Stems Cells, Saving Lives and Never Quitting w/John Chi & Michel Haddad of Synova Life Sciences

Success is often found on the journey to your destination and for most entrepreneurs it usually involves a lot of up’s and downs, wins and losses and the determination to never quit. 

In this episode, we have an amazing conversation with John Chi and Michel Haddad from Synova Life Sciences, who are doing some amazing and life changing work in the stem cell research and delivery space. 

John and Michel talk about their beginnings as co-founders of Synova Life Sciences and their attempts to become a Y Combinator startup. 

Y Combinator is an American start-up accelerator and has been used to launch over 2,000 companies including Stripe, Airbnb, Cruise Automation, DoorDash, Coinbase, Instacart, and Dropbox.

John and Michel talk about what stops a lot of people from moving forward, the power behind loving what you do and their quest to helps lots of people live healthier and longer lives.

They also share a ton of insight on stem cells, how they can help you and why we are close to living for as long as we want to live.

You can hear all of this and more of this amazing conversation on this Episode of The White Tiger Podcast.

This episode was recorded live at Philz Coffee in Costa Mesa, California. For more information about the great peeps at Philz go to

You can find out more about Synova Life Sciences at:

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Check out the full espied transcript below (for you readers out there !)

What is up guys, Craig at the podcast want to jump on here real quick. Before we get started to tell you about this week's episode. So this week is a prerecorded episode, actually prerecorded before all of this Corona craziness and COVID-19 stuff took place and it was done live. It was done live at Phil's coffee located here in Southern California in Costa Mesa.

Had a great time talking to two amazing guys. John G Michelle had died from Senova life sciences who are doing some amazing work in the STEM cell space. Yes. STEM cells. We talked all about STEM cells in addition to their journey, the ups and downs of being an entrepreneur and much, much more guys. I hope you like it as much as we can recording it also wanted to send a big thank you to everyone over at Phil's coffee in Costa Mesa guys.

Thank you so much for being here. Unbelievable hosts from making this happen. You guys are the best what's up.

Thank you for joining us for another episode of the white tiger podcast. I am a Santee Cleveland, and I'm here with your cohost Craig Castlederg. What's up? What is up guys? Thank you so much for checking this out. It's Dante. This is a very special episode. We are coming to you from Phil's in South coast, orange County.

Uh, we are very thankful for them allowing us to host a podcast here. Uh, if you guys don't know about Phil's great coffee and what's your favorite one? You know what the best thing about Philz is that it's not a standard cup of coffee. You can mix beans and they, they make it right in front of you. So I am really onto this thing called Arabic haze.

And it's a combination of what they have is called an aromatic Arabic and a hazelnut beans. So yeah, it's really good coming order it. If you're here well, well worth it. I am with the cinnamon toast crunch. This is a secret menu item. So if you go up and order a SIM toast crunch, they know that you're in the know, but today we are joined with two very special guests.

They are the founders of Sonova life sciences. I am joined here by Michelle had died and John sheet what's up guys. Hey guys. Great to be here. Thank you guys. Thank you all for coming up and listen. First of all, we want to apologize for the fact that we're only using one mic. We're in a very low budget here for this podcast.

So you guys are sharing and it's nice to see you guys so close. Yeah. That's all right. We know about low budget to struggles. Yes. The struggle is the struggle is real. Yes. So from creating this amazing startup, uh, around the STEM cell, can you guys tell us a little bit about how you guys first got started?

So, uh, started off basically. Uh, I did my background's in electrical engineering, and then I did a master's program in biotechnology and was working with STEM cells there. And then, uh, then my parents were having problems with their joints. And inside of that biotech program, you can get STEM cells and seeing what the potential of what the STEM cells to do.

And this was like a, probably six or seven years ago before things started getting really big. And, uh, then, uh, just really wanted to be able to help my parents, help my friends, help myself and just help people all over the world. That's what was it about the STEM cells? Was this something that you just happened to fall into?

As far as that type of research, I had always loved the STEM cells and kind of followed their developments as they were coming up along through just time and what people were finding out and then just being able to get into that program and to be able to actually work with them and see what they can do.

Like, you know, we took STEM cells and we made fat and bone out of them. And so it was really a, just so eyeopening to see. People being helped by them. Yeah. That's amazing. I think in my experience that kind of felt like it's been very, like, I want to say clandestine, like, it's like, it's this thing that's out there.

