A health scare inspired Surbhi Sarna to found nVision Medical, a maker of cancer-detection devices that she sold for $275 million. Inc. spoke with her about developing a product, fundraising, and her decision to sell.
What motivated you to develop a diagnostic tool for ovarian cancer?
I was a patient myself, when I was 13. It started with this really sharp pain. I blacked out. After a couple of months, the doctors realized I had a complex ovarian cyst--a cyst they wanted to monitor. That's when I realized the lack of diagnostic options physicians had with this lethal disease. I was lucky, but waiting to see if one of the most aggressive cancers starts growing is not a good diagnostic tool.
Did you know how to tackle this problem when you founded your company?
I had nothing. I had been reading papers on ovarian cancer since my health scare and I found this huge study that said we needed to take a closer look at the fallopian tubes. I had studied molecular biology at Berkeley. Then I spent a couple of years studying the anatomy of the tubes and understanding the challenges other devices faced. I thought, what if you used hydraulics to get into the tubes?
How did you raise money?
I told investors, give me $350,000 and let me build a prototype. I was 24, and I didn't have an advanced degree. That's part of why it took me more than a year to raise money. I went to Darshana Zaveri at Catalyst Health Ventures. She was one of my last pitches. She took it to her partnership and they said no. I said look, if you take the risk, I will not take any salary for two years and I will move back in with my parents. Darshana went back to the partnership and said either you guys invest, or allow me to break my contract and invest as an individual. Her partners said fine, we'll invest.
Last April, you sold nVision to Boston Scientific. How did you know you had found the right buyer?
My team and I were all driven by the same thing: Let's get this product to market as fast as possible. We got to the point where that meant working with a larger company that had more resources and a dedicated sales force. It was really clear that Boston Scientific cares deeply about this technology. The company is putting lots of resources behind it. We are working with some of its best people.