By Saemmool Lee
Po Jui (Ray) Chiu, co-founder and CEO of BioInspira, was named among Forbes 30 under 30 in Energy for 2019. A CITRIS Foundry company, BioInspira is a material sciences and Internet of Things (IoT) startup that leverages biomaterials to build highly accurate and low-cost chemical sensors for real-time detection of air chemicals. Founded in 2014, the company is headquartered in Berkeley and has a fully owned subsidiary in Taipei, Taiwan.
Originally from Taiwan, Chiu earned a bachelor’s degree from National Taiwan University in 2012 and a Master of Engineering degree from Berkeley in 2014. Chiu says he knew nothing about running a company when he started his entrepreneurial journey. BioInspira has been grown with the support of the CITRIS Foundry, the in-house incubator of CITRIS and the Banatao Institute. Now the company has 19 full-time employees and raised $5.5 million in funding so far. It plans to officially launch its products in June.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned in your entrepreneurial journey?
“The first step is that entrepreneurs have to be confident in themselves. Also, don’t waste too much time on people not interested in you. Some investors are nice and ask a lot of questions and ask for a lot of materials, but you can tell what kinds of investors are actually not very serious. The serious investors will tell you they really like you and they want a clear timeline because they are very busy. For entrepreneurs, it’s very important to make a decision on whether to let go of an investor because time is very important – they have to learn to let go.”
Would you share any tips about fundraising?
“Try to meet as many investors as possible. You can apply a good analogy: Fundraising is like dating. It’s all about chemistry, about how you impress investors the first time. Sometimes it’s just not about you, not about the company. it’s just that the investors don’t see a good fit. You just need to increase your numbers to get a chance.
Partners, are very busy. Associates spend a lot of time with startups, but I usually call that a waste of time because they are not the decision makers. To get a meeting with a partner, you either need personal referrals or to meet them at an event like a dinner, or conference, exhibitions, pitch days, demo days. You have to attend a lot of these networking events to mingle, and sometimes you find fund partners. Grow your list. Even when investors you meet don’t invest in you, if they like you, they will help you connect with other investors.”
What is a failure that led you to a big change?
“For a presentation with a really big consumer electronics company, I had to prepare a five-minute pitch without any slides. You stand on the stage and start talking about your startup. I prepared a lot and I thought, I’m ready. I went to the presentation, and in that five minutes I blacked out for 40 to 50 seconds, almost a minute. I was standing on the stage, and couldn’t think, ‘What’s the next sentence?’ That was one of the most embarrassing experiences for me and led me to a different level of presentation. I practiced more, I prepared more, and I became more natural.”
What inspires you to move forward in spite of all the challenges?
“The first is we have a passion for this technology. The second one is that, as engineers, we really like to build something to be used by other people and really make an impact to the real world. That’s something that always motivates me to keep going even though there are so many failures along the road.”
What is one piece of advice would you give to someone who’s thinking of starting a company?
“Start it today. When we started a company, the idea we had was totally different from what we are doing now. If you are thinking of starting your company after you already have a brilliant idea, a good team, and funding, I don’t really think that would happen. So, I would say start right away, be fully committed to it. Step by step you will find co-founders, you will find a team. Along the way, keep sharpening your idea and grow along with the company.”
What do you think has contributed the most for you to be named in the Forbes 30 under 30?
“Networking is very important. Keep good relationships with all the people that you have met, whether they are advisors, investors, or people just interested in startups. Stay in contact and exchange cards and LinkedIn profiles. One of the criteria is your visibility online on social media and different platforms.”
What’s the one thing that you feel most proud of?
“The thing I’m most proud of is that I have put together a really well-rounded team. Figuring out all this HR, the interview and onboarding process, is not easy. But I think I have a really good sense about people. So far, at BioInspira, all team members share the same vision as the company and are willing to contribute to the path forward.”
Photo: Adriel Olmos