Exit Strategy: Ping Yeh
Photo: Caitlin Abrams

Exit Strategy: Ping Yeh

Biotech entrepreneur Ping Yeh thought he'd stay with the company he started forever. Then he realized his expertise was more valuable helping scale the next groundbreaking medical company.

Ping Yeh’s path to entrepreneurship was literally life or death. Diagnosed with an aggressive cancer in his 30s, he endured a chemotherapy cocktail so intense that doctors worried it could destroy his heart. The experience inspired Yeh—who had a background in nanotechnology and software development for big companies like Seagate—to build StemoniX. The Maple Grove-based biotech company, which is transforming drug discovery by testing on lab-grown human brains made from special stem cells rather than animals, won the MN Cup grand prize in 2016 and a host of other honors for its groundbreaking work. In March 2021, StemoniX merged with Cancer Genetics Inc., a New Jersey-based drug discovery company, and the two formed Vyant Bio. Yeh became chief innovation officer for the company, with offices around the world, but less than a year later, he decided to leave. Here’s why.

Stages of acceptance: “I had a hand in bringing together the major pieces of our drug discovery engine and now, Vyant has evolved into a therapeutics company leveraging those capabilities. After hiring our new chief science officer, I realized that I could still have influence as a board member. A mentor told me that I have so many experiences now that I could be helpful to other founders: building a world-class team, fundraising, navigating major challenges like the pandemic, and helping lead the way in a transformational shift within the pharma industry.”

Change is inevitable: “One of the Vyant board members said to me, ‘Founders always expire.’ He had missed opportunities early in his career because he stayed with one company too long. Once you embrace change, opportunities and a positive outlook on life are then visible.”

Recognizing your value. “I’m a little weird, I love the psychology and the challenge of piecing together a new venture.”

Next opportunity: “I am grateful to come across several game-changing technologies. One in particular was founded by a couple who spent the last several years experimenting with a novel combination of software, hardware, and chemistry to develop an at-home blood-testing platform that is order of magnitude lower cost and very accurate based on initial data. They are able to screen small amounts of blood; ironically, it sounds similar to what Theranos said they could do, except Oncodea seems to be actually doing it. I’m excited to work with them to get to the next level.”

Building the anti-Theranos: “The fake-it-til-you-make-it mentality is extremely dangerous in the biotech space. You don’t have an answer until you have the breakthrough. When you raise millions before you have the answer, there is extreme pressure to deliver, and you don’t have the scarcity to always think creatively. Startups are like a developing child. You can try and skip key steps of development, but the lessons along the way are what make them robust and uniquely special.”

Listen now: Before leaving Vyant, Yeh shared the story of building StemoniX, and his method to innovative thinking on By All Means podcast.

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