“I’ve done multiple companies in my career, but this one in particular is of great interest to me because there are very few times in your life that you get a chance to affect the health and well-being of this many people. So it’s a good thing for society and a good thing for the world, and the world needs a few good things these days” – Bob Petcavich, the Chief Science Officer and Co-founder of StemoniX
Recently YellowBlocks sat down with Mr. Bob Petcavich, the Chief Science Officer and Co-founder of StemoniX during his trip to visit Vietnam’s government. StemoniX is an American deep tech startup on course to save countless lives by accelerating the discovery of new drugs with ready-to-use living human microOrgans.®
“Enabling Medicine to Work, the First Time”
StemoniX is a Minnesota based startup creating living microtissues that will dramatically improve the speed at which new drugs are created while eliminating the need for preclinical drug screening on humans and animals. Engineered by extracting human skin stem cells, Stemonix uses a secret “special sauce” to reprogram those cells into the world’s first and fully active microOrgan® platforms, including active neural brain cells (microBrain®) and heart cells (microHeart®).
Needless to say, this is an incredible breakthrough. In addition to eliminating the need for drugs to enter human bodies for preclinical screening, these microOrgans® are accurate and consistent, thus enabling pharmaceutical scientists to quickly and economically conduct high-throughput drug toxicity and efficacy screening in a simplified workflow.
Additionally, StemoniX’s high-volume manufacturing process is capable of producing more than one billion cells per batch and they can be quickly sent anywhere in the world. StemoniX discovered a way keep its MicroOrgan® platforms viable at room temperature and each platform are almost small enough to fit in a normal envelope. This means that Stemonix can rapidly send its MicroOrgan® platforms to labs anywhere in the world with significantly less cost.
After four years of rigorous R&D and tens of millions of dollars later, StemoniX managed to partner with major government agencies, world-renowned universities, and provide microOrgan® to half of the world’s top 30 pharma companies.
The journey of a startup entrepreneur and leader
Leading up to his involvement with StemoniX, Mr. Petcavich had been involved in ten prior startups and has more than 30 years of experience within the manufacturing and service industries. As a serial entrepreneur and chemist, he was previously involved in aerospace digital electronics and he started the first A.I company in the world for the medical industry that was later sold to United Healthcare.
Mr. Petcavich got involved with StemoniX when he was contacted, Ping Yeh, the co-founder and current CEO of StemoniX. A survivor of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma after being his own guinea pig for multiple trial-and-error drug types, Mr. Yeh was inspired to create a product that could facilitate the speed of drug screening while eliminating the pain of human and animal testing.
On agreeing to work with Mr. Yeh, Mr. Petcavich explained “I’ve done multiple companies in my career, but this one in particular is of great interest to me because there’s very few times in your life that you get a chance to affect the health and well-being of this many people. So it’s a good thing for society and a good thing for the world, and the world needs a few good things these days.”
This kind of inspiration is common among leaders in the growing trend of deep tech. Deep tech refers to a growing tech trend dedicated to improving the world’s existing technologies to benefit society. Deep tech companies and their leaders are often characterized by their spirit and motivation to address the world’s challenges by improving existing tech foundations with major breakthroughs that offer accessibility and sustainability.
Startup challenges and the 3 T’s to success
Like every startup, there are challenges and barriers to entry and deep tech is no exception. Mr. Petcavich explained that most of StemoniX’s obstacles are common of all startups. These challenges include time to market, high costs, incentivizing highly skilled staff to stay, and raising sufficient capital to meet company expansion goals.
Although StemoniX products are based entirely on human skin cells and not embryonic stem cells, working with stem cells creates additional obstacles. Although StemoniX offers amazing products and use only skin cells, the controversy surrounding embryonic stem cells prevents some potential investment and opportunities in certain countries. Despite the concerns, Mr. Petcavich explained that StemoniX has experienced no problems with finding private and international partners.
