Episode 2 – E. Coli Outbreak and Bacteria Detection with Dr. Monika Weber
(Dr. Monika Weber with an early prototype of her lab-on-a-chip)
Dr. Monika Weber is the Founder and CEO of Fluid Screen, a startup in Boston, MA with a revolutionary chip-on-a-technology to detect and identify bacteria in water, food and process fluids. She was inspired due to the catastrophic foodborne illness in Europe in 2011 due to the E. Coli contamination which resulted in human deaths and hundreds of millions of dollars losses. Using electric forces to control bacteria motion in water, Dr. Weber discovered a method of concentrating and identifying bacteria in fluid samples. Her technology captures and identifies bacteria in 30 minutes with greater than 99% accuracy.
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1:10 Watch Monika’s Ted Talk – Replacing the Petri Dish with a Microchip. Find out what makes her father happy even though she didn’t fulfil one of his biggest wishes for her (you’ll have to listen to the talk all the way to the last sentence).
2:27 How Monika ended up giving the talk at TedxNatick and the logistics behind it if you ever want to give one. There’s a prescreening and lots of feedback on how to tell your story and hone in on the message. She distilled her years of passion and interest in a 10-minute talk. Not as easy as it sounds! The experience can be terrifying but the support and encouragement help the speaker to succeed. Also, it’s ok to break down in tears.
4:50 The positive impact of the Ted Talk on the company in terms of the profile and recruiting the talent. The Youtube link of your Ted Talk can be your business card and resume. Something to consider if you have a unique and useful story to share.
(Dr. Monika Weber with the host Samir Gondalia)
5:47 Listen to Monika describe the technology to detect and identify the bacteria in 30 minutes or less. Say goodbye to 2-4 days wait for the lab results. It changes something that has been done one way for over 140 years. The jump from her background in Electrical Engineering to the world of Microbiology is very interesting too.
7:04 Monika’s chip can detect the bacteria with 99% accuracy. When she started her work in 2011, it was 30%.
The lab-on-a-chip to detect and identify the bacterias
7:50 The early struggles to get the idea and the company off the ground. Monika’s response to every challenge is persistence – just stand up and go. The E. Coli bacteria outbreak in Europe and the slow detection which resulted in 53 confirmed deaths made her realize that there is still scope for quick bacteria detection and saving human lives. She made it her end goal for her PhD thesis. Lots of stimulation work, followed by experiments and building a prototype. She wrote her own grant applications.
11:53 Elon Musk on entrepreneurship – Being an entrepreneur is like eating glass and staring into the abyss of death. For the record, Monika agrees wholeheartedly.
12:42 Fluid Screen team members. Total 10 team members.
14:05 Application of this technology in the pharma industry.
15:10 Monika’s favorite failure – ILE2 (the code name of the project) and the inspiring story of the team work.
16:25 Who’s going to be the taxi companies to Fluid Screen’s Uber? Laboratories testing and analyzing the samples. With the new chip, it’ll be cheaper, quicker and more convenient. There’ll also be a huge impact on the food and beverage industry, not to mention checking the water quality. The size of the pharma testing market is $1.4 billion dollars and the global market for the food, beverage and water testing is $100 billion.
21:03 The book influenced Monika the most – At the Table by Bob Hamman (who is also a friend of Monika). Bob is an accomplished international bridge player. His philosophy – you need to do your best for the given situation, and no matter what the outcome – winning or losing – move on to the next challenge and bring you’re A-game. Although the lessons and examples in the book are specifically to the game of bridge, they are also very relevant and applicable to the startup life.
22:18 Her obsession – taking walks around the Boston Seaport. There’s something calming and soothing about the water – who wouldn’t agree with that? Her recent hobby – study the origins of life and look at the advancements in archeology, sequencing and big data.
22:49 Quote she lives by – Stop whining and get to work.
23:15 Her gratitude and optimistic parting words.