42Lab is a biotech education startup, founded in 2016 that aims at democratising the learning of biotech in classroom. It is the first modular, portable and affordable biotech laboratory for students.

With Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education becoming required in OECD countries, most schools struggle to introduce biotechnology to their students due to high equipment cost and troublesome experiment preparation. 42Lab solves this problem by providing this biotech equipment as a mini-laboratory and user-friendly teaching assistant app in the classroom. It aims to empower laymen to manipulate biotech ranging from kitchen science to molecular biology, synthetic biology (DNA Sequencing and Editing) and even soft-robot.

The company applies novel and the latest biotechnology to empower the students in Singapore & Hong Kong as junior biologists to stand out in the STEM education in Asia.

Dr. Yasaman Nemat, CEO & Co-Founder of 42Lab, speaking at Asia Hardware Battle Singapore Pitch 2019

What’s your story?

Dr. Yasaman: I met my co-founder, Dr. Data Ng when I joined a venture builder after I graduated with my PhD in biomedical engineering. We started talking about Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths education (also known as STEM) and how it has become very much focused on robotics and coding. But STEM is much beyond robotics & coding.

Biotechnology is the new digital and is going to revolutionise our lives from its effect on our health to our food to our environment. Yet, kids have no idea about this great field. So, we decided to make our own portable and affordable biotech educational kits so kids can learn about life science through hands-on experiments.

Dr. Yasaman Nemat (Left) & Dr. Data Ng (Right)

What were some of the obstacles that your company faced during its initial years and how did your team overcome it?

One of the challenges we faced in the first year was long sale cycles with schools. From making an appointment with a Head of Department(HOD) to holding a trial to discussing price and making a sale, it would take months.

We also realised that schools preferred to work with established companies that they already do business with. To grow our sales, we decided to establish strategic partnerships with edtech companies and publishers. For instance, we have since partnered up with one of Asia’s leading education companies, Marshall Cavendish, and this way, we have been able to cater to many more schools. This gives us an opportunity to establish relationships with schools and introduce our brands.

Left to Right: Dr. Yasaman Nemat, CEO & Co-founder of 42Lab, Dr. Data Ng, CTO & Co-Founder of 42Lab

How do your company separate itself from the competitors?

Only in the past few years, due to advancement in software and hardware, there is an opportunity to develop biotech tools in an affordable way. This has given us an opportunity to be the first edtech biotech company in Asia. There are few competitors in the US or Europe, but we differentiate ourselves by being more affordable, more flexible in terms of experiments and having a companion online platform that acts as an online manual & logbook for students and a teaching assistant tool for teachers.

Name 1 most memorable learning experience of your entrepreneurial journey?

My most memorable experience of my entrepreneurial journey has been seeing the excitement in the face of kids when they do experiments. Over thousand students from 6–15 years old have used our products. The excitement, the joy of learning new things and the amount of engagement we see in the students as they do our experiments have been one of the most rewarding feelings in my life.

For our next generation, competency is no longer about grades and ranks. It is instead about 21st-century skills such as problem-solving and critical thinking. These skills are not honed much in textbook learning. This is why we need to focus on STEM education and hands-on learning.

What do you think should be the most important characteristic of a startup and its team to possess?

To me, the most important characteristic of a startup team is the ability to adapt and learn. There are many occasions that we face problems and we have no idea how to tackle them. We constantly need to learn new skills and adapt ourselves to the feedback we receive from our customers and users.

What are you working on right now that motivates you to get out of bed in the morning?

We are very excited about a new line of product we are working on. We are developing a range of experiments that we wish to make it available to our users as a subscription-based model. Although we started as a B2B model selling to schools, we have recently expanded to B2C and partnered up with the well-known bookstore chain, Popular Bookstore, in Singapore. We have so far seen a great interest from parents and kids. With our subscription model, we aim to provide fun and interesting experiments to kids on a monthly basis.

What is your company’s five-year plan? Any market expansion plan in the pipeline?

We want to become the leading player in the biotech education industry. We currently have customers in Singapore, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, and United Arab Emirates. We also have interests from countries such as the Maldives, Pakistan, India and Thailand. Our goal is to become the one-stop place when schools or parents are looking for ways to teach life science to their kids through hands-on experiments.

Looking back, what advice would you tell your younger self?

If I get a chance to give a piece of advice to my younger self, I would say think more outside the box. Our educational systems have conventionally been designed to give frameworks and limit everyone to think in certain ways. The experiences I have gained through my adulthood have made me believe in the power of creativity and coming up with unconventional solutions to problems; something that I lacked when I was younger. So, “think outside the box” is the most important advice my younger self would have needed.

A group of students using the 42Lab experimental kit

In your opinion, how would the education and career roadmap pan out for biotechnology?

Biotechnology is the new digital. The world is facing major issues such as climate change, food shortage & disease control and biotechnology is providing real solutions. Fortunately, educators now understand the importance of this fantastic field and we see more interest from them to introduce biotechnology to young kids. With that said, I am certain that we are going to see more educators adopting biotechnology in their classroom; this will lead to more kids being interested in the field of life science and potentially choose a career in it.