Fon Powell: Founder S.A.L.T LLC
Spotlight no. 1:
Cornell University (PhD) Expected: June 2017, Computational Neuroscience
Duke University (B.S.) 2013, in Neuroscience, Minors: Biology, Spanish
Ford Foundation Fellow, Amgen Scholar
My thesis work uses human brain scans to perform computational modeling of psychiatric disorders including schizophrenia, major depressive disorder and autism.
What is S.A.L.T? Who should use your device?
S.A.L.T is a health tech product patients use at home to measure salt levels in urine using a disposable device and mobile app. It's important for the 76M Americans with hypertension, 24M Americans with kidney stones, and 20M Americans with Chronic Kidney Disease to manage their conditions by keeping a low salt diet. The social impact of our startup is enormous. No device currently exists to allow patients to measure salt levels in a one-time test. We are giving patients a tool to manage their own healthcare- cheaply and easily.
Where were you when you first thought of your idea? What was your creative process like and how did you execute your idea?
My startup was the result of a class I took at Weill Cornell during the first year of my PhD program called "Business Fundamentals for Entrepreneurial Scientists." Each student had to pick a Cornell-owned patent and build a "business" around it. The final project for the class was a pitch event, where I took 2nd place. I won a bottle of Black Label Whiskey, and the attention and encouragement of an Angel Investor as well as a Cornell Licensing Officer who liked my charisma and idea. In the weeks following the pitch event, my research instincts kicked in and I feverishly ENGULFED every book, magazine and blog post I could get my hands on. I learned the nuisances of the entrepreneurial process- that every good idea will not be the next Facebook and that market need and ROI (Return on Investment) are the most important components of a business plan. Importantly, I learned most entrepreneurs fall short, not in having an original idea, but in executing that idea. Because I'm Type A and love details (Details are my jam!)- I began to focus on the execution. My first action was to find an experienced partner that had been in the industry for awhile, who could add credibility to our team and share wisdom so that I'll be seasoned enough to do it solo for my next health tech venture. I was lucky enough to find that in my partner Eliot, who has 15 years in medical device startups, both on the engineering and business development side.
What do you attribute your early success to? (i.e. your network, academic foundation, diligence)
I attribute my early success to "knowing what I don't know." I entered the startup world cognizant there was much I needed to learn. As a 22 year old, first-time entrepreneur, I knew I'd have to go above and beyond to prove myself. Also, I knew I'd have to be flexible and open to learning. I also attribute much success to bootstrapping (running our startup on very little money) from a $10K Family & Friends round we raised. Because there wasn't much money to go around, every business decision had to be strategic.
What is missing from the startup community that you wish existed?
The New York City startup community is still very up-and-coming. Unlike Silicon Valley, there is not a boatload of resources, seasoned talent and early stage funding options for health tech entrepreneurs, which I would very much like to see. Though a variety of initiatives have been started by the New York City Economic and Development Corporation, such as Harlem Biospace and the Early Stage Life Sciences Funding Initiative, New York has a long way to go. Furthermore, as a woman and as a minority, I see very few people that I can identify with in the startup community, especially within health tech. However, I think that's a systematic issue in the United States reflected in a variety of industries, not just a phenomenon limited to the startup world.
Are there any interviews from other publications that you would like for us to link to?
I was selected as one of 3 teams to participate in Cornell's Shark Tank Pitch Event in Feb 2015. The profile on my company done as a result of Shark Tank is here:
Thank you Fon! We look forward to watching you as you continue to "kill-it" in the startup world. All the best.
.::Ivy Startup Mag::.