Thursday, January 12, 2017
Reinventing the Wheel: Former Triton Racing members invent novel public health device
What do race cars, aerospace engineering and HIV/AIDS have in common? They all played a part in the making of FluxErgy, a medical diagnostics company started by two UC San Diego aerospace engineering alumni.
Co-founders Tej Patel (BS MS, ‘12) and Ryan Revilla (BS, ’10) have similar stories – they both came to UC San Diego for aerospace engineering, and they both saw the Triton Racing (UC San Diego’s Formula SAE team) car parked on Library Walk one day and thought, I want to work on that!
A short time later, the two found themselves working on the next iteration of Triton Racing’s competition car together, and they became fast friends.
“Triton Racing was easily the most important thing I did during my time at UC San Diego to get hands-on experience,” said Patel. “At the time, the team was only 7-8 people, so we each had the opportunity to work on every part of the car. Ryan worked on the engine, but he also helped build the chassis.”
After graduating, both were hired by a former member of the MIT Formula SAE team to build sensors for real racecars.
After living the dream working on high-end racecars for a few years, Patel began to itch to build something that could help people.
At the time, his wife (Priya Bhat Patel, BS ‘10, Physiology and Neuroscience) was working on her masters in public health, so he set out to find a way to build a point-of-care testing device.
“I approached Ryan with the idea, and between his garage and my kitchen, we built our first prototype,” said Patel.
At first, Patel and Revilla thought they’d build a low-cost PCR machine, but they knew they wanted one platform that could perform a wide array of tests, such as viral load and blood cell count. Instead, they built a general-purpose device that uses a test card with an embedded program that tells the machine what kind of unique test to run. The device works by taking various optical and electrical measurements from the function specific test card.
By adapting the design of the test card rather than the device for each type of test, the co-founders eliminated the need for multiple machines to conduct the typical assortment of laboratory analyses. With a simple workflow and small footprint, the low cost device and test card are meant for point-of-care use locally and in low-resource settings.
“Because we came into this as engineers, we took a very different approach to the assays than a biologist would,” said Patel. “We found that there were quite a few unnecessary steps in traditional assays. We found ourselves asking, ‘do we really need to do it this way?’”
Patel and Revilla attribute this approach to their time spent at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering. During that time, the Triton Racing team learned a big lesson about taking a systems level approach to building a racecar.
“The first year Ryan and I were a part of the team, we built a really complex car,” said Patel. “But because of that, we didn’t make it to the competition. We learned that you can have the fanciest, lightest wheel ever, but if the car can’t go around a turn it’s useless.”
That lesson in systems engineering has shaped the company the two built together. They have since hired six more UC San Diego graduates.
When asked what advice they have for startups, Patel and Revilla agreed that it’s best to fail early and often.
“Oftentimes, startups don’t think about scalability,” said Patel. “Our device went through nine iterations in one year in order to optimize its manufacturability.”
If you’d like to join FluxErgy’s First Access Program as a technology development partner or Beta user, please contact info@FluxErgy.com. Find out more information at www.FluxErgy.com