Google. Airbnb. Netflix. Facebook. Uber. It’s hard to imagine a time before any of these companies existed - a time before “Netflix and chill” or riding with strangers was a thing. Maybe it’s the clam chowder sourdough bowls or the rolling fog so prominent that locals have dubbed it “Karl the Fog” (and whose Twitter account has amassed over 200K followers). Whatever the reason, the Bay Area has become home to thousands of entrepreneurs, including Charvi Shetty.
Charvi is the badass, go-getting science wiz and CEO of KNOX, a tech company that brings medical technologies from the hospital to your home. If anyone speaks science, Charvi does. Her whole being is determined to break barriers and solve problems within the medical field. By the looks of it, she has succeeded, in building a small start-up where finding solutions to medical needs consume her day. She's a lady of many questions… and solutions, continuously looking for possibilities and learning how to innovate within her means.
Born into a family where the woman is valued and respected, she humbly describes, "I think I pick up the assertive personality from my mom. My mom is a really, really strong female. My dad is Indian, my mom is Filipino. In Indian culture, the woman serves the male. But in my family, my mom is the one who makes all the decisions. So I think being surrounded by and raised by her, really helped me be a strong, independent kind of person.” There's no denying that Charvi is a self-starter and her non-traditional upbringing gifted her arms for the toughest of battles in medical research.
Charvi was born and raised in India, the Philippines, Uganda, and the United States, continually exposed to foreign cultures and experiences that have encouraged her to thrive in an industry that's troublesome to tap into. And as for her upbringing, she's thankful because it has shaped her to be open, curious, ambitious, and live outside her comfort zone.
She goes on to describe, "My mom wanted to have me and my brother be open-minded and the only way she felt that we could accomplish that was by exposing us. She wanted us to be fully immersed in the culture by living there.”
The inception of KNOX came from her college roommate at UC Berkeley. “I was wondering why [my college roommate] never really went outside and explored. I asked her and delved into it a bit more and she told me it’s because when she was a kid, her parents didn’t really let her go outside that much because she had asthma and was triggered a lot by allergies. Rather than remembering memories like going to Disneyland, her childhood memories were filled with going to the ER.”
Her vision suddenly became clear. After asking several friends who were impacted by asthma during their childhood, Charvi realized that there’s a big need for medical technology to be integrated into people’s daily life. This idea inspired the creation of KNOX Medical Diagnostics.
With help from doctors, nurses and respiratory therapists from UCSF Medical Center along with several brainstorm sessions, the idea of Knox’s first product, Aeris, was born. Aeris is a tool modeled after spirometry technology, a commonly used test in hospitals to measure lung function.
“So what the technology is trying to do, it’s trying to see how obstructed your lungs are because obstruction in your lungs can happen way before you have symptoms like, coughing or wheezing and by monitoring over time you can see a steady decline in your health so then you can capture the problem early on, act upon it, and then avoid an asthma attack or some kind of adverse event. So it’s similar to a blood glucose monitor for diabetics, so by monitoring your levels, your lung capacity over time, you can catch the problem early on and then cut it off by taking some sort of action.”
A small grin appears on her face as she recalls KNOX’s humble beginnings in 2015. As funds began to run low, the need to sustain grew.
“We came to a point when we burned through the money that Berkeley gave us, we were running out of money that UCSF was giving us and we only had 1 or 2 months left. There came a point when we basically felt like giving up, we weren’t sure if the company would’ve shut down.”
“And then, we started freaking out. A couple of days later, we got a notice from IndieBio, after not hearing anything from them for like two months. We were the first ones they wanted to bring to that program.”
IndieBio, known as “the world’s largest seed biotech accelerator,” couldn’t have come at a more perfect time, their program not only offering the money needed to fund KNOX, but also providing the resources to transform the idea of Aeris into an actual product. As a test, they made the Aeris prototype accessible to families directly affected by asthma.
"Seeing a lot of these families over time, [you build] a relationship with them. That’s what helped all the in our company - drive us - to know that this is what we’re actually building, this is how it’s impacting these people’s lives, this is something that’s worth waking up early in the morning and staying up late at night to do."
Charvi is grateful for the people who have supported her along the way and reveals she wouldn't have continued without them.
"Just having someone who can relate with you, being surrounded by those people, that’s something that’s crucial. And for me, also, what was very crucial was the support from my family and friends. Continuously encouraging me to actually build and carve this path out." There's nothing like community and having people believe in you, especially in industries that are competitive and challenging to move forward in.”
Aeris aims to tackle asthma, but Charvi has a bigger goal for KNOX. At a time when medical costs continue to skyrocket and accessible healthcare seems like a never-ending tug-of-war in the hands of those with more interest in profit than the people, a company whose core focus is to create medical technology that can be accessible to all is like finding rays of light on a foggy San Francisco day - a serendipitous surprise.