PHutures – 100 Alumni Voices »

Ian Tolfree

“Once you find comfort in that uncertainty and become comfortable with that uncertainty, then the whole world starts to open up. It really just makes an infinite possibility possible.”

Krieger School of Arts and Sciences

Physics, PhD 2009

CEO at TBT Pharma and Principal at Emerald Development Managers

Ian’s Podcast Episode

In this episode, we discuss Ian’s circuitous path from his PhD in physics to a career as an entrepreneur and venture capitalist, how forming professional relationships spearheaded his career trajectory, and the importance of knowing yourself and stepping outside of your comfort zone.

Learn More About Ian’s Story

My son’s high school graduation. He was born on my 24th birthday at the end of my second year of grad school; my daughter followed 14 months later. Having kids so early in life was challenging; it forced me to grow up and assume responsibility much earlier than I would have otherwise. I like to think this shows I did an alright job. Much of my early career was driven by either the needs to support them or finding work/life balance to be present under otherwise trying circumstances. More so than anything they are integral to not only the career path I took but in shaping me and helping me to grow as a person. More than anything in my life they are my legacy.

In grad school, startups and venture capital, work and personal life often blend, resulting in nights and weekends spent working. In these endeavors your success or failure depends on you; tomorrow is uncertain and only you can find a way to succeed. Rather than work until 5 and look forward to weekends, I worked constantly. The way I recovered was by taking very arduous trips right before I burned out. I’d hike and climb mountains until I forgot everything and my only thought was the next step–they forced me into the present moment. Shedding the burdens of yesterday and embracing the present moment recharged me to go until the next time. After a tough stretch in 2014, I went hiking in Norway with my brother. This is Trolltunga, where I pulled myself by rope up an 800m foot ascent and then over 14 km to take this photo. We were humbled on the way back as the Norwegian elementary school children raced past us on the return journey, laughing at all the gear we had.