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Crossing Borders with Nathan Lustig


Hello and welcome to Crossing Borders with Nathan Lustig, where I interview entrepreneurs doing startups across borders and the investors who support them, with a focus on companies that have some relationship to Latin America.

Apr 22, 2019

Antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest global threats that most people don’t know much about. It has the potential to take us back to the days when a small cut could kill you. Maricel Saenz is tackling this problem head on with NextBiotics, a company creating new tools to kill antibiotic resistant bacteria.

If that wasn’t enough, she’s taking on antiquated stereotypes of Latin American and female founders. Have you ever heard of a male entrepreneur getting asked if he is dating his female co-founder? Maricel Saenz was advised that she should disclose that she had no personal relationship with her male co-founder near the beginning of her pitch. Maricel has bigger battles to win: specifically, the battle against drug resistant bacteria. Originally from Costa Rica, Maricel has worked in Canada, the US, Asia and South Africa to try to solve big global problems; listen in to learn how she decided to cofound NextBiotics, her most recent endeavor.

I sat down with Maricel Saenz in this episode of Crossing Borders to talk about her experience in entrepreneurship, her decision to solve hard problems, raising finance for a biotech startup in Silicon Valley, and her decision to study at Singularity University. Maricel also offers advice to female and Latin American would-be founders to help them get their first endeavor off the ground.

It’s easier to start a hard startup than a simple startup.

Maricel has internalized this advice from Sam Altman. Her company seeks to solve a global problem that will potentially affect over tens, if not hundreds, of millions of people by 2050. Her first foray into solving massive international challenges involved coming up with an idea that would impact one billion people for her application to Singularity University. She was accepted for Costa Rica’s single spot in the program.

Maricel believes truly challenging problems are the most worthwhile to solve. Find out how she leveraged a background in business to create new solutions for medicine in this podcast.

Don’t fear the cold email.

And if someone says no to a coffee, reach out to someone else. Most people react positively to a request for a fifteen minute call especially if it is about a specific question that they can answer. Maricel offers this advice to founders worldwide who don’t know where to start: reach out to someone you look up to, or someone in your industry. She is convinced most people underestimate themselves and do not reach for big, risky goals. With so much information available, she explains that there is no excuse for educating yourself about problems you want to solve.

Maricel knows the value of consciously creating a network while building a business. Check out this episode of Crossing Borders to hear more of Maricel’s advice for entrepreneurs looking to build their network, especially in a foreign city.

Be so good they can’t ignore you.

Maricel know the challenges of raising capital in Silicon Valley as a Latina entrepreneur. She also recognizes that being Latin American might be even more of a mark against her than being a woman. If just 2% of funding goes to female founders, even less goes to female founders of color. Her solution: talk about how incredible the product is, and leave the who out of it.

While understanding about Latin America and female entrepreneurship has improved in Silicon Valley, equality is still not the norm. Hear Maricel discuss her experience as a Costa Rican female entrepreneur in biotech in Silicon Valley and how she breaks through the stereotypes in this episode.

Maricel Saenz is breaking down barriers for female Latin American entrepreneurs who are solving major global problems. Check out this episode of Crossing Borders for her actionable advice for entrepreneurs looking to get started in any new market.

Show Notes:

  • [1:40] - Nathan introduces Maricel
  • [2:01] - What is NextBiotics?
  • [4:27] - Regulation of antibiotics worldwide
  • [5:02] - Why this problem?
  • [7:00] - Maricel’s childhood in Costa Rica
  • [8:40] - Did you always want to be an entrepreneur?
  • [9:07] - What was the entrepreneurial spark?
  • [11:05] - Previous social enterprises?
  • [11:35] - Experience at Singularity University
  • [14:55] - Advice for would-be founders
  • [17:40] - How to solve a problem for 1 billion people
  • [20:18] - Choosing a co-founder
  • [22:22] - Communicating with a co-founder
  • [25:07] - Inflection point of choosing full time?
  • [26:50] - Raising money for biotech
  • [30:40] - Hurdles for women in tech
  • [34:43] - Advice for women getting into tech
  • [39:07] - What’s next for the business?
  • [40:18] - Advantages of testing in LatAm
  • [43:47] - Maricel’s advice to her younger self

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