Welcome to another Life @ BIOS episode! Known as one of the largest French cities outside of France, Montreal is famous for its food, festivals, art, and culture. However, it’s also known as an exciting artificial intelligence powerhouse, with AI heavy hitters such as Microsoft, Mila, and DeepMind located there. So, in 2018 when we opened our R&D office there, we knew we’d need to call in a local expert to navigate the language and landscape… Enter Jorin Mamen, Canadian Operations Manager…
Tell us about your role and main responsibilities at BIOS
As Canadian Operations Manager, I do three things… Firstly I manage the administration of the Canadian office. So, everything to do with our lease, payroll, HR duties, and all things administrative. Secondly, I manage the operations of the BIOS implant trials. That means arranging all the contracts with the research organisations that do preclinical research with us, finding surgeons, arranging for the tools to be available and sterilised on time, and all those types of things. The third aspect of my role is helping to support the grant activities. For this, I identify grants, draft materials, develop the narrative to present to the grants, and liaise with the experts on our team to make sure that we have the right content in there. - Like the statistical analysis of what we do and the scientific data. I then serve as the main point of contact for the grant after our application has been submitted. What led you to get into this line of work?
I spent a decade working in renewable fuels. To start with, I trained as a mechanical engineer working in biofuel startups. Then after 10 years I decided it was time for a change and did my MBA. After that I started working with a medical device startup that developed a series of tests using 3D goggles. The idea was that they would run tests on a subject’s eyes to detect symptoms of concussion. I generated several hundred pages of FDA paperwork for that. Just like biofuels, medical devices are heavily regulated. Interfacing with governments, showing certification, demonstrating that what you have is safe and meets certain specifications… there are a lot of similarities, so I worked in regulatory affairs for this device company before bringing those skills to BIOS.
What have been the highlights of your career prior to working with BIOS?
My first job was very hands-on. We would have trains come into our facility and I would climb on top and take fuel samples, then bring them back to the lab to run tests. In parallel, I was working on a new plant design. We were buying other people’s fuel, but we were also planning to build our own facility. I worked on some CAD drawings that got submitted for a grant which we won. Following this win, I got to move to San Francisco to work on it for two years which was a really great experience.
How did you come to know about BIOS? In late 2018 I heard that 3 UK companies (I think they were all machine learning companies) were opening offices in Montreal. The mayor at the time made an announcement welcoming these companies but made the mistake of forgetting to also do the speech in French. There was such an uproar that it was in the papers for days! But then while I was following the story I thought, “OK let’s investigate these companies and see if they need help setting up a Canadian office”. It turns out BIOS was, so I met with Emil (BIOS CEO) and Tris (former neural applications engineer) who were in Montreal for a conference and some meetings. A half-hour meeting ended up taking two hours and we really hit it off. I’ve been here now almost 4 years.
What interested you about what we do?
It’s a very complex problem that we’re trying to solve, but one that could be solved with the right approach to understanding what signals are being communicated in the peripheral nervous system and what effect they have on the body’s physiology. But it’s so complicated because it’s not enough to just have a neuroscientist who understands the peripheral nervous system. You also need someone who’s got expertise in electronics in order to interface with the nerve, software engineers who can build an interface for us to collect that data. And then data scientists who can take that data and make sense of it. There’s so much data! That’s why we use automation, machine learning, and artificial intelligence techniques to do a lot of the heavy lifting of interpreting it. Then there’s the administrative side and the business development side, you know, there’s so many areas of expertise but somehow the company makes it all work and it’s really something to be proud of. It’s really interesting and cool, we’re not just putting blobs onto a conveyor belt. It’s really cutting-edge stuff that has huge potential for positive outcomes.
What do you like best about your job?
I think it’s the potential to really make a sea change in healthcare with a new therapy system. I don’t think I could work for a company that pollutes a lot or manufactures weapons or something like that. It’s really important for me to believe in what the company is working for. It’s more than just a paycheck and in this company, you can be really proud of the work you do.
What are the benefits of working here? Apart from the people, it’s always fun to come to the company retreats. When I joined, we had a retreat near the Welsh border in a 14th-century manor house. It wasn’t just four days of 'working as hard as you can'; we’d have some sessions where we get to know each other and play volleyball or tennis in the afternoon. We also went canoeing one day and swam in the river… so the company retreats are certainly a highlight.
Also, I think the flexibility offered here. Even pre-covid you could work from the office or work from home. We have a really understanding management team. They have an appreciation for the importance of family, and if something comes up then there’s no question you can take some time off and deal with it.
What are the people like?
The company does a really great job of hiring good people. Hardworking, competent people. And that’s really a treat when you’re working with people who really know what they’re doing and are really nice, friendly people as well. – Not just competent, but good team players!
Is there a specific project at BIOS that you’ve particularly enjoyed working on? In my role with grants, I do a lot of explaining to people who don’t have a technical or medical background. But I really like breaking down complicated concepts for a general audience, seeing them respond, and answering their questions. In communicating some of the interesting stuff that we’re working on, we get some really nice feedback, so that makes me feel really good about the work that we’re doing.