Dr. Leen Kawas Shares Insights on Her Next-Level Entrepreneurial Journey

Leen Kawas
6 min readMar 30, 2023

Traveling a high-level entrepreneurial path involves numerous challenges and rewards. The entrepreneur’s focus on innovation often drives them to push the boundaries and develop new paradigms. Leen Kawas, Ph.D. thrives in this dynamic and rarified setting. This accomplished Los Angeles businesswoman brings her bioscience passion and business acumen to each new opportunity. Dr. Kawas previously excelled as Athira Pharma’s Chief Executive Officer. She won numerous awards and was recognized for her exceptional leadership. Today, as Propel Bio Partners’ Managing General Partner, Dr. Kawas helps other emerging bioscience firms acquire the venture capital needed for their path forward. From this perspective, she offers insights that have helped to shape her entrepreneurial journey.

Dr. Leen Kawas’ Entrepreneurial Trajectory

Dr. Leen Kawas’ bioscience interest was sparked by her grandmother’s personal experience with Alzheimer’s. Keenly aware of how this multifaceted disease affects the patient and their family, she chose a career that would enable her to research potential treatments for this condition.

In her first professional role, Dr. Kawas served as Seattle-based M3 Biotechnology’s vice president of research. In January 2014, she assumed the roles of President, CEO, and Board member of this growing biotechnology firm. Dr. Leen Kawas led the company through its transition to Athira Pharma, Inc. and its September 2020 IPO offering completion. She departed the firm in 2021.

Dr. Leen Kawas’ Propel Bio Partners Tenure Begins

In March 2022, Dr. Leen Kawas co-founded Propel Bio Partners LLC. As the global venture fund’s Managing General Partner, she utilizes her life sciences expertise in evaluating potential venture capital investments. In contrast with similar firms, Propel Bio Partners entrepreneurs receive access to well-regarded experts along with their financial investment.

Dr. Kawas’ Propel Bio Partners work enables her to combine her dedication to bioscience with her entrepreneurial talents. She relishes the opportunity to make a larger-scale difference in biotechnology advancements. “It’s very exciting for me to have the opportunity to start Propel.

“I always wanted to have a bigger impact on our industry as well as the diversity aspect of leadership in our industry. Things have been going really well. We’ve been making investments in companies. A lot of great founders are out there,” Dr. Kawas emphasized.

Insights Gained From Dr. Kawas’ Entrepreneurial Ventures

With nearly a decade of proven entrepreneurship under her belt, Dr. Leen Kawas has celebrated many successes while overcoming some unexpected obstacles. During this entrepreneurial journey, she has gained insights into the creative process and why staying true to her convictions is key.

Dr. Kawas has also learned that an exceptional team can help provide the catalyst for her (and her company’s) forward momentum. Finally, she emphasizes the value of continued professional development in business growth. Today, she shares these insights with other entrepreneurs.

Cultivating an “Out of the Box” Approach

Regardless of the industry, taking an “out of the box” approach to a problem opens the door to an innovative solution. Many entrepreneurs think this way, frequently viewing each challenge through an alternative lens. They cast off conventional wisdom, asking themselves how changing a methodology or a specific variable could lead to a breakthrough.

Next, the entrepreneur gets to work, brainstorming without mental constraints and preconceived notions about what will (and won’t) work. Evaluating these ideas will come later. For now, they revel in the exhilaration they receive from these “Aha!” moments.

Dr. Leen Kawas Thrives on Innovative Thinking

As a successful entrepreneur in the rapidly evolving biotechnology arena, Dr. Leen Kawas regularly takes a beginner’s mindset approach to challenges. Also, her unconventional mindset often brings results.

“One thing I feel I believe in more than others is that ‘nothing is impossible.’ I am often challenged by new innovations and my ‘out of the box’ ideas to achieve certain results in drug development and clinical trials. I like to push the envelope and challenge the conventional way of doing things.

“While there is usually some level of pushback, I’ve found that these unconventional ideas often prove to be productive and sometimes lead to breakthroughs. Being told something is impossible only inspires me to find a new approach that proves that theory wrong,” Dr. Kawas remarked.