That's very interesting. And people it's, it's doing some unbelievable things or at least that's kind of like the word on the street, but you know, a lot of people still don't know exactly what is going on with STEM cells and how they're being used today and how accessible they are to people. Yeah. So one of the things that we're doing, uh, we're making a device that gets STEM cells out of your own fat.

And one of the problems that we saw early on was that it's really hard to get that the STEM cells out of fat and, um, the way people are doing it is using enzymes. And, um, very early on wrote to the FDA and said, Hey, we want to do something to speed up this enzyme process. And the FDA wrote, I can say, no, not with enzymes.

If you want to do that, then you're making a drug and you got to go through all those clinical trials and everything. So we went back to the drawing board and, uh, we're looking for ways to do it without enzymes. And then. After lots of trial and error, we found a way that was able to do it mechanically with no chemicals.

And it's 30 times faster than what the enzymes can do. And so, and the cells are clean. And what we're seeing is typically we get about 50% more cells out and with the speed boost. Wow. Wow. So you guys are getting more cells out faster. Yeah. Yeah. That sounds like a home run. So meesh how did you get along involved in this.

Um, yeah, so John and I have known each other for about eight years. We met at a coworking space in Irvine here, uh, and we just did different things with each other. We built a solar power dehumidifier. We took our, uh, artificial intelligence class with each other and we go lobster diving do martial arts together.

So we've always been, been friends for awhile and had similar interests in, in tech science and martial arts. Uh, so, um, at the time I was. Up in San Francisco with the different startup. I, I started, uh, once I was finished with that, um, I came back down to Southern California and John was like, Hey, uh, I know you have a background in raising money, sales, marketing, and business development.

And you're used to hardware startups. So do you want to come in, join me and, uh, and go find the company? I said, absolutely. So then I got trained in aseptic primary human tissue cultures. So I work in the lab now. And, uh, here we are, the rest is kind of history. You want two different incubators that each other, uh, and built the company.

So I'm sorry. I was going to say, so you guys have gone through the legendary Y Combinator. What was that experience like? How did you guys even get selected to be a part of it? We actually interviewed a few times. Uh, so the first time we didn't get in and then we kept going and going and making more progress.

And then I think, did we, did we apply three times? Uh, let's see. I think we, we applied twice. Yeah. And the first time that we, we got an interview. So, so yeah, for people who don't know what, why Combinator, there is a there's these things called tech incubators. It's basically a bunch of entrepreneurs with lots of experience and money.

And what they do is they take a bunch of startups. And the entrepreneurs behind them, uh, and put them under the wing. It gave them a lump sum of money and they help them get off the ground. And they, they were them to help them raise money. So the most prestigious has called Y Combinator. Uh, they produced, excuse me, a Reddit, Dropbox, Airbnb, et cetera.

So we got an interview, you with them. So they, they flew us up and it's just a 10 minute interview.

You set a table and they, they throw different questions at you and you see how, uh, I see how you guys interact as a team. That's the most important thing. Uh, after 10 minutes on our first interview, um, we got an email saying, Hey, uh, you guys did not get in this round.

We thought it would take too long for you guys to get into market. And we thought you should open STEM cell clinics, like kind of the brick and mortar thing. So they're like, ah, we're super bombed. Or when we got that email, we flew back to Southern California and we, uh, we kept going. Um, so how we actually got in is, uh, two years later, uh, a friend of mine sent me a link to a company called forever labs.

What they do is they do STEM cell banking. So they'll take fat or bone marrow, and they'll actually bank your own STEM cells. So in case you need them, when you're older, they can. Pull them out. Uh, they went through Y Combinator as well. And, uh, I looked up their chief science officers talk at Google named Mark and I saw let's talk.

And I said, Oh, this guy could be one of our customers. So what I did is I co I scraped his email and called, emailed him about his talk saying, Hey, that was awesome. Uh, this is what we do. We make a device that gets STEM cells from fat and 30 times faster. We get 50% more cells using no chemicals. And he said, that's awesome.

Let's hop on a call. Uh, so we hopped on the call and he said, awesome. Consider me a pilot man. We were just ecstatic when that happened. So he also said, Hey, have you guys applied to Y Combinator? We're like, yeah, we did two years ago. And you know, he got rejected. He's like, you guys should try it again. Uh, what you guys are doing is awesome and you can consider me a customer.

