RedEye Biomedical is an innovative biomedical startup in Taiwan. Their product is a hemoglobin sensor that detects blood from feces or urine in the water in a toilet. Nelson Yan, the founder, and CEO, talked about his long journey from founding the company to the development of the device.
Ph.D./Founder & CEO of RedEye Biomedical Inc.
Writer: Chiyo Kamino
Communication Associate, Kyoto
Devastation from father-in-law's cancer diagnosis
ーー How did you start the company?
Before we established our company, I was working for Foxconn, which is known for its acquisition of SHARP. Foxconn was my first job, and I learned many engineering and management skills there. But after a long period, I started to think about what I can do more for people, not only myself, my family, and society. I was thinking of how to do more for people to improve their daily lives.
And in 2009, there was a very big economic crisis. One day, I went to a hospital to see my friend, and I found the hospital was so crowded. I thought, “The economy in the world is very bad at the moment, but the business foundation in hospitals looks quite stable.” And I thought, “If I want to start my own business, where would my place be?” Then I started to think about investing my time and resources into the biomedical industry.
But I didn’t rush. I took time to consider what issue I should work on and the best way to do it. Because if the topic is not good enough, it is not persuasive. If I cannot persuade myself to start, I won’t do it. So, several years went by as I was thinking about the topic. And one day, my father-in-law found blood in his urine.
He got very scared and went to the hospital immediately. Unfortunately, the result was very bad.
It was stage three bladder cancer. He didn’t notice his symptom earlier because the blood in the urine was so little to find out.
So I thought, “If I can find a way to detect the blood at an earlier stage, I can help people with the same disease.” I started to research on the Internet to see if there is any method or any way for people to find invisible blood in their urine or feces at home. But I only came to know there was nothing of that kind. So I realized there is a niche in the industry, which I thought was an opportunity. That’s the first motivation for RedEye.
I talked about my idea to my friends from university to hear their feedback. They told me it was a good idea. So I talked to my professor friend, who is a very good expert in engineering, about my idea of how to detect blood in the water in a toilet. I also asked him for help from his students to do some experiments.
The experiment worked. We could see the signal of human blood in the water, especially in men. Then I talked to many people, bank accountants, engineers, and investors, and they were willing to support me. So I established our company RedEye in Taiwan on July 12th, 2017.
The development process where I devoted my soul into
ーー After you establish the company, what was the biggest challenge you faced?
Since we are a small company, nobody knows RedEye. In the beginning, our challenge was financial support. We talked to the bank, but the bank said they cannot make a loan to us since our company was too new and did not have any revenue. We applied for some government subsidies for young entrepreneurs but were rejected for the same reason. We were too young, too small, with no revenue, and could not guarantee we could pay back the loan. That was our first difficulty.
We had difficulty with the research and development of our technology as well. First, we needed a certain amount of human blood for the experiment. In the beginning, I used a needle to stick my finger. It hurt. I didn’t even know the best needle and where to get it. So, in the beginning, it hurt every time. Later we got a medical needle which hurt so much, but my blood was not enough.
So I went to the hospital and asked a nurse to help me. I asked her, “We are university students and want to do some optical experiments. Can you take my blood and put it in a tube?” I was very shy and afraid to ask such a thing. She didn’t know me; I didn’t know her. And I was not sure if she could help us. But very luckily, she helped me.
I also had the experience of burning my blood because my laser line source was too strong. The smell was really bad.
Every day so I’m grateful for my team. Yvonne can help me every day to overcome our difficulties and the problems we face. Our company is 2.5 years old and is here right now, talking to you.
ーー What is the uniqueness of RedEye?
We created a new solution: a new technology for people to perform a blood inspection at home. Before our technology, people had to collect feces to a hospital and to wait for more than one week for an inspection. Also, there are still some errors if the tumor is not bleeding when you collect the feces sample at a hospital.
But using RedEye, it takes only 10 seconds to see the result. In general, people go to hospital to check their feces or urine once a year or even longer. If people do it once a month or once every two weeks, it will be helpful to find out early symptoms of colorectal cancer or bladder cancer.
Our technology is the first photoelectric hemoglobin sensor in the world, especially for home use. For hospital use, they have very big equipment which does the same thing as us. But our device is so small and compact. Also, our technology can be integrated into smart toilets.
ーー Did you start any project at Plug and Play’s program?
Before we joined the Plug and Play’s program, we had already met Shimadzu and Kyocera. So it’s a good opportunity to see them again this time. In addition to those two companies, we also met some insurance companies at an Insurtech event in Tokyo. That was our first time meeting insurance companies in Japan. We are still not so sure about a business model for them, but we had a lot of discussions. We have not actively contacted insurance companies before, so it was very helpful for us.
To provide easier health management tools and faster latent blood testing
ーー What kind of future would you like to create?
First of all, a very practical vision is to survive. That’s the same vision for every startup I suppose. Our first vision is to kick off more and more projects with distributors, strategic partners and customers in Japan. Then we keep promoting our product globally. We hope more and more people learn about our technology and use our product at home to keep monitoring their health. We hope to help people to do self-health management to find out early symptoms and go for further examination in hospitals.
There are 1.8 million people with colorectal cancer in the world, which is too huge. If we can help people to find out early symptoms of cancer, like stage one to three, we can help them to improve their quality of lives.
That is our motivation to run this company: People can detect early symptoms and start early treatments.