With his 30 years of leading startups, Mr. Petcavich offered helpful advice to startup entrepreneurs in the form having the right 3 T’s in descending order of importance: timing, team, and technology. Timing is the most critical factor for any startup because the market needs to be ripe for world changing technologies. Think of Nikola Tesla whose inventions were decades before his time. Mr. Petcavich offered an example of a project in the 90’s that worked to create a biodegradable solution for plastics. The project failed because the world had yet to be concerned about plastic’s effects on the planet.
In regards to having the right team, he explained that the best technologies with the best timing often fail if the team is not correct. A team needs to be cohesive and work efficiently with the same goals and dedication.
Ironically, the technology itself is the least important to success. With the right time and right team, any startup can become successful.
Of course, all startups need the right partnerships and ecosystems to survive.
The importance of finding the right ecosystem
Creating and managing one’s place within an ecosystem is vital to any market participant, whether it is a major corporation or a small startup. A deep tech ecosystem requires thorough analysis of stakeholders’ needs and value creation models for the purpose of aligning goals, establishing strategies, and organizing for cooperation with others.
Currently, StemoniX has partnerships with major government agencies, world-renowned universities, and half of the world’s top 30 pharmaceutical companies. Aside from their partnerships with major pharmaceutical companies, notable partnerships include the National University of Singapore and the United States National Institute of Health (NIH).
As for what StemoniX looks for in finding partners, Mr. Petcavich explained that he is always on the lookout for “technical savvy” partners. These are partners with an understanding of biology or medicinal chemistry who can work with StemoniX on the various diseases the company is currently focusing on. Such partnerships would combine the StemoniX platform with the partner’s chemistry to create opportunities and drugs for the future.
In considering their stunning work, it is not surprising that StemoniX has received many inquiries from companies around the world. In Asia, StemoniX received inquiries from companies in Vietnam, India, China, Japan, and more. However, because StemoniX is a startup with limited capacity, Mr. Petcavich stresses the importance to choose opportunities wisely in order to stay focused on current company goals.
YellowBlocks on connecting the Vietnam deep tech ecosystem
What kind of ecosystem opportunities does Vietnam offer to deep tech companies like StemoniX? Vietnam offers low production costs and a highly competitive pool of capable young software engineers and developers. Additionally, the country is a global leader in some potentially applicable sectors for deep tech such as agriculture, consumer products and services, healthcare, manufacturing, and mobile telecommunications.
Linking partners is what we do at YellowBlocks: we connect the connectors. We are Vietnam’s leading ecosystem superconnector that represents the value of the Vietnamese market to connect global thought leaders like Mr. Petcavich to local startups and entrepreneurs. Although Vietnam offers competitive talent, lower operational costs, supportive government and powerful industries, deep tech startups are found mostly in the United States (4,198), followed by “Greater China” (746), Germany (455), the UK (435) and Japan (363). However, thanks to our growing technical capacity, we have plenty of reasons to stay optimistic.
Our industry leaders have been proactive in promoting transformative technologies, the government has passed several strategies promoting the tech sector, and YellowBlocks is committed to connecting Vietnam to the world of deep tech. Vietnam has had 30 years of astronomical growth, by embracing the future of tech we can continue our momentum.
We would like to thank Mr. Bob Petcavich for taking the time to chat about his journey and the important work of StemoniX. We are truly inspired by him and the amazing work done by StemoniX. We encourage you to visit https://stemonix.com/ to read more about their stunning breakthroughs.
About Deep Tech Heroes Series:
The Deep Tech Heroes Series aims to celebrate the accomplishments of the founders and scientists behind the deep tech movement. These heroes of innovation are recognized for their passion to improve the world by rethinking the fundamental technologies the world relies on.
Established in 2018, YellowBlocks is the first emerging tech ecosystem connector and consulting firm for Vietnam and the world. We have more than 100 partners and 80 advisors globally, with an extended reach of 100,000+ audience in the tech/ startup space.