Erika is the CEO and co-founder of Sanguinaan Atlanta-based wellness and diagnostic startup with an emphasis on anemia screening.
Some people are born entrepreneurs. I didn’t know I wanted to be one until I realized I could help people who are anemic like I have since childhood. As the saying goes, “Necessity is the mother of invention”, and I had a need.
Anemia means you have low levels of hemoglobin, a protein in your red blood cells that carries oxygen around your body. You can have anemia do you feel tired and weak and even make you faint. According to the American Nutrition Associationthe total number of cases of anemia grew to more than 1.7 billion in 2019.
As a child with chronic anemia, I often passed out at school and had to go to the hospital. As I got older, I wanted to find a solution that would allow me to control my anemia without blood tests and medical visits. I was actually jealous of diabetics who could monitor their insulin levels from home because I didn’t have such options. A few years later I went to college and studied biomedical engineering. I wanted to develop technology that helped people with anemia. Together with a team consisting of my professor, advisor and classmate, we have built a company that offers two methods of monitoring anemia.
Here are some of the ways I laid the foundation for the company while still in college and accelerated its growth as a recent graduate — and how other students can do the same.
1. Publish your research in peer-reviewed journals before officially founding the company.
To do this, you’ll need to prepare a well-written research report, adhering to the focus and content guidelines of the journal you’re pitching. Traditionally, you should include in this report: a summary, background information about the problem you are solving, methods, results (graphs and visual representations are great for this), conclusions and sources and references.
In addition, familiarize yourself with the assessment process. Magazines recruit outside subject matter experts to review submissions and determine their eligibility for publication. Then there’s a lengthy editing and review process, usually with lots of data-centric questions. Some experts may even ask for more data if they are not convinced by what you initially presented. In my experience, this review process can take up to nine months.
2. Apply for subsidies.
We’ve found local, state, and national grants that we’ve applied for and received, and we’ve used those funds for development and research. Grants are also “non-dilutive,” meaning you don’t lose equity in the business by accepting and using the financing.
The Grants.gov website can be helpful when looking for opportunities, and I recommend calling potential grant resource organizations to confirm that you are, in fact, eligible for the organizations you find. This way you don’t waste unnecessary time on a proposal. You should also share your grant interest with mentors, educators, and academic, scientific, or clinical professionals in your network in case they are aware of opportunities or can act as a reference for your work.
And remember: Grant reviewers are people. They need a compelling story. I recommend including a chart, table or image on every page of your application to make it digestible, interesting and appealing to all types of reviewers.
3. Participate in school competitions.
This goes hand in hand with local funding sources. Subscribe to your school newspaper and ask teachers if they know of any opportunities. In 2013, our company was an award finalist in a competition hosted by my university, and the school produced a video about our platform, which was helpful to share with potential investors. They were able to get to know us and, most importantly, see our presentation skills.
4. Apply to vision-aligned accelerator programs.
Media channels such as TechCrunch, Fast company and others are great places to look for information about accelerators. Don’t apply everything you find, but look for the ones that align with your values and mission. Think critically about which one you are applying for.
For example, in 2018 we were accepted into a three-month program with a NYC-based venture fund and accelerator. We loved that the program had a similar mission and invaluable connections to consumer healthcare, and they weren’t afraid to invest in a direct-to-consumer healthcare startup like many traditional medical accelerators didn’t at the time. Through the program, we received investment, access to partners and mentors, pitch deck advice and a speaking platform at their annual event. We continue to speak to the accelerator regularly to provide investors with updates and gain industry insights.
Starting a business fresh out of college can give you an edge. Don’t forget to lean on your academic network for support and learn all you can from peers, advisors, mentors, and educators.