OwlSpark | Rice University Startup Accelerator | PeopleWise: Smriti Zaneveld
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PeopleWise: Smriti Zaneveld

Dr. Smriti Zanefeld is the co-founder and research director of Lazarus 3D, creating anatomically accurate, high-fidelity models from patient MRI/CT data. Doctors and medical device companies can use these models to perform surgical rehearsals and training workshops. The idea was inspired when Smriti and her business partner, Jacques Zaneveld, discovered students were using bell peppers and other various objects as surgical training tools. Prior to founding Lazarus 3D, Smriti completed her Ph.D. at Baylor College of Medicine where her research focused on identifying the genetic causes of inherited eye diseases and developing novel therapeutic treatments for ocular disorders.

What does a typical day look like for you?

No two days are ever the same—I wear a few different hats. I’m involved in research and development, sales and marketing, investor relations, fundraising, customer service, recruiting, and more; It depends on the top priority for the day. For example, today, I’ve been following up with our clients who haven’t gotten funding for new purchases due to COVID-19. We’ve also been on a couple of calls with clients interested in starting a project with us. Everything we do is custom, so we must schedule meetings to discuss the company’s goals, project specifications, budget, and timeframe. Since March, we’ve also provided PPE to consumers and companies in need.

What was the key driving force in you becoming an entrepreneur?

I got started on this path early while working on my masters at the University of Delaware, I attended a conference held by the American Society of Cell Biology. At the conference, there was an interesting session where they asked the researchers to pitch their science, free of jargon and medical speak, to the general public in 90 seconds. I learned from this and other public speaking instances that I’m very good at pitching my ideas and findings.

When I came to Baylor College of Medicine for my Ph.D., I started to collaborate with many different people on various technical projects. One of those projects was with my colleague and now co-founder, Jacques Zaneveld. He was working on 3D printing, making models in hard plastic while also experimenting with soft polymers to find a way to recreate soft human tissues.

What motivates you, and has that changed since you’ve started?

For the longest time in my academic career and career as an entrepreneur, I’ve focused on how I make an impact on people’s lives through science and technology. During my time in high school doing basic science on the fundamentals of biology and genetics and learning about sea monkeys and insects, I found that something was missing—I didn’t see that my science was making an impact on other people. When I moved away from that and started focusing on human genetics, I found that my interests and passions were more aligned. It’s what I’ve always wanted to do since the beginning of time.

What advice or wisdom would you give to founders as they’re getting started?

I would say that they need to have that go-getter attitude—everyone says that they’ll do “X” and “Y” but they need “Z,” and you need to get rid of that “but.” As long as that “but” is in the sentence, you’re not going to make progress. Do whatever you can, even if it’s on a small scale. If you can’t build a physical prototype, just create it as a design concept. I think you just need to get started without having all of those “but’s and “if’s,” and excuses.

Any career blunders?

Ever since I was in high school, I had this plan. I was going to go to college and do my major in biomedical sciences, then do my Ph.D. in the molecular biology/genetics space and become an American Board certified geneticist. There was a clear path in front of me to achieve it, and I knew this for a long time. When I was in the Baylor College of Medicine, I was doing all these things to work towards that fellowship that I really wanted. I think that was my biggest mistake; I had this plan. This isn’t how I should have done it; I should have let myself be more open-minded. I was blinded and missed so many opportunities.

What are your passions outside of your business?

Lots of things! I love renovating. I’m always up for home projects whenever I get the chance. I also really enjoy kayaking, believe it or not, I’ve actually kayaked in the bayou by the medical center! I also like to travel. I’ve traveled to a few countries but definitely not enough. I’ve been to Singapore, Dubai, Italy, India, and more.