Soon after completing his PhD in Electrical Engineering at the University of Cambridge, Ruizhi Wang co-founded HexagonFab with his friend Christoph von Bieberstein. This inspiring conversation reveals how HexagonFab’s interdisciplinary team is driving innovation in biotechnology.
What inspired you to start HexagonFab?
At the very beginning of my PhD, I realized that there was a clear need to develop new methods to produce layered materials, such as graphene, and integrate them to biosensors. I made sure these methods were scalable and viable at industrial scale. After chatting with my friend and serial entrepreneur Christoph von Bieberstein, it became more and more clear to me that I could continue working on this technology in a startup environment. We combined his background in business and my technical expertise to develop a start-up. And that’s how HexagonFab was born. Over the years, we raised about £2 million, and built an interdisciplinary team to work on our new device.
What’s the strongest potential of this device?
We have the opportunity to radically change how novel medicines are developed. Frankly, a lot of the current drug discovery methods are based on outdated, complicated, expensive and slow technologies. We are bringing in a lot of the novel findings from the domain of nanotechnology, materials science and surface chemistry. We combine them together to produce an instrument that is going to change the speed of biomedical research.
Tells us more about your approach
Currently, biosensing relies on optical methods, based on microscopes, lenses and photodetectors. However, these are not easily scalable and require very big instruments with limited throughput. We use semiconducting based technologies, combined with nanomaterials, such as graphene, to detect the electrical properties of biomolecules. The semiconductor industry allows us to achieve a lot of functionalities in small devices, as anybody with a mobile phone or computer has experienced. We can bring this progress to the realm of biology and produce a small biosensing device with high throughput. I think this will really change the way people measure and try to understand biological interactions, because biochemists will have the opportunity to measure multiple drug candidates quickly, at the same time.
What aspects of your start-up do you enjoy the most?
Working with my team on the unique challenges of launching a new product. I like this interactive and open start-up environment. Everyone is so motivated and dedicated to launch this product. Interacting with my colleagues, customers, and partners allows me to learn from a variety of research and business areas.
What’s your typical day?
My days are really busy and packed with action. I usually reach our Cambridge lab at around 7:30am, I try to get in a bit earlier than the rest of the team. I go through my emails and really important things that I have to plan or think about. From 8:30am onwards my colleagues come in and I spend a lot of time in meetings, discussing new ideas and recruitment, and (unfortunately) administrative tasks. I try to take time for lunch with the entire team: I think it’s important to create strong bonds and a great start-up culture. Time goes very quickly. At around 6-6:30pm, the workplace becomes a bit quieter again, so I take about one hour for myself to wrap up the day.
Do you work in the lab?
No, unfortunately. I rarely find time to work in the lab, which I think it’s a shame. I know my amazing team is doing a great job. I make sure that the environment is right and that they can get everything they need to work at their full potential.
What lessons have you learned so far as a tech founder?
People who are considering starting their own company should remember that everything is harder and always takes longer than you had anticipated. The team makes a big difference. People say “Location, Location, Location.” We are very lucky to be in Cambridge, one of the most entrepreneurial places in the UK. However, I would argue that it’s also “Team, Team, Team”.