Dr. Mo Dirani, a research entrepreneur, successfully spun-off a health tech company to save sight and empower lives.
What’s your story?
I am a PhD graduate (2006) from the University of Melbourne, Department of Ophthalmology, where I developed the world’s largest twin study to better understand the aetiology of myopia (or short-sightedness). After spending almost 15 years as a researcher, I then developed myself (completed an MBA in Melbourne, Australia) to successfully spin-off a Singapore based company, Plano Pte Ltd, a health tech company to provide real life and innovative solutions to address the global epidemic of myopia. Singapore is now my home and I look forward to delivering on the strategic objectives of plano alongside plano’s very talented local team. In short, I am a research entrepreneur, where I am translating a significant body scientific knowledge in myopia into smart solutions to benefit the broader global community. I hold honorary positions as a principal investigator at the Singapore Eye Research Institute, DUKE-NUS and the Centre for Eye Research Australia.
From a personal perspective, I am the third youngest of 12 children, from parents who migrated to Australia from Lebanon in the 1970s. When not working, I am avid runner and love all aspects of martial arts, where I grew up in taekwondo dojos.
What excites you most about your industry?
In the space of technology and AI, knowledge advances very quickly, giving you plenty of opportunities to innovate and advance as a company. Also, plano is unique in that its main objective is to save sight and empower lives. This vision really humanises all that we do as a company. In a nutshell, this industry keeps me on my toes and gets me jumping out of bed.
What’s your connection to Asia?
As researcher, you often travel the region and beyond to network, present at conferences and attend scientific workshops. Singapore is a special place for me as I completed a post-doctoral position at NUS in 2008, where I developed life-long friends and mentors. And as an Australian Lebanese person, my roots are Asian.
Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore. I may be bias, but I believe that Singapore is destined to become the Silicon Valley of Asia as a whole. The government’s investment and empowerment in the space of tech and innovation is very promising, and ahead of many developed cities across the globe. With a little hustle, you really do have a buffet of options to advance your entrepreneurial activities. So, leverage off the networks and support entities in Singapore.
What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Not personally delivered to me but one of the best pieces of advice I have read is that from Daniel Kahneman, “nothing in life is as important as you think it is when you’re thinking about it”
From my late Father, Abdul Dirani, there are three simple but effectives pieces of advice that I live by 1. Never forget your roots, 2. While you advance in life, never stop being humble, 3. You make money, money does not make you.
Another beauty is, assess what the mainstream are doing and do the opposite.
Who inspires you?
In a nutshell, greatness inspires me. Achieving major milestones against all odds and entering spaces that many will never dare to explore.
What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
The story of Theranos. The power of FOMO is mind blowing. The book ‘bad blood’ is a must read.
If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
This is a tough question. Perhaps I would have pursued entrepreneurship earlier in my life, but most things fall into place when they are supposed to.
How do you unwind?
Long runs, meditate and read things completely unrelated to my field. And I am a documentary king, watching all things from, people’s lives, societal issues and health. One of best things that I really enjoy is speaking to people of all walks of life. People, particularly the elderly, are the greatest source of knowledge.
Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Bali, Indonesia. Incredibly relaxing, chilled and attracts a great bunch of travellers. It also has lovely resorts and hot spots for good food. Not to mention that it’s easily accessible from Singapore.
Everyone in business should read this book:
Measure what matter, John Doerr
Shameless plug for your business:
Plano’s vision is to save sight and empower lives using innovative and smart technological solutions. As part of our ecosystem, we have the world’s first science-based application that manages smart device use and myopia in children. If you are a parent with kids aged 3 to 14 years, please download this application through the app store or google play. We are blessed as a company to have over 100,000 downloads of the plano application, produced best-selling children’s books ‘The Plano Adventures’, launched a universal report for parents on smart device use and myopia in kids and we often engage in educational corporate and school talks across the region.
How can people connect with you?
Linkedin is probably the best way.
This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews
Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started,
built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.