BY TRONE DOWD
For 29-year-old Olivier Noel, success comes as second nature. The entrepreneur and aspiring biomedical researcher has earned accolades nationwide for his numerous successes. But it is his passion for science, medical advancement and learning that drives him.
Born in Haiti, Noel started his journey in the typical fashion of an immigrant searching for opportunity. After graduating from high school in his home country, Noel made his way to the United States.
“Since middle school, I always loved math, biology and chemistry—which was my favorite,” he said. “It was around 9th grade that I wanted to be a chemist….So, I think I channeled that love for science into the medical field.”
With his sights set on getting involved in the medical field, he started out on his mission in Queens.
Noel attended Queensborough Community College for his first two semesters and Queens College for the next three. He soon graduated with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and biochemistry with a focus on biomedical research. After taking that first step in his long journey, he was accepted to Penn State’s prestigious MD-PhD program, attending both medical school and graduate school at the same time. Oliver said that he is halfway through medical school and is expected to earn his Ph.D. on Dec. 14.
“I’ll be getting my Ph.D. in biochemistry and molecular genetics,” he told the Queens Tribune.
But as Noel pursued his studies, his interest lay in changing the way scientific research is conducted. As he explained to the Queens Tribune, the practice of conducting scientific research can be a long and arduous task.
“Let’s say you’re a researcher trying to conduct a breast cancer study,” he explained. “And you need 1,000 DNA samples from people with that condition. You’re really limited to getting samples from people in your area. You have to wait for 1,000 people to come to you or send people to get the samples for you. That can be very time consuming and very expensive. That is why a lot of these studies can take three to four years just to get enough samples to conduct research that takes barely a month, six months or, at most, a year to complete.”
He said that this is a problem many experts—including himself—face. Trying to reduce this issue in the field of medical research, Noel founded his company—DNASimple. The organization connects genetic researchers to people willing to participate in proposed studies by using a national online database. His system allows people all over the United States and Canada to anonymously sign up for the database in two to four minutes by providing basic information about themselves and their medical history. From there, the service matches research teams with the appropriate people needed for the study.
“Once there’s a match, we send the person a kit, get their DNA and send it to the research team,” Noel said. “It’s a win-win. Researchers get the samples they need, while patients participate from home and get paid [a $50 stipend] for it.”
DNASimple has been a runaway success. The idea was featured on a recent episode of ABC’s Shark Tank, with billionaire investors Mark Cuban and Richard Branson bidding over the right to invest in the company for a 12.5 percent share. Cuban eventually came out on top, putting $200,000 towards the startup. DNASimple also brought Noel some attention from Forbes magazine, which added him to its “30 Under 30” list.
“It’s been great. [My family in Haiti] are really proud and really excited—probably way more excited than I am,” he joked.
When asked what type of advice he’d give to young people pursuing their dreams, he said that they should never think it’s too late.
“There’s never a point of no return,” he said. “At any point, you can decide that you want to chase your dream. Young or not so young, you can still make things happen. I think it starts with obviously finding your passion—your real passion, not just anything. Make sure that you’re doing it because you want to do it, not just because it was a logical next step. When you are doing something that you love, it’s very easy to persevere. I think that’s the key. They bring about what I like to call the non-negotiables—hard work, passion, determination and humility. I think that these four will take you a long way.”