A Discussion with Shane Kilpatrick, the CEO of Membio
Shane is a graduate of MBET at Conrad School of Business and Master of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Program at the University of Waterloo. His company Membio is creating a safe, reliable, and unrestricted blood supply for healthcare systems to better serve patients across the globe. This interview is brought to you by our outreach lead Molly Lu.
BioTEC: Where did the motivation come from to start Membio?
Shane: A few years ago when I was still in my Master’s, the idea of mimicking the human circulation system to solve the problem of nutrient logistics came to my mind. Our body solves the issue of transferring insoluble nutrients in a very elegant way. For example, insoluble oxygen is delivered using hemoglobin. So what we are trying to do is create a technology that replicates this bodily function. In doing so, we can effectively solve a massive global health problem and change the world for the better through business.
BioTEC: In your point of view, what is the challenge we are facing with blood supply?
Shane: In different parts of the world the situation is different; 15% of the world’s population receives 50% of the world's blood supply. This means that developing countries have significantly less blood available for trauma, surgeries, childbirth, and cancer treatment. In contrast, people in developed countries have the impression that blood supply is bottomless. This simply isn’t true. And if it weren’t for the tireless work of those involved in transfusion medicine we would have a very different outlook. Generally speaking, any system that relies solely on donation is not sustainable, because donor turnout can be affected by so many things.
BioTEC: How do you envision your products or a possible extension to be utilized in the market?
Shane: We have an ambitious directive: to provide the world with a safe, sustainable, unrestricted blood supply. Along the way we will be developing other products and applications, but, everything we do, is in support of our mission.
BioTEC: What is one challenge you have encountered during this journey?
Shane: The biggest challenge is scaling manufacturing. We are using brand new technology to achieve something that has never been done successfully before. There isn’t a roadmap for what we are doing which makes it hard to predict what will go wrong and how we will overcome it.
BioTEC: What would you say is the competitive advantage of Membio?
Shane: Membio’s manufacturing technology is what gives us an advantage. As you probably know, we are not the first people trying to grow blood outside of the body, there are a number of past and present researchers and companies focused on this. However, what has prevented commercialization is the ability to cost-effectively produce on a meaningful scale. This is where our DualFusion technology we have been developing really gives us a unique ability to solve this problem.
BioTEC: What are some of the possible technologies out there to help solve the problem?
Shane: There are a number of other technologies and approaches looking to address the blood supply and security problem. One of the most well known is artificial blood, which seeks to use things like hemoglobin or polymers to replicate the primary function of blood, transporting oxygen. Various versions of this technology have been in development in the past 30 years, and are still being explored extensively. They hold a lot of promise for certain situations, specifically, where shelf-life and storage conditions are constrained.
However, I don’t necessarily think these are competitive with Membio. The concept of condensing the complexity of a red blood cell to a single protein or molecule has its limitations. For example, in contrast to a whole red blood cell, artificial products have had issues with in-vivo survival and proper oxygen binding and release. This has resulted in a number of failed clinical trials for artificial products over the years. This also makes these products less suited for chronic transfusion or applications where the full functionality of the RBC is required.
BioTEC: As CEO, what does your everyday job look like, and what do you enjoy most out of your position?
Shane: I see my role primarily as helping to steer the ship in the right direction and make connections outside and within our organization to facilitate problem-solving. I learned that no single person can be an expert in everything we do; there are just too many considerations from hardware manufacturing to injectable bio-products.
What I enjoy most is probably the alignment between my vision and my job. What motivates me is adding value to the world. An effective way to do that is by solving big, important problems, exactly like the one we are tackling at Membio. It has been incredibly rewarding to work with and have support from a variety of brilliant people. These people have dedicated their time and resources to our mission, whether they are involved as employees, advisors, or investors.
Tips and Resource from Shane
One tip for entrepreneurs starting their business: Focus on communication!
You will meet a wide variety of people while building and growing a business. It is more likely than not, that these people will not have the domain and problem space expertise you do. These people will undoubtedly be critical for your success whether it be an investor, co-founder, or even a random person who knows someone. You need to be able to communicate the value of what you're building to anyone. In other words, technology doesn’t equal business. You can have the best technology ever, but if you don’t know how to effectively communicate it, no one will be able to see the value in it.
One tip for students looking for coop: Research the company!
A lot of the times I see students just blast their resume out, don’t do it. Trust me, employers know when it is a template email, cover letter, or resume. If you really want the experience of working somewhere it is in your best interest to invest the time to effectively “sell” why you are a good fit. Of course, you want your skill sets to set you apart from others, but take in the perspective of the company you are applying for by answering:
What are the problems this company is trying or likely trying to solve?
How does my skill set make me a suitable person to solve these problems and add value to the company?
What type and complexity of the project would be suitable for my term and knowledge level?
You should make it clear that you have researched the company and highlight why you are uniquely capable of adding value to their progress.