From fighting cancer to founding and investing startups, life advice from Surbhi Sarna, Founder and CEO of nVision Medical, Group Partner at Y Combinator


February 17, 2022


Surbhi Sarna
Surbhi Sarna, Group Partner at Y Combinator

In a special talk given at the SCET’s Spring 2022 A. Richard Newton Lecture Series, Cal alumni Surbhi Sarna tells the miraculous story of her difficult journey to founding nVision Medical and gives valuable advice to young entrepreneurs seeking investments as a current Group Partner at Y Combinator.

Surbhi Sarna
Surbhi Sarna at UC Berkeley

On February 1, 2022, Surbhi Sarna shared her journey to founding nVision Medical, a healthcare company that aims at enabling early detection of ovarian cancer, and her personal story of fighting the disease at the A. Richard Newton Series, A Berkeley Changemaker™ Course at Berkeley. Through her personal experience connecting with investors, starting a medical company, and seeing the potential of investing in young entrepreneurs later on at Y Combinator, Surhbi gives useful, beyond valuable advice to the audience. 

“The right reason to be an entrepreneur is finding a problem and wanting to solve it.” 

– Surbhi Sarna’s advice to students

At age 13, Surhbi Sarna found herself passed out from extremely painful ovarian cysts. She spent most of her school time going through the pain, fighting cancer. Luckily, before the big surgery, doctors found her condition to be benign. But this luck does not happen to everyone. Through the process, young Surbhi became far too familiar with the challenges patients face with ovarian cancer and the lack of adequate medical solutions. Thereafter, she devoted herself to studying molecular and cell biology at the University of California, Berkeley. Instead of going to medical school after graduation, Surbi chose to dive into the business world to understand more about innovative products and startup strategies. After losing her grandmother to breast cancer, Surhbi decided to transition from being an engineer to a woman CEO. In 2012, Surhbi found nVision Medical for the sake of improving women’s health.

Founding a startup is never easy. Although Surhbi eventually sold nVision Medical to Boston Scientific in 2018 for $275 million and secured $17 million in venture funding previous to the acquisition, the journey to getting funds was very rough in the beginning. After going through so much as a young entrepreneur, here are her tips for starting a company and convincing an investor. 

Surbhi Sarna Timeline

How to attract investors

  1. Simplify your idea – investors don’t want to hear long, tedious, and incomprehensible explanations of why your product or service is the best. Instead, a simple, concise idea shows you really understand what you are doing and convince people they use your product.
    1. Say 3 most important things about your company and make it quick. 
  2. Make your idea clear and direct – the investors need to be told why it is a good idea for your customers, not the other way around.”
  3. Conduct crazy in-depth research on the person you are about to meet. Know why their previous background matters to you. 
  4. Make sure you answer all the questions investors asked. If you feel like you didn’t answer all the questions clearly or want to add more details later, write a follow-up email to show your seriousness and thoughtfulness. 
  5. Go out and meet people. Networking is the key. You never know what valuable help or opportunity you can get from people you meet. 
  6. Understanding time is the most valuable thing. Be grateful for others’ time. Be grateful for people around you who are willing to share their precious time with you.
    1. Your gratitude will motivate your team. 
  7. Choose your team wisely. “You build a culture that is the extension of yourself.”

Above is a selected highlight portion of Surbhi Sarna’s talk. To find out more of her story as a biomedical engineer and cancer survivor as well as her amazing journey of getting her first round of funding, watch the full lecture here!

#entrepreneurship #biomed #startups

This lecture was part of the A. Richard Newton Lecture Series: A Berkeley Changemaker™ course, where distinguished innovators are invited to share lessons from their own successes and failures. Students interested in taking the course can find more information here.