Electronic Embryo Alteration.
Photo: Arshia Firouzi (left) and Gurkern Sufi.
There are numerous reasons why new therapeutics take so long to become accessible to people suffering from life-threatening diseases. Many lab animals which are used in the testing of new treatments, most notably mice, often need to be genetically modified in order for them to best represent the condition that needs to be treated by new substances. The process of altering mouse embryos is extremely manual and time consuming, which is why Ravata Solutions has developed a new device to cut the process down to a fraction of its original time. We asked the company’s’ CEO and founder, Arshia Firouzi, a few questions:
Tell me about your background, how did you become interested in biotech?
I grew up in Southern Illinois and moved to Sacramento, California in late 2001. In 2011 I began my education at UC Davis where I studied Physics and Electrical Engineering. Following my graduation in 2016 I teamed up with my long-time friend and housemate Gurkern Sufi to start Ravata. We were and continue to be very excited about the intersection of electronics and biology. It is our view that the union of the two can accelerate achievement and advances in both fields.
My personal interest in public health stems from my experiences with my epilepsy. I am fortunate to have my seizures controlled but I continue to visit a neurologist and interact with many people having various neurological diseases. One of my favorite moments at Ravata was seeing the neuroscience research being done in mouse models. Knowing that our success means the success of neuroscience has fueled my passion for our work.
To an extent I almost feel like biotech became interested in me. I ended up with friends doing research in bio, professors working with biotech entrepreneurs, and then eventually a research project in biotech that led me to Ravata.
What problem are you working to solve with Ravata Solutions?
We are working to solve the limitations surrounding embryo engineering. Our technology is opening a bottleneck in the way genetically modified animals are created. Today, the process of transforming animal embryos is a manual one. As a result, animals used in medical research and preclinical trials can take over a year to produce. Furthermore, many times these animals are not good models of the disease they are meant to represent. What we are doing at Ravata is providing a cost effective and time efficient method to create quality animal models.
If you could only pick one thing to validate your reason for forming a startup, what would it be? In other words, what would be the single biggest indicator to you that you are doing the right thing?
The fact that we have a technology to make a difference and a focused team to bring it into reality is how I validated forming a startup.
How do you think success can change your industry?
Our success means that the rodent model industry can produce better animal models for medical research and preclinical trials faster (up to 100X) and more efficiently than ever before. This will significantly shorten the research and drug development timespan.
How is your team uniquely able to tackle this? What’s the expertise?
Our technology involves the intersection of electronics and biology. My team has the necessary experience with electrical engineering, biology, and material science to tackle the challenges associated with the science.
Any big lessons learned transitioning to startup entrepreneurship?
The biggest lesson I have learned transitioning to startup entrepreneurship is that having a great idea is only 1% of having a successful business. There are many great people with many brilliant ideas. It takes a combination of a large network, hard work, and strong mentors to be successful.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve encountered so far?
The biggest challenge I have encountered so far is learning how to manage my bandwidth. There are always urgent tasks needing to be handled, many of which I have no experience with. In order to get through everything requires a new understanding of what is necessary, how to delegate tasks, and time management.
What are the big goals and milestones you’re looking to hit in the short term? Long term?
In the short term, we are looking to finalize the designs for our current system and enter the rodent model market. In the long term, we are aiming to adapt our device to work with other animal models and eventually other cell types such as plants, fungi, and even human cells.
Learn more about Ravata Solutions by watching Arshia pitch on IndieBio Demo Day Feb. 9th! Register for the event or LiveStream here!