SkyTeam Spotlight with NextBiotics
SkyDeck Intern, Kiana Parker, had the opportunity to sit down with Maricel Saenz, Co-Founder of NextBiotics. Prior to forming NextBiotics, Maricel and her Co-Founders, Angie and Jorge Bardales, attended the Global Solutions Program at Singularity University. NextBiotics builds biotechnology addressing antibiotic resistance one of the greatest global health challenges. NextBiotics’ approach is to build biotechnology firm where they modify viruses using a CRISPR system to synthesize bacteria to antibiotics.
Why did you decide to do a startup?
I’ve always wanted to make a positive social impact on the world; it has been a driver for me since I was young. With the current environment around startups, a small amount people can make a big impact on the world and impact billions of people, especially with the technologies that we have access today. There is a great potential to scale, so it is a great opportunity to do meaningful work and address a big problem within society and hopefully help people.
What is the problem that you are solving?
We are addressing antibiotic resistance. Everyone probably has taken antibiotics before. They are not a normal daily thing, but when they did not exist, people’s lives were different. People were dying from simple infections and they would not get past 50-55 years old. Now, we are getting to the point where we have abused it. We are on the cusp of losing that tool which could change our lives and change the way that we fight diseases and fight infections. Two million people are diagnosed with antibiotic resistance a year and 700,000 people die from antibiotic-resistant infections. We are trying to provide a solution because current antibiotics are not working, the ones that they are developing take a long time and a lot of money. Also, the resistance still comes up for those antibiotics eventually as well.
Has the idea changed since you’ve started?
During the Think Tank, the idea changed a few times. The last few months it hasn’t because we want to build a platform with multiple applications. We are exploring which market to start from, but the idea of how we are going to build the technology is pretty set — and in development.
How did you come together as a team?
We all wanted to do something that was related to health. The Singularity University really makes you focus on a problem rather than a solution. We tackled this problem that was really daring and daunting, but the same time, we had the opportunity to make a dent into something that really matters, even if it really small, it can be really big for a lot of people.
What is the biggest challenge you faced?
Where do I start… Technology is core and center for us. Jorge is our technical lead, but we haven’t had the chance to build a really strong technical team around him and that I think comes with the limitations of having a startup versus time and resources. We want to do everything really quickly, but we need to maintain the culture and find the right hires. This is currently our biggest challenge. In the future, I assume it will be more centered on funding and raising money.
Do you have a team motto?
No… oh, we did have one… oh what was it? … Don’t be an asshole.
Did you ever consider working for an employer instead of being a Founder of a startup?
Yes, I was before. I worked a corporate job. Honestly, it was great because I learned a lot from people who had been in the trenches way before I had. I learned to do simple things like, create quality deliverables, the way that you think, and the way that you structure your problems, but it was limited to the impact. It was good for me to learn, but I always knew that was not what I wanted to do with my life. It was like a pass of rights; I would not do it now. If this idea does not work, then we will find another way to make it work.
Do you have any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Ever since I was young, I knew that I wanted to do something that impacted people, so if that drives you then there are a thousand ways to help and you have to be open to the possibilities. The other thing is since I was in University and when I was working, I have always known that people are the most important thing for me. If I had to pick a project, it would not be about the topic but it would be about the people. It is true that you are the average of the five people that you all surround yourself with. So be intentional about the people that you spend your time with; be intentional with your relationships. When I was in University I was not as intentional with who I was working with, but if you are then you get to meet amazing people who may be your partners or co-founders in the future. So, the more time you spend getting to really know people and build strong relationships, the better.
Can you share a fun fact about your product?
I don’t know if this is fun but, part of what we are trying to do is use viruses as our best allies. A lot of people have this current negative conception of viruses and now we are turning it into the weapon we use to make us healthy again. So we are going to have to go through this process of changing a virus’s character.
by Kiana Parker, SkyIntern