Komal Dadlani, Lab4U: Turning Smartphones in Science Labs, Ep 63

From a very young age, Komal Dadlani has wanted to make a difference in the world. After studying the careers of people who had changed the world – Albert Einstein, Marie Curie, Pablo Valenzuela – Komal realized that she wanted to be a scientist, specifically a biochemist. Studying science in Chile is not easy; up to 88% of schools don’t have lab equipment, and even those that do are not using it. This struggle inspired Komal to cofound Lab4U, a company that democratizes science by turning smartphones into scientific experiment devices. Komal has grown Lab4U across Chile, the US, and Mexico, while working alongside the Inter-American Development Bank to test her educational tools and overcoming the challenges of being an immigrant, female founder starting her company in Chile and doing business across borders in Silicon Valley.

I was glad to finally have a chance to sit down with Komal to talk about raising capital across Latin America and the US, growing up as the child of immigrant parents in Chile, and how a serendipitous Startup Weekend run by Start-Up Chile entrepreneurs launched her into her entrepreneurial career. Check out this episode of Crossing Borders to learn how Komal journeyed from Arica in the North of Chile to Santiago, and finally to Silicon Valley.

You can’t learn to ride a bicycle by reading a book about it.

While she studied science in high school, Komal realized that many students struggle with the theory involved in scientific education. Lab4U exists to make science memorable and relatable. For example, rather than reading about acceleration and velocity, the app encourages students to slide their phones down various surfaces to understand the concept through experiments. However, Komal didn’t originally think of using smartphone technology to solve the problem she perceived in scientific teaching in Latin America.

Listen to this episode to learn how Komal arrived at her first business idea, and how her co-founder and mentors helped develop the idea into Lab4U.

I always wanted to make a difference, but I never knew how people make a difference.

Komal’s first experience with startups happened during a Startup Weekend event at her university hosted by Start-Up Chile entrepreneurs. They promised to teach people how to change the world in 54 hours. This proposal was particularly attractive to Komal, who was studying a Masters in Biochemistry with the idea of working in a lab to make a brilliant scientific discovery. Knowing nothing about startups, venture capital, or even what a pitch was, Komal entered the hackathon with a plan to democratize science.

Startup Weekend launched Komal into her current career, although not in the way she might have expected. Check out this episode of Crossing Borders to learn how Komal transitioned from the lab to pitching her startup to Silicon Valley investors.

If an investor treats you differently because you are a woman, walk away.

Komal is a female immigrant founder in a highly-conservative and classist society. Unfortunately in this aspect, Silicon Valley doesn’t look all that different from Santiago. Having raised money in the US, Argentina, Chile, and Mexico, Komal can share her experience on how VCs and other entrepreneurs treat women across the Americas. She offers advice to female founders on choosing angel investors and venture capitalists who will grow with the company and open the right doors. While targeted toward women, her advice applies to all entrepreneurs.

What is the value of an investor to Komal? “I want their network, not their net worth,” she says. Find out how Komal has grown her company across borders through a strategic network of investors and partners across Latin America and the US.

Komal Dadlani is an example of a smart, dedicated, scrappy entrepreneur who can get overlooked because she started her company in Chile. She even quoted one of our favorite sayings at Magma in our interview, saying: talent is evenly spread around the world, but opportunity is not. Lab4U is her way of democratizing opportunity so the next Marie Curie or Einstein can come from a Brazilian favela or a slum in Mumbai. Check out the rest of the podcast for Komal’s inspiring story and her advice to future founders and budding scientists around the world.

Show Notes:

[1:20] – Nathan introduces Komal

[2:38] – What does Lab4U do?

[4:30] – Komal’s childhood in Arica

[6:10] – Why did your parents choose Chile?

[8:30] – Why Komal hated growing up in Santiago

[10:42] – Why science?

[12:40] – Diversity in Universidad de Chile’s biochemistry department

[14:30] – What made you take the leap to start a company?

[18:30] – How Lab4U went from idea to company

[19:52] – How did family and friends take it?

[23:40] – What is the problem you want to solve?

[26:27] – The fundraising process in Chile, US, Argentina, and Mexico

[27:41] – Lessons learned in fundraising

[30:24] – Thoughts on being a female founder

[34:18] – Lessons learned in Silicon Valley

[38:32] – What’s next for Lab4U?

[41:04] – Komal’s advice for her younger self

Resources Mentioned:

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