Ask the entrepreneur: 3Qs with Biolom

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 co-​​founded 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.

(Left to right) Cihan Yilmaz, Asanterabi Malima, and Jaydev Upponi are the co-founders of Biolom, which develops miniaturized sensors for rapid and precise detection of disease biomarkers in biological fluids. Here, Malima, a postdoctoral research associate, shares his thoughts about turning their research in the Center for High-rate Nanomanufacturing into a business. Photo by Brooks Canaday.

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.

Meet the co-founders of Biolom and other Northeastern entrepreneurs and find out how you can get involved at Global Entrepreneurship Week, Nov. 18-20.

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