So, uh, we applied again. Uh, they said, Hey, we're going to fly you up again to Silicon Valley. And sure enough, we, we, we got the interview. Uh, I remember for that interview, we just had, it makes so much more progress. We just a completely different company. We walked in, John, took our device, put it on the table and start explaining how it works piece by piece that I came in on the, uh, the traction side on how many customers we had.

And then they said, Who are some of your customers? I said, one of your companies forever labs is actually just became one of our customers. They said. Awesome. Okay. So the 10 minutes of the interview was up and, um, we were waiting to get the email to say, yeah, you for telling us were rejected or phone call saying we're in.

So eight hours go by and we're getting on the plane to go back down to Southern California and we get no email or call. Okay. I got gotta step in here because, uh, me's just checking his phone, constantly looking for the email. And then, uh, we get on the plane and we're sitting down, we sit down and then, and he's next to me and I just hear him go, ah, I'm like what?

And then, and then he's like, he's. The email from Y Combinator came and he's like, ah, and then he opened it and it said, Hey, you know what, um, we, we, we don't, we like you guys, but we don't know what you're, what you're doing actually works. So, you know, we'd like to see if we can get in touch with Mark Kelly Koski and see if he can go verify that for you.

And so then he actually. I mean, he's a really great guy. He actually flew out to LA, came to our lab and then we processed themselves and then you put it under the microscope and he's looking for STEM cells and there he's like, yep. And then he said, ah, as far as I'm concerned, what you guys are doing is works.

And, uh, I'm going to tell the guys at YC. Nice. Wow. Yeah. I remember getting the phone call from Y Combinator that night and John were just jumping for joy. So it's a two years later from getting rejected. To getting accepted. It was, it was, it was laundry. What was the big pro what was the big takeaway for you guys, from going through that initial rejection to actually getting accepted?

I mean, I think it's just, just keep going, keep doing which, what that fire that you have. That's that's behind what you're doing. Just keep doing it and. And that's and, you know, I think that's one of the things they want to see is that you're not going to quit. Yeah. And it's so transferable, there's so many different parts of life, not just business, but personal it's, uh, it's pretty amazing.

Like, like hearing that story, it's like, you could have easily said, you know what, forget it. Like, we're gonna, you know, what would be the next step, if that, if that didn't work out, like after that first time, if you didn't get another opportunity to present, you know, yourself, like what, what would have been the next step?

We would have kept going. Yeah. And just, and then, and then we would have tried applying again and we would have just kept, kept on going and then, and, and things were starting to really roll too. So yeah. Yeah. So what's been the journey since completing Y Combinator. Oh, wow. Uh, there've been so many things that have been just falling into place.

Like we we'd nailed some big contracts. We've got one that's, uh, gonna put us at 200 making 200 K per month, uh, at, by the end of the year. So that's, that's probably about a $2 million contract. Yeah. Don't leave me hanging. And, uh, yeah, we have, uh, two clinical trials coming up with CLPD and a heart study with STEM cells using our device at two different universities.

So we're stoked for that too. Where do you see the biggest, um, impact, which STEM cells now for people, where is there, is there a specific type of use for them that they're getting really the most traction with? I think one of the biggest areas of bang for your buck in terms of being able to get your own STEM cells walk in and walk out and get some relief is in joint pain.

So, you know, that's one of the biggest applications right now. And in research, there's the most evidence for that? Like, um, we did a, uh, a retrospective look at all the published papers that, that were, uh, where STEM cells from fat were being used on humans. For osteoarthritis. And that was 646 patients. And then in that there were almost 90% of them saw some benefit where they got better or their condition was stabilizing in terms of the degeneration in their knees and hips and back.

So, so that's the, that's the clinical research that's being done in humans. So hypothetically, if someone was dealing with arthritis in both shoulders and a right knee problem, STEM cells would be a good benefit if you asked me, I'd say yes for sure. Yeah. I'll keep that in mind. Yeah. We have a very big customer, but it's interesting though, because, um, I think I've personally heard a lot about STEM cells and kind of wasn't sure exactly how accessible they were just to people like for, is it something that I'd have to go through a doctor and a doctor would say, yeah, this is something that could benefit you or it's something that could go to with a specific.

Company or clinic or whatever it is to have access, to do this, to pursue this. Cause I th I would think that most people bull, uh, and tell me if I'm right here, want to maybe pursue this as an alternative. They have to maybe something more aggressive like surgery or stuff like that. Yeah. Yeah. I think, uh, uh, people don't, I don't want to get surgery, so they want to try something else first.

