitrios has realized. 

Reflecting on how he got the entrepreneurship bug, Dimitrios says it’s partly how you are born and partly how you are shaped by your environment. “Perseverance is my superpower, it keeps me going”, he adds. 

What helped him figure out his next career step was a 10-months sabbatical he took from consulting and deciding to close down the cheese pie business. He spent the time reading, painting, and thinking. After that, he was offered to manage a new division within McKinsey called New Ventures. Dimitrios had to set up the capabilities for R&D in the pharma vertical through big data and AI. An experience that he describes “as a startup in a corporate environment”. Dimitrios enjoyed the creativity in the process and working with the engineers, data scientists, and experts in the field.

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This is how he got the spark to start his own venture in a sophisticated industry like drug development. His mission is to help industry experts assess the risks and make the process of developing new drugs more precise, and his goal is to serve 40% of the market.  

Dimitrios defines success as seeing people on the team grow and reflects on the qualities he’s looking for when building his team. 

“Startups are shiny from the outside, from the inside they are tough environments unless you have the right people”, he says. 

Dimitris shares how he applies the concept of ”thinking fast and slow” by Israeli psychologist Daniel Kahneman in building and accelerating his startup. You have to learn to walk first and then you run. 

“You need to be slow enough to observe, to give time to grow, and by that, you go fast. It sounds counterintuitive but that’s how it happened and I hope it will help us with accelerated growth”, Dimitrios says.

Watch the previous episode on the importance of connecting people and the power of networks with Pavlina Yanakieva from Bulgaria Innovation Hub.

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