4/16/2012 Interview by Howie Rhee
1) How did you come up with your idea?
Our entire team is extremely passionate about global health and have worked in global health in one way or another before forming Nanoly. We came together to tackle the specific issue of vaccine accessibility. We recognized that if we could alleviate the problems associated with the vaccine cold chain, then a number of positive consequences could follow. We experimented with several potential solutions to eliminating the vaccine cold chain including better refrigeration methods and adding thermal-protective excipients to the vaccines. Then, one of our teammates discovered that a particular hydrogel used in his lab could be manipulated to protect vaccines. From there on, we started researching methods to improve the effectiveness of the hydrogel, which resulted in NanoShield, Nanoly's first proposed product.
2) How did you meet your team members?
I met Nanxi when I was 6 years old. We were neighbors in Fort Collins, Colorado and she became my very first friend in the US. Even after I moved to North Carolina and then New Jersey, we remained in touch. I met Crystal through Nanxi when we began working together on Nanoly. Nanxi and Crystal met when they were both titleholders in the Miss America pageant program.
3) How has the Duke Start-Up Challenge been helpful to you?
The DSC has been a phenomenal catalyst in Nanoly's progress because of the incredible Duke alumni and judges who mentored us throughout the process. Many reached out to me directly, whether via e-mail or LinkedIn, and I've had many productive phone conversations to learn about the obstacles in biotech companies and start-ups in general. The relationships that DSC has introduced me to are key to Nanoly's success. Furthermore, the DSC has been helpful for my personal writing and organization skills. The competition, with its specific submissions and guidelines, encouraged me to be pithy and clear in presenting our ideas.
4) The Duke Start-Up Challenge provides a lot of feedback from over 100 judges. Can you talk about that experience of reviewing the feedback?
It was a very grounding, refreshing, and inspiring experience for me and my team to review all of the enthusiastic and critical comments. In the later rounds, the feedback was more focused and specific, which helped us rethink and improve our business proposal.
5) What advice do you have for Duke student entrepreneurs that are thinking of starting a company?
As Nike would say, just do it. Take the plunge. Find a few key people you would trust with your life, and be willing to put in the sweat equity. Make sure you LOVE your idea and that when you talk about it, people can see you light up. It is the most exciting experience working on a start-up. It consumes you, in that sleep and course work and all other things you do, just fall second or third. But every piece of feedback you get and every person who asks you to tell them about your project, makes it all worth it. Finally, never ever be afraid to ask for help or e-mail that person who has immense experience and is kind of a celebrity. They may just love your idea too and want to become an advisor. In any case, even if they say no, they'll know your idea is out there and they may have some encouraging words.
6) Anything else you’d like to say?
Thank you Duke Start-Up Challenge! The opportunities and resources it's provided me and Nanoly are absolutely irreplaceable. Thank you to all the alumni who are involved. This is the most support and connectivity I've ever felt from the entire Duke community.
Watch them compete in the Grand Finale on April 20th at 7:30pm ET.