Um, but right now, what you'd have to do there's there are doctors out there right now that are, uh, providing STEM cells. So you would be able to reach out to one of those docs and we actually worked with some docs and, um, what's that happening with the FDA is, um, it was a big gray area. Uh, initially, like they didn't know what to do with STEM cells and right now they're still figuring it out, but they released a bunch of guidances on what you can and can't do.

And so they have right now for what they call low risk applications and that's stuff like in the joints where the cells aren't going to spread out all over the body and run all over the place. Um, and, and so low risk applications there, they call it discretionary enforcement. So they still want you to go.

And get the approvals, but they're allowing people to do that right now, so that you can go in and gather the evidence. So there's clinics that are able to do that and, and work under that. Um, and then there's, there's the other piece about not using enzymes, which they don't like. And, and so there's a lot of stuff that's still evolving, but right now you would actually be able to go to doctor and get your own STEM cells.

Um, there are some clinics out there that are using STEM cells from other sources. And actually technically that's actually illegal because what the FDA regulations say is that it has to be from a first or second degree blood relative, if you're going to be doing that kind of thing. Oh, okay. Why would people actually go and do that?

Like what would be their, their, uh, why would they want to go get from another source other than that first or second degree relative? Uh, I think there's a lot of misleading information out there. So a lot of people are getting STEM cells from cord blood, and, uh, the sources of cord blood are not well verified.

Like some people are just getting it and then they're just packaging and selling it. And there's been stories of like bad contamination where people are losing their joints because of some infection, like Ecolab got into the STEM cells. And there's another doc I think. It's somebody that, uh, that is, uh, some, some, some degree of relation to somebody who knows somebody, but, uh, he's actually getting the STEM cells from his son.

Is that right? Yeah. Yeah. There there's a doctor. I met that, that took the cord blood from his son and, um, is, is growing out those STEM cells and injecting it into other people. So then that's legal. No, whether you have a medical background or not, that just does not sound legal. Right? Right. So stuff like that is putting kind of a black eye in the industry and that's what we've been seeing.

So we want to stay within the FDA guidelines until the science kind of proves other applications. So, so we're right on the cutting edge of the frontier of what's going on with STEM cells right now. Yeah. Yeah. Have you had anybody reach out to you in this, in the same industry, kind of looking for guidance of how you guys did it and like maybe just follow your path.

Uh, there are people that we're working with, uh, that, that we're, you know, we're trying to put everything in line so that we were doing everything by the book and that way, when we get through it, that will be, we'll be clean. Yeah, exactly. Nope, no pun intended. Right, right, exactly. Right. It's one thing to have an amazing idea.

But what were some of the early hurdles that you guys saw in terms of actually raising the money? Because everyone has an idea and just doesn't know where to go next and you always hear the big problem. It's like, Oh, my company failed because we didn't have enough money. Yeah, that's a, that's a great, uh, question.

I think an early hurdle, what we heard a lot early on, um, was you're too early, so there's so much risk involved. Like, uh, they want to know, well, what's the FDA going to say? Um, who's on your team. Um, how do you know it works and, uh, um, how do you know people. How do you know that there's a market out there?

And so those, those were a lot of the things that we heard early on. And, and so, you know, I think the, the, uh, the path is to, you know, target the biggest risk. And then go after that first and then just keep knocking them down. And so, uh, it just depends on what, what you identify as the biggest risk. Like, you know, what's, what's the biggest risk of failure.

Okay. You know, no team. Alright. Got to go find people to build a team. So. Got niche. And then we brought someone else on who's brought 10 class, two medical devices to market it. So people are thinking, you know, if they feel, if people wonder, Hey, can you guys actually do this? Well, we've got someone. Um, and then do, are people actually gonna use it?

And me, she goes out and finds customers that use our stuff. And so we de-risked that, um, what's the FDA going to do. We got FDA consultants to map out a clear path to everything that we have to do. So. We get that out of there. And then, uh, are you guys going to be able to survive and make money? So we go out and then, you know, Mitch goes in any lands that this $2 million contract.

So, Hey man, it's great that you guys just basically systematized handling all the objections. Yeah. Yeah. That, that speaks to how much we had to go through and keep going. And another objection we got is that the market is too small right now for STEM cells. Even though the data suggests that it grew 15 X the past, like, uh, one, five, 15.

Wow. It was crazy. So once we had that data two years later from when we started trying to raise money, then the checks started coming in a little more. But, uh, what we did, uh, Well, it is, we first started it targeted a couple angel investors. That road is decent sized