In September 2020, Alina Su (Bioengineering ’22) and her team, CTO Alex Zou, a Ph.D. student at UC Berkeley, Jonathan Xing, Booth Business School MBA, and Berkeley Bioengineering Professor Irina Conboy, founded NovaXS Biotech Corp. The team also won the Fall 2021 Collider Cup hosted by the Sutardja Center of Entrepreneurship & Technology at the University of California, Berkeley, with an awesome pitch delivered by Alina. The team is also the winner of the Pad-13 Pitch Competition and a member of the Berkeley SkyDeck program.
NovaXS is a smart medical device company “dedicated to empowering advance medication delivery with a new generation of accessible healthcare.” It provides in-home drug delivery, aimed at providing a painless, needle-free, easy-to-use, transformative drug delivery platform, “making drug injection at home as easy and accessible as having your daily espresso.”
NovaXS was founded at the University of California, Berkeley with a close connection with the Sutardja Center of Entrepreneurship & Technology. With great appreciation, Alina has given our students great advice and lessons to learn from in an interview with SCET. After all, starting a company is always a difficult, puzzling, and mind-blowing process, and who’s best to learn from than a fellow successful, ambitious, and super helpful Cal entrepreneur?
What motivated you to start a company?
I was in biotech for a while. My first job was an associate-level job in healthcare in hospitals targeting neurodegenerative treatment patients to get into rehab. I found there are a lot of problems in healthcare that we need to solve, and those people are losing their rights as humans. Imagine this: every time you have to go to the restroom you need people with you; you cannot do anything you want. I feel they don’t have the same rights as everybody else. I am determined from that point that I want to help these people to get the rights they deserve.
Another story behind NovaXS is that my sister has had a growth hormone deficiency since age 7, and has had to inject herself in her belly over 3,000 times since being diagnosed. The entire process is so painful and full of tears and sadness and bleeding. I soon realized this is a problem that many people are facing. About 21 million people are going through the same process as her every day, but we don’t have the solution yet. This motivated me to study bioengineering at Berkeley.
My experience and expertise also allowed me to start this process of building a company. It actually starts with finding a solution you can create with your experience and abilities.
What do you envision as the future of NovaXS Biotech?
We have already received investment from Baxter healthcare. The first round of $1.5 million, right now at a $12 million valuation. We are a young company that gets a lot of attention.
We are currently working on the FDA clearance for use on the human body.
After the pandemic, the healthcare system will evolve much faster. We are able to use web data to connect doctors and patients virtually. People will be able to access their health more simply. Healthcare was having a very high barrier for people to enter before, but after the pandemic, healthcare is lowering its barrier. That’s what NovaXS trying to do. People need to have the professional experience to inject themselves before, but at NovaXS, we envision our technology to empower people so that patients can access the treatment they need with the aid of technology. People can inject medicine into their bodies just as easily as using an espresso machine. In 5-10 years, we want to empower people no matter how sick or old they are, so that everyone has an equal chance to be healthy.
What is the biggest challenge you face as a young entrepreneur?
- As a young female entrepreneur, I face a lot of stereotypes questioning my ability. What men can do to make people think they are good, we have to do better to receive the same remarks.
- When you face your identity being challenged or face stereotypes, the only thing you can do is be persistent and determined. You need to show people that you have this determination and that you can achieve something greater.
What was the most valuable thing that Berkeley SCET helped you with on your journey?
- SCET has opened a lot of doors for me. For example, I have taken classes like start-up boot camps taught by Gigi Wang. It is a very good introduction to startups.
- I have also taken the healthcare challenge lab. It is highly recommended. There are good mentors and guest speakers from VCs, and I learned from the mentors how I should pitch my company. It is also an opportunity to think of what products you want to build, the problem you want to solve, and plan ahead.
- There are so many resources provided by SCET courses, you just need to know how to utilize those. The mentors are all so professional and will help you if you follow up with them through email or ask them after class. It is unbelievable how few people actually reach out. Many of them are more than happy to schedule a 10-minute short talk with you and answer any questions you have for them.
- Success is only for people who are willing to grasp their chance and take an extra step forward.
Do you have any tips for students that want to create startups?
- As a student, you can be anybody you want. Do not constrain yourself just because you think you are just a student. Many great companies are created by college dropouts or enrolled students. You should become who you are as a Berkeley student, not someone who constrains oneself just because of this role.
Three advice to young entrepreneurs:
- The most important thing: have a strong heart that nobody can destroy.
Listen to your heart, know what interests you the most, and make you ready to devote all of your heart to this field. Find something that you truly love.
Talk to the top 10 people you know in this field and create your own insights after talking to them: they can help you with the experience that most entrepreneurs are lacking. Most importantly, after talking to each professional person, make sure to summarize your experience, and create your own insights out of their knowledge. This way you can know what this company is going to do, what the vision is, and how you’re able to do that.
You will soon realize that being a student actually opens doors for you. It is so much easier to connect to people and get valuable insights from professionals. Many people want to help you as advisors. Personally, I talked to about 50 people in the field including the CEO of a huge healthcare company.
- Focus. Focus. Focus: there are a lot of different things that we can do in our life, but when you are trying to do something extraordinary, you have to focus all of your effort, time, and energy on one single point to make an extraordinary change immediately. It is not just important in a startup but also in life. For example, Amazon started just like a bookseller online, they focused on selling books, and eventually, they started to sell everything online and become the massive empire we see today.
- Being responsible. Get the work done. Have determination, and do things quickly. As the CEO or the starter of your own project, you are the one that people look up to, so you have to act as a role model and be extra efficient.
Thanks to Alina for her awesome advice. For students that are interested in courses mentioned in this article, find out more about our SCET courses here!