Brandeis International Business School

032: Discover Your Passion Through Open-Minded Exploration

Today's guest is Yossuf Albanawi, the co-founder and CEO of Pilleve, a digital health company that helps patients, care providers and payers prevent the long-term costs associated with opioid abuse and addiction. After struggling with substance abuse at a young age, Yossuf was able to recover with an early intervention from a loved one. Since then, he's been working on the frontlines of the addiction crisis that's taken over 70,000 lives last year.

He's a Forbes 30 Under 30 Social Entrepreneur, a Halcyon fellow and a passionate public speaker who’s been on the TED stage. He's an avid runner, cyclist, painter — an all-around renaissance man. He speaks English, Arabic and Spanish. Yosuff graduated from Wake Forest in 2017 with Honors in Communication and a minor in Entrepreneurship.

Yossuf’s company, Pilleve, is addressing one of the largest health care issues facing America. One out of every three American has something to do with this addiction crisis, whether it's a loved one, a friend or a family member. They work to prevent it from ever surfacing with solutions around treatment, recovery and educational campaigns around prevention.

From the Dorm Room

Yossuf came to the US for college from Saudi Arabia when he was 17. Both of his parents went to school in the US, so he grew up in an environment where college was almost necessary.

He went to Wake Forest, which ended up being a great launchpad for so many reasons. The school was very centered around liberal arts, which allowed him to explore different interests and passions.

Yossuf didn’t have any expectations of what he wanted to do. From the get-go, he accepted the fact that he had no idea what he wanted, and that actually opened him up to a lot of new experiences.

Taking a variety of courses at the beginning made him more aware of what he was good at, but also what he liked. He didn’t expect to find his passion, but he knew if he identified what he liked and what he was good at, the money would eventually follow.

Halfway through Yossuf’s senior year, he started taking entrepreneurship courses that focused more on creativity and finding that a-ha moment, which he eventually found later that year.

To the Boardroom

Halfway through Yossuf’s senior year he started working at a rehab clinic, and that's where he was exposed to the growing opioid crisis. At first, it was just volunteer work that one of his entrepreneurship professors recommended, but he gravitated towards it.

While he volunteered at the rehab center, Yossuf realized two things. First, that he was lucky to receive that early intervention when he faced his addiction crisis. How do you ensure that other people receive early intervention? A lot of it has to do with information, and a lot of these loved ones and family members didn't have that information. We have a lot of tools today that allow doctors to do that remotely. So, why don't we have those same tools for addiction?

That started the foundation of Pilleve. Yossuf met his co-founder over two years ago at Duke University. When starting a company, you have to have the right team. The biggest piece of Pilleve is the team and the people behind it.

The Entrepreneurial Edge

Every week, we highlight one piece of advice for aspiring, struggling and successful-but-want-to-be-even-more-successful entrepreneurs:

One thing that Yossuf recommends for college students, especially those trying to find themselves, is try to venture off to find what you really enjoy doing and what you're actually good at. What you expect you're going to do when you're in high school is very different to when you actually start getting into college. You have to get rid of those expectations to find yourself. And that's more of a mindset shift rather than a technical skill that you can learn.

There's a big misconception around how sexy the space is. It's very, very challenging. And that's where passion comes into play. If you're not passionate, no matter how hard working you are, you're going to hit a roadblock. And that's going to be a defining moment.


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