Chile Today’s Women To Watch series highlights female leaders and entrepreneurs. Take an inside look at their careers and the inspiration behind the innovative companies and organizations they’ve built. From tech companies to non-profits, you’ll learn from some of Chile’s most influential thought leaders.
Genia is a digital wellness company that transforms DNA into actionable information for early detection, prevention, and personalized health management. The company offers customized reports based on an individual’s DNA that explains their genetics and how they influence ancestry, nutrition, skin, fitness, and health.
CEO Naomi Berman discusses her journey building Genia and explains how this biotech company is changing how the regional market approaches health, and what’s next for at-home screening kits in Chile.
How did you get started in the biotech industry? What’s your background?
I am an inherently curious person that developed a deep respect and interest in biology (mainly marine and microbiology) at a young age. Exploring outdoors significantly influenced my belief that answers to our future for health and tech could be found and inspired by the natural, biological world.
Then during high school, I became an aid to a child with Duchenne’s muscular dystrophy whom I had known since the age of 2. I watched the disease take away his abilities to walk, write, and feed himself, and that inspired me to learn more about genetics, which was a relatively new field at the time.
I went on to major in genetics at Rutgers University and knew this was the frontier I wanted to work in; its potential for moving biotechnology further was clear. But when I graduated, I was never sure how I could combine my love of working with people and genetics. So I took time off from research (I worked at the Human Genetics Institute in New Jersey) and decided to gain some life experience; I went back into nature and lived in a national park for two years.
After a few years away from science, though, I missed the field – getting that distance confirmed that was where I wanted to be, but on my terms and not in the traditional sense. Biotech felt like the last frontier in the way of exploration and discovery.
What factors influenced your decision to be an entrepreneur and gave you your entrepreneurial passion?
My decision to become an entrepreneur came from rejection: I was not initially accepted into graduate school for genetics after getting to the final round of interviews and over a year of preparation and work solely towards my resume. I was rejected, and the feedback given to me felt meek and biased. This triggered the question of why I had to allow a degree to dictate my ability to help people through genetics; why couldn’t I start something of my own?
With a lifetime of growing up around entrepreneurs – both my father and my uncle have their own companies – I knew the intimacy of the entrepreneur lifestyle. In addition, I had grown up with the pros and cons of my family being entrepreneurs: It was a life I never expected for myself but one that, once I started, gave me passion towards work I had never felt before.
What does the process of building a start-up in Chile look like? How have you networked and built your connections?
I don’t think there is a better place at this moment to build a company than in Chile. The support from the government in terms of grants, programs, and networks truly shocked me in a fantastic way. The market here is also so young; with the political history, you can see that Chile is ready to leap into the frontiers of tech and innovation for the future, providing opportunities for international expansion.
Start-Up Chile, a Chilean accelerator program, really gave me the footing I needed to build Genia, from the support as a woman with an idea to corporate connections and mentorships. Three years after my initiation to the program, it continues to open doors and support Genia.
With a bit more detail, what does Genia do for its clients from a health, wellness, and medical standpoint?
We have all been dealt a different hand in the genetic cards, and knowing your combination of traits can optimize your health and wellness. Essentially, we want to build a network outside the traditional healthcare system that, in our opinion, is a broken sick-care system. It makes money off you being sick, not healthy.
We try to empower you with information that will allow you to be healthy at 100% and prevent disease and all from the comfort and privacy of your home. Genia puts people front and center of their health with empowerment through the knowledge we provide on clients’ genetic profiles. These profiles help them predict and prevent disease, have a deeper understanding of their bodies, and save money and time from trial and error in finding products best suited to their individual needs.
Genia is now looking at how to empower individuals in other aspects and learn their genetic profiles to take control of their health with other types of at-home testing.
What is Genia’s impact in Latin America in terms of its broader mission?
Latin America is a market that is too easily overlooked by the rest of the world and is typically forgotten when new technology and services are introduced to other societies.
Genia wants to close this gap. Our long-term mission is to provide regional consumers with at-home testing services they can buy directly online or in a store without making an appointment with a doctor and extra costs or time. Whether it is a DNA test, fertility test, sleep and stress test, or sexual health test, we envision a Latin America where the consumers have more power, say, and affordability in health and wellness testing.
What would you like to achieve with Genia within the next three years? Will you be adding testing kits?
Absolutely we will be adding new testing kits! Right now, we have Wellness, Preventive Health, and Ancestry DNA Kits. By next year, we plan to launch our hormone, fertility, sleep and stress testing kits, in addition to some others. These are tests that people should have easy access to, and we know that the need for them exists. We also plan to expand to Argentine and Colombian markets within the next three years.
How would you describe your leadership style? How do you learn about and enhance your leadership qualities?
I try to lead by example, as actions always speak louder than words. I feel I have had many opportunities to enhance my leadership abilities through experience – and no matter what the game or position is, it is about your attitude and actions. Your optimism and work ethic trickle down to the rest of your team: It is all about constantly checking yourself and asking, “what message am I sending by my actions?”
Could you recommend one or two books that helped you during your entrepreneurial endeavors?
I recommend Rework by Jason Fried and David Hansson, and Value Proposition Design by Alex Osterwalder, Yves Pigneur, Greg Bernarda and Alan Smith.