Investment Opportunity: Seed Funding Stage
At a Glance
Year Created: 2015
Mission: Neopenda is innovating needs-based medical technologies for emerging markets. We believe that impact and sustainability can, and should, go hand-in-hand. We see the massive lack of appropriate, affordable medical equipment in low-resource settings as an opportunity to reach an untapped market and improve access to high quality health care for underserved populations.
Target Markets/Audience: Health facilities in emerging markets
What Makes Sona Unique
Sona Shah is an unintentional entrepreneur. Her business, Neopenda, started because she recognized a fixable problem. After receiving her undergraduate degree in chemical engineering, she spent several months teaching in a rural community in Kenya. The experience exposed her both to a beautiful and warm culture as well as a number of inequalities.
When she returned to the U.S. and began working at a pharmaceutical company, she realized that the Kenyan children she’d spent time with – along with millions of children in underserved populations all over the world – would never have access to the medical innovations she was working on. Today, Sona channels her considerable talents and energy expanding access to fair and equitable healthcare.
“Building a community is so important! Being able to communicate with others through difficult times in the startup world has been extremely helpful. I don’t believe you can form a successful startup without some sense of community. You have to learn and gain experiences outside of your comfort zone.”
What Sona Is Trying To Solve
When Sona decided to pursue a Master’s of Science in biomedical engineering, there were heavy questions swirling in her mind: Why is the newborn mortality rate so much higher in lower income countries? Why is medical equipment not designed for 85% of the world’s population?
With the goal and vision of providing more equitable access to healthcare, Sona co-founded Neopenda in an effort to bring emerging healthcare technology to areas with limited resources. Neopenda’s first product, neoGuard™, is a wearable vital signs monitor designed to combat neonatal mortality.
We sat down with Sona to talk with her about how she got her start as a founder, what her seed funding stage has been like, and how GET Cities has helped.
What is unique or significant about being at the seed stage?
During the seed stage, so many people love the idea of a company and buy into its founder, but it can be an uphill battle because nothing is really built yet. So, when people invest – whether through money, resources or mentorships – it’s because of the founder and the founder’s vision, not because of what has been already built.
I have learned that tangible results look different depending on the industry. For instance, traction appears distinct for a medical device company than it does for a software company. During this stage, it can also be extremely complex to learn how long it takes to get the company prepared for the market while sifting through all the regulatory red tape. Finding the balance between what’s been done and what’s new and innovative is vital, and that requires a certain amount of research and education when your company is still unknown.
What do you wish you’d known or done to prepare for the seed stage?
There are many things I wish I had known or done in order to prepare for the seed stage, such as understanding the quality management system and regulations early on, information specific to medical device companies and what documentation and certifications were needed.
In relation to management, I would have liked to be better prepared for dealing with employees and the nuanced relationships involved. For the first couple years, it’s just the founder and co-founder, but when employees are hired, you have to balance expectations for both sides. How do you support employees? How do you set expectations? How do you set employees up for success? In many ways, I do wish there had been more coaching around this crucial part of being a founder.
Why do you think it’s important to encourage more women, trans, and non-binary people –particularly those who are also Black, Latinx, Indigenous and People of Color – to become entrepreneurs?
It is vitally important to encourage more women, trans, non-binary and POC to become entrepreneurs. There are several initiatives that are specifically targeted toward our marginalized communities, and therefore individuals from those communities are eligible for specific forms of funding based on identity.
I also feel that empathy is inherent in many women founders, which assists us in creating the right culture for a company. Empathy is especially significant in my field because of my work in healthcare. Since women founders tend to create stronger connections and bonds, I have noticed that nurturing environments and communities with other female founders has been supportive and meaningful, especially since women are marginalized and do need resources.
What is one piece of advice you would give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
Find a problem worth solving! It does not have to be an issue that’s personal, but it helps to begin with problems you recognize in your daily life. The "problem" will be the reason to keep going, even when it becomes hard. I also firmly believe it’s imperative to understand the problem well enough in order to design a solution.
What made you want to participate in this cohort?
I have been involved in the tech ecosystem for a while now, and I was inspired to participate in the SEED Founders Cohort because I appreciate the approach of co-creating the focus of the program. Having been through several accelerators in the past, I really loved that this cohort embraced the notion of, "What do you need at this particular stage?" The program provides exactly the kind of support I need without pulling me away from my core responsibilities. It’s great having programs that cater to the entrepreneur rather than a catch-all for everyone at this stage.
What would you say is the most valuable tool, connection point, piece of wisdom, etc. that you’ve gained from working with GET Cities thus far?
The most valuable element that I have gained from working with GET Cities and Tech Equity Working Group (TEWG) is meeting other women founders, hearing their stories, and being inspired.
years of validation testing
cost reduction compared to traditional equipment
fundraising goal this round
For more information or to get in touch with Sona, visit