Transforming a Creative Idea Into Reality

By nature, entrepreneurs are highly creative people who always seem to be percolating new business ideas. If the entrepreneur’s concept comes to fruition, it rarely takes the exact same form as the business owner’s original idea. By the time the product or service reaches the marketplace, it has likely gone through multiple iterations and improvements.

To weather this complex process, the entrepreneur has likely detached themselves from their idea. They have continued to maintain a laser focus on their vision while gathering feedback on the idea from trusted colleagues.

Based on the results, the entrepreneur reevaluates their idea, perhaps making incremental or even major changes as needed. Then, if the concept is still feasible, they confidently forge ahead.

Dr. Leen Kawas’ Collaborative Approach

Throughout her bioscience career, Dr. Leen Kawas’ experiences have sparked many new ideas. When a concept comes to light, she gains valuable feedback from colleagues and recognized experts.

She mentioned that whenever she thinks of a new plan, the first thing she does is to bring her team together so that they can discuss its potential together. If they believe that the idea is possible and has merit, then they will take the steps necessary and bring it to fruition.

She adds that she keeps her ears open to ideas on how to make it possible, as everyone has different thoughts on how to make it a success. She’s also a firm believer that you need to hang onto your visions, but you still need to stay flexible when it comes to the details.

Bringing an Exceptional Team Into the Mix

Even if an entrepreneur possesses an impressive skill set, they can’t be an expert on every topic and business operation. By recognizing their strengths, and admitting their weaknesses, they can objectively determine where the business would benefit from team members’ specialized expertise.

Taking another perspective, some entrepreneurs are true visionaries who are gifted with a “big picture” view. However, they may not have the education or technical background to fulfill that vision. By hiring specialized talent, the entrepreneur can access the skills needed to transform their vision into reality.

In any industry, team members with infectious positive energy will help to uplift everyone around them. When they are also committed to the company’s vision and growth, they are an exceptional asset to the business.

Look for Long-Term Growth Potential

Dr. Leen Kawas noted that finding the right talent has played an integral role in her notable entrepreneurial success. Along with a candidate’s overall skill set, she considers their long-term growth potential.

Dr. Kawas said that for her, teams are very important, which is why she puts her focus there. Indeed, talent is sometimes made stronger by years of experience, but this is not always the case. When she builds her team, she’s looking for potential, for what that individual can grow into in the long term.

She’s not looking only at what they can do at this moment, but at what she thinks they’ll be able to do in the future. She frequently asks them ‘what parts of your job do you like the most’ or ‘what do you want to excel in?’ This helps create a commitment to their tasks but also helps with business networking.

Pursuing Ongoing Professional Development

While someone on their entrepreneurial journey focuses on building their business, they may conclude that their professional development can wait “until things calm down.” Maybe they feel over-committed and don’t want to take on another project. However, two compelling reasons may spur this entrepreneur to get off the sidelines and work on their professional development right now.

Professional Skill Set Improvement

Firstly, engaging in professional development can help an entrepreneur to build (or improve) specific skills integral to their business’ growth. To evaluate areas that may need work, they should identify the tasks that are the subject of the most procrastination. Additionally, the entrepreneur my sometimes even dread a task, which may indicate they don’t feel confident about its successful completion.

Either way, these tasks are ripe for further investigation. By tackling (and conquering) these areas, the entrepreneur will improve their professional skill set. They will also be better equipped to lead their company in a rapidly evolving marketplace.

More Effective Team Leadership

Those on their entrepreneurial journey who constantly improve their skills are better prepared to navigate their teams through difficult challenges. In addition, the entrepreneur’s improved confidence, and their constantly updated industry knowledge, enable them to become a stronger leader who truly inspires their team to excellence.

Helping Others on their Bioscience Entrepreneurial Journey Find Success

To sum up, as Dr. Leen Kawas helps to move Propel Bio Partners forward, she searches for bioscience company leaders who possess creativity and an indomitable spirit. When she finds the right fit, she brings Propel Bio Partners’ resources into the equation. Dr. Kawas’ overarching goal: To help emerging bioscience entrepreneurs navigate their own paths to success.

Originally published at https://www.killerstartups.com.

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