Liza Velarde recently graduated from Tecnológico de Monterrey with a degree in international business. As a student her smarts helped to earn her scholarships to pay for her education as well as a summer program at UC Berkeley. She joined Semka half way through her studies and together the team took a class in entrepreneurship that helped them understand how to better work together and further develop their idea.
Semka Technologies is a medical device company dedicated to filling the void in cancer therapy monitoring. We have developed a low cost biosensor that will enable oncologists to continuously monitor cancer treatment effectiveness, allowing them to apply personalized treatments, generating savings for patients, insurance companies and healthcare systems around the world.
The idea for Semka was thought of by researcher M.Sc. Juan Felipe Yee, the physicist Alejandro Abarca and the biotechnologist Eduardo Leal, co‐founders in the company. Their studies in the behavior of tumor cells under strong electric fields led to the development of new ways to isolate these cells from blood samples in an effective and efficient way.
An Elevator Ride Leads to an Elevator Pitch
During the entrepreneurial class Liza and her team had the opportunity to meet a number of influential people. While in an elevator on her way to class she met Jean‐ Francois van Boxmeer, a Belgian businessman who serves as Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of Heineken International. During that ride she pitched the Semka vision and before the doors opened he agreed to help the team by facilitating a meeting with his team in Mexico. That meeting turned into a seed investment of $45,000.00 USD, which was used to acquire all the equipment needed to start developing the first prototypes.
Startup Competitions and The Road To Draper University
The cost of developing a medical device is very costly, therefore Liza and her team competed in several business competitions throughout the US and México to fund their research and development. This included the Hello Tomorrow Challenge 2015, which was powered by Draper University technology partner YouNoodle, a startup competition platform.
“While we were participating in the Hult Prize one of our engineers developed a functional prototype that was tested with cancer cells lines. At that point I realized it was time to start looking for financing and partnerships with oncology centers,” said Liza Velarde. “Alejandro who had studied at Singularity University recommended that I go back to the Bay Area to look for opportunities. My research led me to Draper University and as I dug a little deeper I began thinking that it would be a great way to learn and acquire the skills needed to start searching for our seed round.”
While attending Draper University, Liza learned about financing, legal issues, technology and innovation, leadership skills, creativity, VCs rounds and much more. She also acquired more entrepreneurial skills, developed a new vision of how things work in Silicon Valley, made friends, met mentors, and advisers that have helped Semka in many ways, and of course memorized and recited daily the famous Draper University "Hero's Oath".
Things Start To Take Off After Pitch Day
After pitch day Liza and her team had the opportunity to approach various investors in the Bay Area and also meet physicians and oncologists that are doing research in cancer at Stanford and UCSF.
Semka began three years ago with only computer simulations that supported their theory and a seed round of $45,000. Now things are rapidly changing. The team has its own space in a biotechnology lab as well as seed investors that are owners of an oncology clinic. The next steps will be to start preclinical trials in cancer patients, submit a patent application to protect the technology and publish research results in scientific journals.
From here the sky's the limit for Liza and her team.