Imagine a 24-hour period in which you are on deadline to submit a $250,000 federal grant proposal, have a meeting with a potential angel investor, and pitch your business in front of a crowd of other entrepreneurs and investors at IDEA’s Pitch-a-thon—all before catching a flight to attend an international conference. Welcome to a day in the life of Asanterabi Malima. He and fellow Northeastern alumni Jaydev Upponi and Cihan Yilmaz cofounded Biolom, a university research spinoff that produces revolutionary biosensors for diagnosis and monitoring of diseases. We asked Malima to discuss how Biolom got started and the university’s role in making it happen.
What made you start your business, and how did you get to where you are now?
In 2011, the three of us participated in the Center for Integration of Medicine and Innovative Technology’s Prize for Primary Healthcare Prize competition. Our team project, “Highly Sensitive Micron Scale In-vivo Biosensor for Multiple Biomarker Detection,” was selected among the top 10 in the nation with $10,000 prize. This prompted us to consider forming a company to commercialize our product for early detection of diseases such as cancer and heart diseases. Luckily, our PhD advisers, faculty members Ahmed Busnaina and Vladimir Torchilin, were very supportive. Later, we connected with IDEA and Health Sciences Entrepreneurs, which provided mentoring for our team to start Biolom and develop the business. We are now working to raise funds to support development of our first product for early detection of cancer.
What were the biggest lessons you learned while trying to build your business?
I learned that it’s one thing to invent a new technology through research and entirely another to develop a new technology into a commercial product. These are two completely different ball games. Identifying the customers for the developed product or products is an ongoing process, especially if the developed technology can be used for various applications. Also, for a product to have any value in the market, it’s crucial to understand customers’ needs before developing a commercial product.
How has Northeastern helped you along the way?
Northeastern’s Center for Research and Innovation supported us in helping to protect our intellectual property and technology transfer. The Health Sciences Entrepreneurs program also provided mentoring that led to starting Biolom, previously known as NUChip. In addition, the IDEA program provided us with mentoring—particularly faculty members Marc Meyer, Dan Gregory, and Bob Lentz, who connected Biolom with people in in-vitro diagnostics. IDEA also provided $10,000 in gap funding to support clinical validation studies for Biolom.