When Surbhi Sarna was just 13 years old she had a medical emergency that changed the course of her life and future career.
It was while she was doing her homework as a middle schooler that Sarna felt an intense pain in her left side that led her to pass out. She was later diagnosed with a complex ovarian cyst and doctors worried that it might be cancerous.
Fortunately for Sarna, she did not have cancer but the experience stayed with her. The now-32 year old entrepreneur became determined to create a way to detect ovarian cancer quickly and in its early stages.
“Ovarian cancer is the most lethal of the gynaecologic cancers and is called the ‘silent killer,” Sarna told Verve magazine last year. “When diagnosed in Stage I, there is an 89 percent chance of five-year survival — emphasising the importance of new methods for earlier detection.”
That’s why Sarna grew up to found nVision Medical as a 20-something in 2012. The company is developing two devices that can be used by a gynecologist to diagnosis ovarian health issues.
“The first device will allow the gynecologist to diagnose the leading cause of infertility and second will enable the collection of cells through the reproductive track,” wrote Sarna on her LinkedIn page.
To date, nVision has raised $17 million in venture capital funding and the development of the ovarian cancer detection device has been approved for development by the Food and Drug Administration.
Now nVision is about to take its next step as a company. As Forbes reports, the San Bruno, Calif.-based company has recently been sold to medical giant Boston Scientific for $150 million. The deal also states that another $125 million would be paid if certain criteria regarding the development of the devices are met. Sarna plans to remain with nVision after the sale.
“I did not start this company because I wanted to be an entrepreneur and I was looking for some concept,” Sarna told Forbes after the sale. “I did not start this company because I wanted to be a CEO or I wanted to be in charge. Those were all necessary things that I needed to do to get this product to where it needed to go. Now, this is the best place for me to be in order to keep seeing that happen.”
Sarna was born in San Jose to Indian immigrant parents and later studied mechanical engineering at the University of California, Berkeley. Her mother had a PhD in Hindu literature and her father was an engineer who worked at several startups himself. She began her company soon after her college graduation, supporting herself by working at other tech companies during the day.
Sarna has said that her experiences getting diagnosed as a teen along with her efforts to get venture capital funding taught her a lot about how women’s health and disorders of the reproductive system are regarded in the tech world.
“I’ve been in several boardrooms with all male VCs who are like, ‘Oh. This is a women’s issue,” she told Forbes. She went on to explain that it originally took a year and a half to raise $250,000 and that her biggest supporter was Darshana Zaveri, a fellow woman in tech who would later join the nVision team.
Experts say that nVision’s biggest future challenge will now be to convince women who need treatment and their physicians to try the device. But Sarna noted that many women are currently exhausted by the time and current tests they have to take to get a proper diagnosis.
Executives at Boston Scientific told Forbes they believe Sarna is the perfect person to sell the device to the public. “She’s just so committed to this space and finding a solution for these women,” said David Pierce, one of the company’s executive vice presidents.