Founder Spotlight #40: Josh Yang @ Glyphic Biotechnologies
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Josh Yang is Co-Founder & CEO @ Glyphic Biotechnologies, a biotechnology startup commercializing a next-generation protein sequencing platform. Josh graduated Phi Beta Kappa, Tau Beta Pi, and Summa Cum Laude from the University of California, San Diego, which he attended fully-funded on the Jacobs School Scholarship. Josh double majored in Bioengineering: Biotechnology B.S. and General Biology B.S where he was a Barry Goldwater Scholar and the Valedictorian in the Department of Bioengineering. Subsequently, he completed a Master of Translational Medicine degree through the University of California, San Francisco and University of California, Berkeley in the Department of Bioengineering, from where he spun-out his first startup, Nephrosant. Nephrosant has raised over $22M in funding to commercialize a low-cost, non-invasive diagnostic assay for kidney injury. Josh took a leave of absence from a fully-funded MD-PhD MSTP at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Department of Biomedical Engineering to pursue biotech entrepreneurship. He subsequently graduated with an MBA from the Stanford University Graduate School of Business, where he was the Henry Ford II Scholar (Valedictorian), a Siebel Scholar, and an Arjay Miller Scholar. Josh is an inventor on 6 issued/filed patents, an author on 21 research articles, and was named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 Healthcare list.
Glyphic Bio is a proteomics platform company enabling the development of novel therapeutics, diagnostics, and ultimately, a deeper understanding of human biology. Although decoding the human genome through the invention of DNA sequencing has ushered in a new era of biomedical sciences, this blueprint is not enough. We are defined by more than our genes: to understand the human body, we must understand the proteins that actually perform our day-to-day functions — and malfunctions. Glyphic Biotechnologies is decoding the human proteome through full coverage, de novo protein sequencing at single molecule resolutions, advancing beyond the decades old technologies based on mass spectrometry and ELISAs.
What prompted you to pursue a career in Life Sciences? Was there a specific moment in time or influence you can remember? What drives you to work in this space?
I’ve always been interested in human health. Inspired by my parents — a physician and a scientist — I dreamed of treating patients with treatments that I’d develop. I saw the impact that medicine can have on people from an early age. This led me to pursue a double major in bioengineering: biotechnology and biology, a master of translational medicine, an MD/PhD, and ultimately, an MBA. It was during my master’s that I became introduced to entrepreneurship — I was hooked.
I’ve always wanted to help the greatest number of people. Developing and administering medical treatments are complicated processes and require the collaboration of many different domain experts. Everyone involved provides a necessary contribution and I found that I could play the greatest role in impacting the greatest number of people on the business-side of biotechnology. This passion is what drives me to work in this space.
How did you get your training to be able to build your company?
While much of my training stems from formal education, my experiences outside of class contributed significantly to my entrepreneurial journey. As an example, I spent much of my time networking with peers at Stanford while pursuing my MBA. Everyone had a unique perspective, from a variety of technical and entrepreneurial backgrounds, and have been an invaluable resource as I’ve been growing Glyphic. Moreover, Glyphic was actually launched out of Activate (now Nucleate) — an organization built for students who aspire to found companies.
That said, succeeding in entrepreneurship is about learning on the fly. I would encourage current students to get involved, get started now, and learn as they go.
Can you tell us a little bit about your background & career thus far? What were you doing before you started running a high potential venture backed startup?
Before founding Glyphic, I was actually a technical cofounder at a different company, Nephrosant. This company was inspired by the research I performed while getting my Master’s of Translational Medicine. Although the company has been and still is successful, I wanted to seek a new opportunity, in a new role, to better match my interests.
What problem is your company solving?
Imagine if DNA sequencers did not exist–imagine just how crippled the state of genomics today would be. Proteomics is at that same stage genomics was only a few decades ago, as massively parallel protein sequencing does not exist. We are solving this problem to enable next-generation proteomics to be a reality.
Quite simply, what does your company do?
We are developing a next-generation platform to help researchers do research on proteins better.
Now in more depth, what are the specifics of what your company does?
At Glyphic, we are developing a new way to sequence proteins at single molecule resolution. Most common methods of unbiased protein identification can only detect proteins when 100,000 or more proteins are present, excluding many low-level expressing proteins. Recent technologies have low signal-to-noise ratios, which hinders their ability to acquire complete pictures of biological processes. To overcome this limitation, we have integrated chemical and biological sensors to greatly increase signal-to-noise and provide a robust method of sequencing proteins at single molecule resolution. More specifically, we are developing a new technology that will allow us to identify proteins at the lowest concentration in biological samples for research and diagnostic purposes.
Why does your solution matter for the world when you get it right?
