Created on 2019-08-31 11:39

Published on 2019-08-31 11:54

I always believed that I was lucky in life. From where I started I couldn’t have imagined how far I could go.

I always attributed that to plain luck. Even in media interviews, this question was the most uncomfortable for me. I had no secret sauce, like work hard, have a plan, focus, build a new skill etc. I wasn’t any of them. There are many more who work harder, plan better, focus on one thing at a time. I am not one of them. 

And hence I considered myself extremely lucky. Now as I grow older I realise I am not lucky.

I am a product of people who took a chance on me.

When I was 10/11, to make ends meet, my mother and I used to run a small venture at home making dhoop (incense) at home and selling it in the local market. The guy I used to deal with for the raw material took a chance with me and trusted me with the material to be converted to dhoop. I was not lucky, he took a big chance on me.

In high school, my maths teacher sent me and a friend to another town to participate in a quiz competition when we were 15. This was a big deal for me and she took a chance. I don’t think we won but changed my confidence for life. It was also the first time in I stayed in a fancy hotel by myself. My teachers took a chance on me.

In 11th grade in a small town in northern Maharashtra, I enrolled for a shorthand and typing course. The typing teacher took a chance on me and wrote a letter to the state board asking if i was eligible for a scholarship as i had good grades in high school. He took a chance and i ended up with National Merit Scholarship. 

The teachers and principal of my medical school allowed us to represent the school at various competitions around the country. I got a chance to win the first prize in just a minute competition. I think i spoke about Tandoori chicken and unemployment. Some random topic. But the fact that i entered my college years with very limited spoken english capability, and to win an contest to speak fluently for a minute without interruptions (and an impromptu topic). Our college principal took a chance on me. I was not lucky.

After graduating from medical college, i was keen on research. Not knowing what i wanted to do, ended up in St Johns Medical College in the department of Physiology looking for a research job. The seven months i spent there changed my outlook on what i want to do. Knowing I don’t know what i want, the Prof there took a chance on me. And helped me think about a degree program in the US. 

When I landed in the US, I ended up in Oklahoma State University. My heart was in genomics, the university was not doing it, at that time. I visited a lab in Houston and pitched to a Prof that genomics is the most important area, and i want to work on that. Even though he didn’t have a degree or a program for genomics, he offered me a graduate assistantship to start. He said – we will both figure it out. He took a big chance on me. Not lucky.

Few months in the program, I applied for internships. Los Alamos National Lab was looking for an intern. I applied about 11:40 in the night, and i got a response asap, which was marked to a bunch of people (and was not supposed to be marked to me i guess) – which said, this guy is not ideal, but looks like we can get him on board. Once they saw that i have seen this response, i guess they had no choice but to accept me as an intern. They took a chance! And boy did that turn out to be the best choice for me. I ended up deep in the genomics world.

In the second year of my PhD, a recruiter called my lab advisor to explore collaboration with our lab on genomics. He offered to send me over to their company. His exact words were – you will learn more in the next few years than with a PhD here. I ended up dropping my PhD, converting it into a Masters Degree and landed at Celera Genomics. The recruiter and my prof again took a chance on me.

On my second week at work, i was in the photocopy room, when someone walked in and said, hi you must be new. What are you doing? I said i am figuring things out. He said, well i have something for you. Why don’t you come help me coordinate the project i am doing. Ended up coordinating the Human Genome Project working with hundreds of scientists, mathematicians, philosophers and of course lawyers. What a chance he took on me!

And the list goes on an on. On my entrepreneurial journey, so many people took a chance on me. From my first team members, to my first investor, to our first customer, each one is a story of someone taking a chance on me.

What an amazing journey this has been and on the shoulders of all the people who took a chance on me. And i am lucky to be the person, on whom so many of them took a chance.

Thank you all of you. I hope i am able to take a chance on a young person, like you all did.

Do you recall who took a chance on you when you were young? Please share your story.


About the Author

Ashwin Naik is passionate about healthcare access and an advocate for strong primary health as the backbone of healthcare systems worldwide. He consults with organisations around the world, as the founding partner of We Scale Impact. He is also a Resident Fellow at Ashoka, a pioneering network of social entrepreneurs worldwide. In addition he co-founded Vaatsalya (India’s first rural hospitals network) and Seraniti (India’s first integrated mental health organization). He also leads DisruptHealth, a health focused ecosystem enabler based in Pune and is actively involved in the sector as an advisor and angel investor.

He is the author of two books – The Healthcare Gamechangers, which profiles innovations around the world which have the potential to change the way healthcare is delivered, and #ChangeStartsYoung, a book about young changemakers who are starting as early as 11 years young.