Making Your Research Matter - Noor Shaker

By Nasos Papadopoulos, EF Head of Content

EF is proud to announce the first close of its new Global Fund amounting to $115 Million. This will allow us to continue funding even more incredible individuals from all over the world to build game changing companies. Noor Shaker is the Co-Founder of GTN, a company that uses quantum physics and machine learning to discover better drugs, more quickly, at half the cost.

Many academics are frustrated by the inability to see the direct impact their research has on the real world. At EF, we encourage people with cutting edge expertise in their field to use technology entrepreneurship as the vehicle to make their research matter and have a truly global impact. Noor Shaker is the perfect example of someone who’s done just this, leaving a prestigious career in academia behind to move to London and join EF to build a world-changing company.

Noor was born in Damascus, Syria, and grew up with a profound interest in the potential of technology to change the world. Remembering what motivated her to study Computer Science at the University of Damascus and major in Artificial Intelligence, she says, “Back then, when I was thinking about what the world would look like in 10 or 20 years, I knew I had to go into AI. I just saw the future going that way and I wanted to be part of it and work in that field.”

After finishing the five year program in Damascus, Noor moved to the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium to pursue a Masters in AI, leaving her family and friends behind in Syria. Following her Masters, Noor spent 8years as a machine learning researcher in Copenhagen, focusing on the application of the technology in computer games. She quickly began to build a reputation for herself and eventually became a Professor at the University of Aalborg. During her academic career, she produced more than 50 papers with 1500+ citations and an entire book on generative methods  — by all measures, she had built a hugely successful career for herself. But something was missing.

“Fundamental research and tackling unsolved problems is the priority in academia but finding the implications of research on the real-world is secondary. That means you can’t really see the impact of what you’re doing directly.” Noor says. Meanwhile, as she was working and living in Copenhagen with her husband and young daughter, civil war was engulfing her homeland of Syria and she began asking herself whether she could be doing more to help others. “I wanted to work in the same field but be more productive, work faster, and have a way bigger impact” she says.

So when she came across Entrepreneur First, she was immediately interested. Here was a community of smart, ambitious individuals who wanted to build game changing companies that leveraged technology to have a global impact. Here was a way to make her research matter. It sounded perfect.

The problem was that Noor had built a life for herself in Denmark and moving to London to start a company would involve her leaving her husband and young daughter behind, and eventually uprooting the family. “The problem was really logistics,” she says, reflecting on those initial hesitations, “moving to London, leaving my daughter behind, then moving the family over, changing my husband’s job and my daughter’s nursery…there was a lot to think about.”

But Noor knew that this opportunity was too good to turn down. “With so many things in life, it’s never the right time,” she says, “It applies to everything. Whether you want to get married, whether you want to have children, whether you want to start a company. It’s never the right time. You just have to take the first steps and the others will follow.”

So Noor took the first step and joined EF8, where she met her co-founder Vid Stojevic, a quantum physicist. After combining their respective expertise in machine learning and quantum physics they founded GTN, a company that searches the huge space of potential drug molecules to discover drugs that were previously hidden from view. This means GTN can discover better drugs, more quickly, at half the cost, which could transform the face of the pharmaceutical industry.

There’s no doubt that wherever she’s been, Noor has made a splash. But by transitioning from the slow moving world of academia to the fast paced startup environment of EF and GTN, Noor has put herself in a position where she can leverage her expertise to make a far greater impact — the type of impact that can be measured not by the number of papers published, but by the number of lives it saves.

At EF, we want our founders to build world changing companies because the opportunity cost of not doing so is too great. If you want to scale your ambition like Noor and build a world changing company, apply now for one of our next cohorts in London, Berlin, Paris, Singapore, Hong Kong or Bangalore at joinef.com.

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