Po Jui “Ray” Chiu, co-founder of BioInspira, named in Forbes 30 under 30
In July 2014, a series of natural gas explosions ripped apart Kaohsiung, a Taiwanese city where Po Jui “Ray” Chiu, MEng ’14 (BIOE) had lived with relatives just a year before, while he was completing his compulsory military service.
At the time, witnesses reported seeing fireballs soaring into the sky and flames reaching 15 stories high. Chiu’s relatives were living just two blocks away from one of the explosion sites.
Chiu watched the disaster unfold from California, where he was working on his master’s degree in bioengineering and biomedical engineering at UC Berkeley as part of the Fung Institute’s one-year master’s in engineering program.
“I was really worried about my relatives,” said Chiu. “There was a power and communications blackout, we couldn’t get a hold of our relatives to see if they were all right.”
He eventually learned that his family was safe, but this event underscored the value of technology that could detect chemicals, like natural gas, in the air. At Berkeley, he and his classmates had already developed a biosensor platform that could provide an inexpensive, non-invasive test for determining blood glucose levels, basically a painless alternative to the fingerstick method. Could he expand this research to build sensors that could detect and analyze air chemicals in real time?
With the encouragement of bioengineering professor Seung-Wuk Lee, Chiu and his team had submitted their glucose sensor to Cal’s Big Idea Contest, which provides funding and support to interdisciplinary teams of students with inventive proposals. They won first place in the category of “Innovation Technologies for Society.”
With funds from the contest, they patented their idea and incorporated a company, BioInspira Inc. The biosensors became the company’s founding technology. Today, BioInspira is developing accurate, inexpensive and power-efficient tools for detecting chemicals in the air — like those that were prevalent in the hours leading up to the explosion in in Kaohsiung. The sensors could also be applied to a variety of industries including safety, healthcare, transportation and food markets.
Established in 2014, the company is currently in the process of raising money to establish a scalable manufacturing line and expand its engineering team. Its sensors have not been publicly released yet.
Looking back, Chiu credits the support from the Big Ideas Contest, as well as the Master of Engineering’s capstone requirement, for his team’s success.
“The Capstone project was really the initiation of what I’m doing right now. Our company is an extension of our Capstone project,” said Chiu. “The program’s flexibility lets you decide what you want to do and how deep you want to go. You can even choose to jump into a really big project, it’s up to you.”
He notes that BioInspira wouldn’t be where it is today without the support of UC Berkeley. “Through a series of conversations, facilitated by staff at the university, as well as feedback from professors, we were able to adjust our design to what it is today,” said Chiu.
In January 2019, Ray was named in the Forbes 30 Under 30 Energy category. Congratulations, Ray!