You’re not feeling well so you visit the doctor. Your blood is sampled, and your doctor tells you that you may have to wait anywhere from 24 hours to a full week for the arrival of your blood test results. Because the treatment of your condition depends on the diagnosis, there is not much to do but wait. Instead of leaving the doctor with a treatment plan, you leave with a reminder to check back in once your lab results are ready. A recent Penn graduate, Brianna Wronko, provides a viable solution to this problem.
Brianna is the founder and CEO of Group K Diagnostics, a startup that produces a cheap, easy to use chip called the MultiDiagnostic, which accurately diagnoses different liver diseases. “You just prick your finger, touch the MultiDiagnostic, wait at most 20 minutes, upload a picture of the chip to our corresponding iPhone app, and receive your diagnosis.”
This point of care solution allows for self-diagnosis for a total of $12. In addition, it’s one of its first biotech solutions to bring disease related self-diagnosis to the mobile platform. Intrigued by her product, we sat down with Brianna to learn more about her story.
Brianna came up with the idea for the MultiDiagnostic in her senior design course when she realized how inefficient and expensive it was for hospitals to send blood out to obtain test results.
“It’s a really frustrating and time consuming process for the patient as well. In some cases, the patient won’t even come back to check their test results.” She designed the chip using microfluidics, a technology that allows for the precise manipulation and control of fluids on a very small scale. “An analyte in your blood reacts with specifically printed substances and solutions on the MultiDiagnostic and produces a color change.”
Although the idea was great, it’s scope and development was constrained to the classroom. Brianna decided that she would consider pursuing the idea as a post graduation opportunity if she won the President’s Innovation Prize. The prize wasn’t awarded to Brianna, but her aspirations were still realized when she made it to the final round of DreamIt Ventures, a prominent startup accelerator which focuses on health related innovation.
“I applied after some prodding from others. One day, I got a phone call letting me know that we had made it to the final round.”
All of a sudden, Brianna’s vision became a reality outside of the classroom. After graduating from Penn this May, she began working for her startup full time. This next stage in her life was accompanied by a major schedule change. “I wake up around 7-8 in the morning, work till around 5-6 in the evening, come back and settle down, eat dinner, tidy up the apartment a little bit, and then work again for 3-4 hours.”
Brianna’s dedication to her product is demonstrated by her incredible work ethic. However, with such a hectic schedule, there didn’t seem like there was much time to relax. Eventually, Brianna realized that working constantly just wasn’t sustainable.
“I used to think that I could work 24 hours a day. It just becomes very hard, especially when you are leading the development of a product. I remember one time when I was really sick, we needed to find lab space to continue the development of our product. I just had to keep working, because when you're running a startup, you can’t just stop working when you’re sick. Now, I realize that I can’t take care of my company if I’m not taking care of myself. I try to find time each day to just do something non-work related, whether it's just talking to someone, reading a book, or just relaxing.”
In addition to the general challenges that are associated with leading a company, Brianna also experienced the difficulties of being a woman in tech and entrepreneurship. “It’s more difficult to be taken seriously. Especially as a 21 year old female.” Brianna mentioned that there are also smaller microaggressions that people don’t really notice. She pointed out that the men’s bathroom is generally closer to the lab and better kept than the women’s bathroom due to the lack of females doing lab work. Many often romanticize the startup life, but Brianna made sure to emphasize the reality of the situation.
“You know, I remember one time I saw a graph which described what it was like to lead a startup over time. Initially, the happiness, and progress were steadily increasing. Then both of them dropped and started drastically fluctuating. I thought, ‘That won’t happen to me! Everything will be sort of constant!’ Well I was wrong. There may be many highs while running a startup but there are also many lows.”
Brianna attributed being homeschooled as a factor that has enabled her to successfully overcome the challenges she’s faced as the leader of Group K Diagnostics. She believes that the autonomy and freedom she was exposed to when she was homeschooled greatly prepared for her roles as a college student and the leader of a startup. Furthermore, Brianna emphasized the difference between what Penn teaches you and what non-school related work teaches you. “Penn taught me how to think, but I learned most of the skills relevant to the work I’m doing now from industry and research experiences.”
As busy as she is, Brianna stressed that, “Penn students should enjoy and appreciate their time here. I really miss Penn.” Regarding want-to-be entrepreneurs and innovators, Brianna offered the following advice:
“Don’t let someone tell you that you can’t do something. I had people and professors tell me that I shouldn't pursue my idea outside of the classroom because it was not going to be successful. Now it is. I think you just have to keep pushing forward.”