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The Founders Series – Chief Scientific Officer, Steve

Steve’s Thoughts in a Nutshell 😉 



🌅Noul, how did it begin? 

  • Founded 5 years ago with the dream of eradicating Malaria
  • Birth of miLab, revolutionizing 100 years-old microscopy method

🌠Noul’s Mission as Bio/Diagnostics Start-up

  • Striving to improve medical accessibility for everyone.
  • The goal is not to take portions of the pie, but to expand the market. 

🌍 Thoughts on the future of Diagnostics?

  • Centralized healthcare system is no longer the ideal. 
  • Acceleration of healthcare decentralization due to digital transformation. 

🌠Start-Up, its ideal and reality

  • Start-Up mindset is to pave a new road… humility is essential. 
  • Holistic change – culture, people, and business model.



🌅Noul, how did it begin? 

Q. What’s the “creation story” of Noul and miLab?


“One day, it hit me – this was going to be the venture worth committing the rest of my life to”


After receiving Ph.D. in Bioengineering in Chicago, I served as an assistant professor and volunteer in Malawi, Africa for a year. During my time there, Malaria was a palpable issue that caught my attention. When I came back to Korea, I got together with my friend David Lim, who has been a Venture Capitalist in the diagnostics industry for 20 years. Our venture began. 

Steve in Malawi


We sat down and started evaluating the pain points of the current microscopy method, which has been unchanged for the last 100 years, and other roadblocks to eradicating Malaria. We came to two main reasons: 

First, timely and accurate diagnosis is difficult in Malaria endemic areas. 

Timely diagnosis is possible when laboratory infrastructure and trained technicians are easily accessible. Most malaria-endemic areas, however, are located in Africa, South East Asia, and Latin America where medical infrastructure and resources are scarce. This makes timely diagnosis difficult.

Second, the lack of a surveillance system. 

Effective eradication strategy requires global, timely, and accurate surveillance data – currently, this system is lacking. There have been various efforts to build a surveillance system with IT technologies, but none has been integrative enough to involve diagnostics and logistics. An entirely new system is needed to solve this problem.

We thought, what if we make a portable device that automates all processes involved in detecting malaria through the microscope? What if this could be applied to 87 countries’ 229 million people are diagnosed every year? (WHO Malaria Report 2020) One day it hit me – this was going to be the venture worth committing the rest of my life to.


🌠Noul’s Mission as Bio/Diagnostics Start-up 

Q. Tell us more about the journey of developing miLab.

miLab was a complex platform because we had to integrate bio-engineering, hardware, optics, software, machine-learning, and manufacturing to best replicate the gold-standard diagnostic method in a clinical laboratory. miLab truly is a multi-disciplinary and integrative product. Threading this complexity was one of my life’s biggest challenges but also what made it so exhilarating to be a part of. 


“miLab truly is a multi-disciplinary and integrative product. 

Noul’s R&D Team testing miLab


Q. What are some memorable milestones in the last 5 years?

The first one that comes to my mind is when we received the People’s Choice Award at the Grand Challenge Annual Meeting hosted by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. We made a parody poster of a Nespresso advertisement to portray how miLab integrates all of the parts and processes of blood smear into one device. 

miLab poster at Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Grand Challenge


Q. What product is on deck after miLab Malaria?

There are two main products in the pipeline after miLab Malaria: miLab Blood Cell Morphology and miLab Cancer. 

miLab BCM (Blood Cell Morphology) is a platform that sorts white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets by its morphology to allow early and easy screening of infection, anemia, and blood cancer. 

miLab BCM (in development)

More long-term plan involves research and development in cancer products. The current technology limits cancer diagnosis to central and large hospitals. What we want to provide is a decentralized and accessible solution to resource-scarce areas such as rural areas or developing countries. The Korean government awarded Noul with USD $3.8 million grant for researching cancer diagnosis with FNA(Fine Needle Aspiration) method.  We are collaborating with Massachusetts General Hospital, the American Research Institute, and Seoul Asan Hospital, one of the top hospitals in Korea for the research. 


🌠Start-Up, its ideal and reality

Q. What are your thoughts on the “start-up mindset”?


“A new venture is born from the simple question ‘do we have to follow the status quo?’ Merely improving the current solution or taking from the pre-existing pie is not enough – We have to expand the market.”


A new venture always begins from the question, “do we have to follow the status quo?” Merely improving the current solution or taking the pre-existing pie is not enough. At least it is not enough for Noul. My view of the role of a start-up is one that builds the future. 

I believe the motivation of a start-up should be completely different from the traditional businesses. If the “why” and my internal passion is not aligned, it is difficult to maintain the start-up mindset. Also, to walk a path that no one has gone before, having a humble and resilient mindset is crucial. 


🌍 Thoughts on the future of Diagnostics? 

Q. COVID-19 has changed the way we view healthcare. What is your outlook on the post-Covid diagnostic industry?

COVID-19 surfaced the deep-rooted problems of the current centralized healthcare industry. As the hospitals get more centralized, patients have to face higher costs and longer wait times, which leads to the disparity in medical accessibility by socio-economic status. This no longer is ideal. 


“As the hospitals get more centralized, patients have to face higher costs and longer wait times, which leads to the disparity in medical accessibility by socio-economic status.”


Our ultimate interest is in improving medical accessibility. If you have low income or live in a rural area, there are not a lot of options to get timely, accurate, and affordable diagnosis. As technology advances, I believe medical decentralization is an ensured future. miLab was designed and optimized for this future – it requires a completely different imagination and creativity from the current state. Imagining products that lower the barrier and bringing systematic change to the current diagnostic industry is what gets us up in the morning. 


Project on testing miLab in Malawi


Q. Last words you want to leave your audience with?

Our passion goes beyond simply applying technology to platforms and systems. Though we are still a relatively small start-up, the considerations for social impact and sustainability will be at the crux of all our designs. Sustainable Innovation is what lies ahead for us here at Noul! 


English version edit: ChanMi Kim (Product Manager)

Original source in Korean