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What’s Next with Ping Yeh, CEO of StemoniX

November 5, 2019  |  BY Steven Strom

Head Shot of Ping Yeh

When Ping Yeh was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, his body simply did not respond to the treatment; it was almost as if the radiation did not exist.

In order to treat his cancer, Yeh underwent eight rounds of standard chemotherapy, followed by an aggressive form of chemotherapy that required around-the-clock monitoring, and radiation. Doctors were unsure how he would respond. In short, he was a bit of a human guinea pig — a test subject for the treatment.

Yeh was so weakened he couldn’t lift his arms to feed himself. But over time his body responded to the treatment, and as he recovered, he decided he would dedicate the next phase of his professional career to battling diseases like Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

So, he started StemoniX, a company that is dedicated to changing the testing process in medicine. It uses an innovative process to turn skin cells into stem cells, which can then be converted into other types of cells. These stem cells are the building blocks of a process where the company can literally grow “micro-organs” that perfectly mimic those found in the human body. It’s a revolutionary technology that may change the way medical testing is done.

We spoke with Yeh about how he grew StemoniX, and how moving into a new manufacturing space offered a reflection of his company’s organizational philosophy.

Starting with a Scrappy Attitude

StemoniX was created in 2014 and has grown steadily, building on Yeh’s passion, the team’s expertise and growing client demand.

But he says that just because the company is growing doesn’t mean that it’s resting on its laurels. “You have to be scrappy,” Yeh says. The company recently secured another round of financing in the multimillion-dollar range — a far cry from its original minimum investment of $50,000.

Finding the Right Solution

As StemoniX began to grow, it searched for office and lab space that would meet its needs. As a biology manufacturing company, StemoniX required lab space (including what’s known as a “clean room”) as well as office space. Cresa worked with StemoniX to find a space. We knew that if we couldn’t find existing lab space that fit its needs requirements, StemoniX would have to build its own lab, at a cost of at least a million dollars.

However, after a bit of searching we helped StemoniX find a facility in Maple Grove that had pre-existing lab space that fit its needs.

It’s in this building that the company’s scrappiness really began to show. When Yeh received an estimate of $28,000 to paint the office, he decided to throw a painting party and paint it as a team. The facilities manager led the effort, and Yeh says it was a bonding experience. “I think it was good team-building for all of us,” he says.

But it wasn’t just the employees who appreciated the experience; his investors did too. “Every little bit counts, and it’s a sign that we’ll roll up our sleeves,” he says. “We’ll get it done.”

Creating a Better Future

StemoniX appears to have a bright future. Among its many projects, the company is working to battle Rett syndrome, a neurological disease with no cure, by creating miniature brains from stem cells. Following work on neurological diseases, StemoniX plans to focus on cardiac and pancreatic diseases.

Additionally, StemoniX has signed an agreement to collaborate with the National Institutes of Health as part of the HEAL Initiative, which aims to end addiction. The company will do drug screens to see if there are medicinal options to lessen the effects of opioids and withdrawal symptoms.

But despite the company’s successes, Yeh emphasizes that building a business like StemoniX has taken a lot of hard work — and that there’s no straight line to success. “There are a lot of paradoxes,” he says. “You need a team. They have to be very precise and exact. But then you’re pulling them into a situation where there’s a lot of failure.”

However, he says, it’s especially important to understand that failure is part of the process. It’s that scrappiness that has helped him build a business from the ground up, and he understands that it’s just part of the process. “You’re always testing,” he says, “and trying to figure things out.”

To hear more about Ping Yeh and StemoniX, watch Yeh’s moving TED Talk.