This platform will enable novel applications in human health, industrial biotechnology, and biopharma discovery, to name just a few areas we’ve envisioned our platform making waves. Yet, I’m most excited about the areas in which we’ve not yet even imagined–much like how massively parallel DNA sequencing has seen adoption in areas ranging from consumer services to clinical diagnostics, we believe next-generation protein sequencing to have wide-ranging impacts not previously seen.
What is your company’s founding story?
I wish I could claim some intentional, structured story about how, with my triple background in medicine, bioengineering, and business, I had always planned on launching a biotech venture where I could lead the business and vision while still having a deep understanding of the fundamental biology and engineering. But such a story would not be true.
Rather, the improbability of it all at every step makes it feel as if fate intervened. During the last year of my MBA, I had signed up for a program called Activate Bio at the end of 2020 (now called Nucleate Bio), which starts with a mandatory speed-dating event between potential co-founders (because apparently those things work???). The only reason I was able to participate in the program was because, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, they decided to open it for the first time to students outside of Harvard/MIT. But (un)fortunately, I was in Maui, Hawaii with my Stanford GSB classmates when the speed-dating event was scheduled. That day, we planned to go on the Road to Hana, a highway that I would learn has absolutely no cell service, and so I completely bailed without telling the organizers or fellow participants. Yet, despite my having missed this event, one of the participants reached out to say he still wanted to meet with me. That meeting would be my first meeting with who would eventually be my co-founder, Daniel Estandian.
What are some of the notable milestones your company has achieved thus far?
We’ve raised a little over $6M in our Seed round of VC and Angel funding and another $3M in non-dilutive grant funding. We’ve scaled to more than 10 people on our team already in less than a year since our initial funding. Things are exciting!
What are some of the biggest hurdles ahead? How do these create points of value inflection?
We’re still in the R&D stage and as a result there remains a number of technical milestones we are working towards that will enable us to move forward with prototype development and eventual commercialization. Moving from the R&D stage to a working process to a working prototype to a commercializable device will each bring about huge shifts in value as the products/services we can offer at each stage expands.
Pay It Forward
Throughout the journey, what have been some of your biggest takeaways thus far? What advice/words of wisdom would you share from your story for other founders?
It’s all about the people. From the investors, to co-founders, to your earliest employees: it’s all about the people. Choosing people who you want to and can see yourself working with for many, many years, people who you would theoretically want to spend time with even outside of work is key.
What are some of the must-haves for an early stage Life Sciences startup in your eyes?
Given that we had no academic papers and no background in industry for life sciences tools development, I guess these aren’t “must-haves” in our own case. The team is certainly critical. Perhaps passion as well.
What are some of the traits that make a great founder? What type of risk profile/archetype does someone need to have to be a founder in your opinion?
Someone once described that being a great founder means having a dysfunctional amygdala. That your perceptions of risk must be sufficiently skewed, not so much that you have higher risk appetite overall, but that your views on the asymmetrical rewards of success in a startup are such that taking on the risk of being a founder and launching a startup is the only decision you would consider making.
For folks coming out of academia, what advice would you share?
It’s tempting to stay as long as possible in the academic setting because of the (free) resources available and the safety that it provides you. But I personally have found that the limitations of that environment are pretty stifling. Leaving as early as possible will enable you to fully dedicate your efforts on building your startup and expanding the possibilities of what your startup can be outside an academic environment.
Not everyone knows everything. Often founders have to learn either the science or the business side better. What advice would you give for someone picking up a new skill set such as this?
While learning is important and you’ll always be learning, ideally you should have a co-founder(s) that already have some degree of specialization in and take on distinct sides of the business. That way, you can both learn on the job and from your co-founder without sacrificing the actual operations of the company. I am fortunate that I can trust my co-founder 100% to operate the scientific/technical side of the company, even at times when I may disagree with him. Often, these are the discussions where I find myself learning the most.
Can you demystify the process of what it was like to raise VC funding? What were the highlights & low lights? Any advice or words of wisdom for future founders?
It’s never too early to start building connections with fellow entrepreneurs and with venture capitalists. Seeing as the “team” evaluation (which at the earliest stages is essentially just the founder(s)) is amongst the most important factors at the pre-seed/seed startup stages, ensuring that VCs can have a longitudinal and positive evaluation of you as a person prior to raising money from them can be incredibly beneficial. Fellow entrepreneurs can introduce you to their VCs which already gives you a leg-up in the fundraising process, as getting an introduction inherently indicates that you have a network of some form. The high from that first term sheet is hard to beat :).
What advice for managing and hiring a great team can you share?
Everyone’s heard of the golden rule: “Treat others the way you would want to be treated.” Well, that’s a terrible rule. When managing and hiring, the platinum rule is essential: “Treat others the way they want to be treated.” If you know what motivates your team members and focus on what’s important to them, they’ll want to help you be successful in kind.
We’ll be raising our Series A later this year! We’d love to speak with any interested parties who want to join us on this journey to revolutionize proteomics. Please reach out to — email@example.com
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