Student’s Idea: An Artificial Pancreas to Revolutionize Diabetic Care
A 19-year-old Bauer College entrepreneurship student, who started a company that is developing an artificial pancreas to treat type-1 diabetes, is being backed with a $5,000 investment by a venture capital fund founded by an executive chairman of Google.
Tri Nguyen, entrepreneurship junior at the C. T. Bauer College of Business at the University of Houston, was selected by the crowd-funding website Upstart as the only Houston-area student entrepreneur joining other projects from across the country. The selection by Upstart attracted the $5,000 investment by the venture capital fund Innovation Endeavors, whose founding partner is Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google.
Upstart is a company that builds an individual’s online profile, assigns them a funding rate for their campaign and informs a network of investors of their career plans. It lets entrepreneurs raise money in exchange for a small share of their income for 10 years – an investment in the individual, more than their idea.
Nguyen’s campaign was only one of seven STEM-focused Upstarts chosen for Innovation Endeavors’ second round of investments.
“Tri demonstrates incredible vision, tenacity and industry knowledge, all of which are essential for being a successful entrepreneur,” said Vanessa Hope Schneider, Innovation Endeavors director of community. “We have been eager to help him connect with other founders in our portfolio community, so that they can share insights and offer support.”
Nguyen’s campaign focuses on his own entrepreneurial success and potential as well as his current focus on medical engineering through his company, Sensibly. His team of engineers is creating an artificial pancreas as a new form of type-1 diabetes treatment.
The idea for the artificial pancreas sprouted from his partner Terence Gelo, a UH industrial design grad and type-1 diabetic, who wants to improve the technology used in treating the disease. A prototype is currently being developed parallel to writing a proposal for a grant from the National Institute of Health, an opportunity that could boost them into animal or human trials.
“All the devices that type-1 diabetics use now are not great,” Nguyen said. “They do what you need them to do, but they’re not designed in a way that really can interact well with you. So with that in mind, and Terence being in industrial design, he redesigned the whole thing and created something amazing.”
His current projects extend beyond medical technology. Nguyen is also co-founder of an e-liquid subscription service that was started just last year. Many of Houston’s other new startups were created though the city’s growing startup ecosystem, including RED Labs and 3 Day Startup and Houston Startup Weekend, all of which Nguyen has been involved.
“In Houston, we have the Texas Medical Center right next door, so it’s a tremendous opportunity for any type of medical startup to be in this environment and interact with the hospitals, get feedback from patients and doctors. The whole system is right here,” Nguyen said. “That opportunity wouldn’t be apparent if I was in L.A. or Silicon Valley or in different startup ecosystems.”
Nguyen has been in the startup world for over two years now, and his early start is part of what sets him apart from the rest. At 19, he has two businesses and hopes to have several more within the next 10 years.
“I think what I’ve been able to do at my age, the drive that I have to fulfill what I want to do and the execution I’ve been able to do so far, surpasses a lot of people that are in their mid-twenties,” Nguyen added. “Imagine what I can do in the next ten years.”
By Ann Lynd