On his journey to launching a medtech startup

Varun Govil graduated from the MTM in 2021, and is currently the CEO of Epinoma, a start-up focused on improving the treatment paradigm for colon cancer. We asked him about his experience in the MTM program and how he’s applying what she learned as a student in his current role. Here’s what he had to say.

What inspired you to pursue a Master of Translational Medicine degree?

I studied bioengineering at UCSD with the original goal of entering a career in synthetic biology research. Our lab discovered markers for early detection of liver cancer, and the novel blood test we created won 2nd place at iGEM, an international competition for students interested in the field of synthetic biology. I knew I wanted to take our project to the next step and transition into medtech. I wanted to take our discovery and move it into the hands of patients where it could make an impact.

The MTM program was the perfect opportunity to gain the skills in order to commercialize novel healthcare technology.

What are you currently working on? How has what you learned in the MTM contributed to your work?

I’m currently the CEO of Epinoma, a company which started off as an undergrad thesis. Our product had an interesting technology and scope, but we needed to figure out how to make an early stage diagnostic tool have a clinical impact at the end of the day. The MTM program was key in teaching a systematic approach for go-to-market strategy for medtech projects. Learning about intellectual property (IP) space, regulatory approval, reimbursement strategy, and multiple stakeholders’ perspectives was crucial in launching our company into its next phase. Not only was I applying the scientific method for our core technology, but I was applying it to various parts of the business as well. As a result, we were able to create a model for monetization, follow an internal rubric for commercialization, and flesh out a promising journey for the company.

Epinoma was accepted into Y-combinator 2021 summer batch and received advisement from the renowned Dr. George Church.

What was your capstone project and how did it prepare you for your current role?

My capstone project was a collaboration with researchers in Australia on a pediatric device called Earbuddy for ear infection detection. Being able to apply the lessons learned through the curriculum in a firsthand application provided a diversity of experience and furthered my confidence in entrepreneurship.

Varun with his two Epinoma co-founders.

How has the MTM degree prepared you for leadership?

The MTM program provided me with a few powerful tools to be an effective leader.

Firstly, clear communication and being able to inspire and empower your team is critical in executing tasks and working towards company goals.

Secondly, being able to empathize — with investors, users, and coworkers — is a powerful technique for gaining trust.

Finally, having situational awareness allows you to apply different styles of leadership for different situations, making you a well-rounded leader.

This has applied to me in my journey of pivoting what was an early diagnostic tool to a post-diagnosis and monitoring one. Without the use of these leadership skills, this transition would not be possible.

Varun and most of his cohort, the MTM Class of 2021, at commencement.

What advice do you have for someone considering the MTM program?

As you move into the next phase of your career, accumulating a wealth of experiences with diverse perspectives is so important. MTM gives you this opportunity. It offers you a crash course on holistic thinking with a variety of perspectives to expand and improve your thought processes. I was able to get so much out of the program and everyone has the opportunity to as well.

Connect with Varun on LinkedIn.

We’re a 1-year professional master’s program at UC Berkeley and UCSF that trains future leaders in healthcare innovation.