MassChallenge is branded as the most startup-friendly Accelerator on the planet. According to their website, they’re a non-profit organization on a mission to help startups win without taking equity. Since 2010, they’ve accelerated 1,211 startups who have collectively raised $1.8B in funding, $700M in revenue, and created 60,000 jobs in MassChallenge’s five markets (Boston, Israel, Mexico, Switzerland, and the UK). While they don’t focus on any specific industry or type of startup, the 128 selected to participate in their Boston Accelerator this summer are categorized into the following sectors: healthcare and life sciences; high tech; general, retail and consumer goods; social impact; and cleantech and energy.
We sat down with VERIPAD’s Co-Founder/Chief Administrative Officer, Y-Lan Nguyen, about what the biotech startup has been up to since their time at the Merck Accelerator in Kenya.
Zahn Center: It’s so nice to get to sit down with you! The VERIPAD team has been working out of Zahn lately, but I feel like we barely get to catch up. Every time we do, VERIPAD has exciting news! So tell me about MassChallenge.
Y-Lan Nguyen: I know! You always lose track of time when you’re in a startup. We applied in March, and May is when we had the second round of judging in person. I remember, it was the day we came back from the Philippines, and our interview slot was at 7:30am in Boston. We had to take a bus at midnight the night before in order to get there. We pretty much got off the plane and onto a bus.
ZC: Oh wow. That’s dedication. So how did you find out about MassChallenge and why did you decide to apply?
YN: We found out about MassChallenge from Lindsay [Siegel, Executive Director of the Zahn Innovation Center]. At first, we weren’t sure of our own commitments for the summer, and didn’t want to apply unless we were sure one of us could be there close to full time. I guess we figured we’d just figure it out, and now here we are.
ZC: So you’re all headed to Boston for the summer?
YN: I’ll be there pretty much full time, and we’re trying to figure out if someone else can join me.
ZC: That’s exciting! Your co-founders went to Kenya last summer, so I guess it’s a trade off? Speaking of…what have you been working on since you wrapped up the Merck Accelerator?
YN: Since Kenya, we’ve been focused on partner and customer outreach. We started our pilot with Americares in the Philippines. We went to the office and trained the local staff on how to use our product. We also set up a post-market surveillance system for now. They’ll send anything suspicious to us to do more testing in the lab, and if it does turn out to be dangerous or counterfeit, we would be responsible for reporting it to the local authorities there.
ZC: That’s incredible, I’m so glad to hear that you’re starting another pilot. Are you still active in Kenya?
YN: We’re still working on our partnerships in Kenya, and working with the national quality and control organizations there, plus their version of the FDA. We hope that we’ll do a pilot with that organization soon too!
ZC: I’ve also heard you’ve been in other exciting meetings?
YN: We’ve been meeting a lot of people. Right now, I can’t talk specifics, but we’re talking to some large pharmaceutical companies for possible collaborations They’re looking to hear about the Philippines pilot. These companies have a global reach, which would be wonderful.
ZC: Absolutely, that would help tremendously.
YN: In the meantime, we’re going to a lot of conferences and doing presentations–it’s our best marketing practice right now because people in the industry get to hear about us first hand. Bishoy and Da Wi went to Pioneer’s Festival in Vienna and met a lot of great people there.
ZC: It must get expensive to travel, although it’s necessary for what you do. How do you deal with that?
YN: It’s definitely difficult. For this instance in particular, Merck sponsored us. We’re super grateful for that. For other conferences, we just have to make sure we allocate the funds. MassChallenge doesn’t give any funding to the end, so it was tough to organize our finances for it, but some experiences are just worth it in the long run.
ZC: Do you think you’ll apply to other programs in the future?
YN: We’re applying to a bunch of stuff for the Fall. MassChallenge goes until November, but the major events are in the summer, so we’ll have more time to do other programs then. We recently presented at Yale’s Global Health and Innovation Conference–in the social impact track–so we’ll continue to try to get into conferences like that. It’s invaluable to be around other people in the industry.
ZC: Absolutely. I’m sure you learn so much from other people in the space. I’m curious, though, anything you’ve learned so far from the Americares pilot?
YN: For now I’ve just observed some things. For example, the pharmacists tend to receive more education than the pharmacists in Kenya; there’s just more education required before you become a pharmacist in the country. In some ways, that makes it easier to train the staff.
ZC: So you expect to find a lot of counterfeit medications?
YN: We’re just in Manila for now, but we’re expecting the medications that come in for disaster relief in the more rural areas to be where the problems are. We’ll see. There’s always this hope that we don’t find any, that everyone is getting the medication they deserve, but then they wouldn’t need us.
ZC: Haha, I know what you mean. At least you’re there and helping to resolve this issue, though. That has to give you some hope.
YN: It does. As a social impact company, we’re really just trying to create change and make people’s lives better.
ZC: You are. Trust me, you are.
We’ll share more updates on VERIPAD and other Zahn Center alumni soon. In the meantime, keep up with them on Instagram @veripad.