The Bad Boy of Biosensors: An Interview With Ray Chiu of BioInspira


Photo: Ray Chiu (far right) and the BioInspira team. 

Every year, more than 200 natural gas pipeline-related incidents happen on average in the United States, and $5B in economic opportunities are lost as a result of gas leaks. BioInspira is aiming to solve this problem by bringing air chemical detection to the next level.

At IndieBio, we call the founder and CEO of BioInspira, Ray Chiu, the “Bad Boy of Biosensors”. Not only has he helped the company raise over $1.3M, he’s also closed partnerships with a consortium of the largest northern and southern California gas and electricity companies. BioInspira uses biology to change the economics of how we monitor our infrastructures. We asked Ray a few questions:

Tell me about your background, how did you get interested in the biotech space?

My background is in chemical engineering. I’ve had a huge passion for science since I was little, and I was always very keen on learning about breakthroughs in new frontiers of scientific research. Because of this, I made the decision to participate in this task of expanding scientific knowledge. Biotechnology is a relatively unexplored area filled with unknown potentials. Whereas the microelectronic revolution has come and gone with the projected bottleneck from Moore’s Law, there are still many secrets we can still learn about biology, biochemistry, and how they can change our way of life. This wealth of potential for discovery and impact on our life is what propelled me into the biotech space.

What problem are you working to solve with your company, Bioinspira?

Billions of dollars worth of economic opportunities are lost because there are currently very ineffective ways of tracking our infrastructures. This is a huge problem. We envision that, by combining network connectivity with powerful sensors, we can eliminate waste that is generated by the use of Earth’s natural resources. Take natural gas leaks, for example. BioInspira can save as much as 40% of the gas that is leaked from our gas infrastructure while cutting the leak inspection time in half.

Such engineering marvel, if successful, will also provide unprecedented data and insight and lead to a safer smarter world. However, current sensing technologies can’t achieve this goal due to their power consumption, size, cost, and accuracy. BioInspira believes a new revolutionary sensing mechanism is required. And we aim to solve this problem with our technology.

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?

Passion. I firmly believe that the technology our team is working on will revolutionize people’s way of life and lead to a safer and smarter world. Seeing my technology become successful and actually influence society would be the single biggest indicator that I am doing the right thing.

“I firmly believe that the technology our team is working on will revolutionize people’s way of life and lead to a safer and smarter world.”

How do you think success can change your industry?

If we are successful, we will revolutionize the way in which the industry performs inspections for safety and emission control. Our customers will have constant and real time information on leaks in their systems, leading to efficient leak repair processes. This would help reduce waste and save lives.

How is your team uniquely able to tackle this? What’s the expertise?

We have more than 20 years of professional sensor research experience. We are experts in phage sensor engineering. Our sensor research goes back more than 10 years with more than $2M research funding invested to date. We also have industry experts, thought leaders, and the chief inventor of our technology forming a powerful advisory board. In addition, we have partners with OEM partners on device manufacturing that will ensure the quality of our solution.

Any big lessons learned transitioning to startup entrepreneurship?

Do not take anything for granted. Besides changing our R&D plan to meet the customer’s schedule and needs, we invested most of our time to grow relationships with potential customers and end users. If we do not turn these into a potential sales channel or investment opportunity, or we ruin our relationships, all our time will be wasted.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve encountered so far?

As this is a completely new sensing mechanism, one of our biggest challenges was to explain the technology to potential end users as well as investors. Most of the end users are experts in sensors, but do not know much about biotechnology. On the other hand, most of the interested investors are very familiar in biotechnology, but do not understand much about the sensor industry.

What are the big goals and milestones you’re looking to hit in the short term? Long term?

Short term: successfully deliver our sensor development kit and complete field tests with customers. Long term: overhaul the sensor industry by providing a revolutionizing sensor platform with improved combined capabilities.

Learn more about BioInspira by watching Ray pitch on IndieBio Demo Day Feb. 9th! Register for the event or LiveStream here!