Julia Rasooly, Founder and CEO of PuraCath Medical, always wanted to use her talent to help people: the question was how. The Silicon Valley-based entrepreneur spent two years studying to become a doctor at Stanford University, before she shifted to bioengineering with a focus on medical devices.
While at Stanford she participated in a medical tech incubator, where her team developed a device that disinfects catheter connections with UV light. In 2010, they won the Silicon Valley Boomer Venture Summit business plan competition, and Rasooly put her PhD on hold to focus on the venture full time.
“I reasoned that if I can come up with medical technology that helps people do their jobs better and more safely, and save lives and money—that has much more impact than one-on-one patient care” she says.
Since then PuraCath has created a platform of products that disinfect plastics and catheters in ICUs and hospitals, on track for FDA approval this year.
Now the 34–year-old has taken up a new challenge: investing in startups in the longevity space. “Investing in bringing technologies to the market can impact an even greater number of lives.”
Rasooly’s investments focus on internet technologies that have integration with Amazon and Alexa, medical devices, and cutting-edge pharmaceuticals—especially those addressing “the big killers” in the aging population, like heart disease and cancer.
Having built a company from scratch, Rasooly knows the hurdles of bringing a product from lab to market, and what to look for in entrepreneurs, chiefly passion and commitment. “I am a better investor because I have been in the trenches,” she says.
We asked her about some of the lessons she has learned and what she looks for as an investor.
In the aging space, one of the biggest challenges is how a product speaks to a need and if the customer will actually buy it. “A lot of time entrepreneurs come up with a drug or device the customer doesn’t actually need,” she says.
What’s more, Silicon Valley folks often over engineer a product. When developing its UV light device, the Firefly™, PuraCath had to switch course when it realized the product was too complex for customers.
“We learned how expensive and time-consuming it is to pivot,“ she says. So while developing new devices for hospital use, Rasooly’s team interviewed 400 nurses around the country. “We spent a year and a half doing research and surveys with the end user to make sure the product was something they would love and use,” she says.
Regulatory hurdles like getting FDA approval can be challenging for any new venture. Rasooly notes that “there are regulatory risks with a tech company in the longevity market.”
Reimbursement codes from Medicare might need to be developed to assure a product will be commercially viable, for example. Rasooly says she sometimes invests in a venture before regulatory issues are fully resolved, but she anticipates and accommodates for the risks involved.
“A lot of technology may fail to get adequate funding because the size of the market isn’t big enough, even though boomers are aging.” she says.
PuraCath started with its home dialysis device, but now focuses on a vastly larger population of immune compromised patients with its products for hospitals and ICUs.
“One of the ways I assess a technology in a specific niche is whether it is applicable to a bigger population.”