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The chemist who became a businessman

A failed experiment paved the way for a career as an entrepreneur and company founder. With his new venture capital company Spartacus Capital, Saeid Esmaeilzadeh is looking for new success stories.

“I've always been very curious. It is a great impetus for me to learn new things and master them. When I start digging into something, it becomes very difficult to stop. It's all or nothing, in a way.” 

Becoming an associate Professor as a 28-year-old and then building a successful business empire requires drive. Saeid Esmaeilzadeh admits that in addition to curiosity as a driving force, there was also a certain measure of lucrative incentive, since it was not always easy growing up.

Saeid Esmaeilzadeh
“You only live once and then it's a shame not to do what you want and control your own life" says Saeid Esmaeilzadeh. Photo: Tommy Fondelius

When Saeid Esmaeilzadeh was eight years old, his family had to leave Iran where, after a dramatic escape, they ended up in Turkey before moving on to Sweden. Growing up in Husby wasn't the easiest, his parents had a hard time getting a job and when Saeid Esmaeilzadeh did well in school, he was bullied.

“That I didn't have it easy when I was growing up has probably impressed me a lot. It has made me take advantage of the opportunities in Sweden in the best possible way. I also think that it has helped me to do things that no one else dares to."


Found his path at Stockholm University

After high school, Saeid Esmaeilzadeh applied to Stockholm University. That it became chemistry was mostly a coincidence; he also sought physics, mathematics and law. Along with the chemistry, he read evening courses in the history of religions, among other things. Saeid Esmaeilzadeh describes studying at the university as "finding the right path".

“It was an amazing experience to be able to focus on what I thought was fun to do on my own volition. No one else decided at what pace I did things, I had to decide for myself.”

Saeid Esmaeilzadeh believes that it has characterized his entire career - to decide on his own future.

“You only live once and then it's a shame not to do what you want and control your own life. After all, most people don't. Many people do not have the opportunity, although I think most people do. It is more a matter of attitude and a fear of things you do not know. The fears are often not real, but more like when you were little and thought there was someone under the bed. I think many people could live a much more colorful life if they broke away from the ideas they have.”

Saeid Esmaeilzadeh completed his degree one and a half years earlier than expected and was accepted as a doctoral student in inorganic chemistry.


An experiment that went wrong

In an experiment aimed at producing a nitrogen-rich crystalline material, a cooling furnace broke. Instead, the ceramic melt, which would cool down slowly, cooled down quickly and by a fortunate coincidence a new material had been formed.

“I happened to get a glass material that was extremely hard and had interesting properties. It opened up a whole new area for me to research. Eventually I started to think about its commercial applications and then I started the collaboration with Ashkan.”

In 2003, Saeid Esmaeilzadeh and Ashkan Pouya founded Diamorph AB and in collaboration with the industry tried to find uses for the new material.

“Eventually, we managed to get a number of different products. Then we built on the business. A year ago, we sold the company for SEK one and a half billion.”
In parallel with the work at Diamorph, they started more companies, and in 2004 they founded the Serendipity Group - a suitable name since serendipity means "lucky coincidence". Initially, the companies had sprung from research and research results, but today the focus is more diversified.

“Now we are more specialised in company building and how to create new products and services, how to run the process properly and build the right team. We have companies that manufacture catheters for the treatment of patients with brain hemorrhage, companies that supply premium food for dogs and cats, companies that work with technology service in infrastructure. It is very varied. In total, our corporate group has a combined value of over SEK 5 billion.”


Scientists and entrepreneurs see the world differently

Saeid Esmaeilzadeh tells us that he has worked a lot in bridging different worlds, such as that between researchers and entrepreneurs.

“As a researcher, you are taught that knowledge is the most important thing and money is a means of obtaining knowledge. When it comes to business and entrepreneurship, it is money and economic value development that are the goal and knowledge means. There are different ways of looking at the world” says Saeid Esmaeilzadeh

The point of departure for developing something commercial should be that you think it would be fun, he says. But before you even decide what to develop, you have to find the right partner. It is difficult as a scientist to run it all yourself, says Saeid Esmaeilzadeh. Nor should you focus too much on what you think is your first product.

“It's about having an open mind and not having preconceived notions about what things can be good for or not. The future will tell.”

Several of the companies within Serendipity are affiliated with Stockholm University. The university is also a good base for recruiting talents from says Saied Esmaeilzadeh, who is happy to appoint young CEOs.

“I'm trying to find and discover new talent. Many of our CEOs are under 30, and I think that is quite unusual. There is good energy in them, they are very smart and driven. Then there is also a dose of naivety which is good. You dare to do things.”


Has started a new venture capital company

In early 2020, he started a new venture capital company, Spartacus Capital, to "help those who want to get rid of wage slavery buoys".

“We want to build something with people who are intelligent, creative and driven and who have interesting ideas and suggestions. We have made four investments within the framework of Spartacus and there will surely be a few each year.”
When asked if he could one day return to research, Saied Esmaeilzadeh replies that he has actually thought about it.

“I thought the time I spent studying was fantastic and I enjoy the University environment. Maybe I will see what opportunities there are to go back to becoming a researcher. Or I'll start reading something completely different. We shall see.”

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