Q&A with Larisa Bolin and Norbu Gurung: 2019 I2E Love’s Entrepreneurs Cup Winners

AJF sat down in a fast-paced interview with recent Love’s Cup 2019 champions – team ExBac.

Featured in the interview is Ex-Back team leader Larisa Bolin and team member Norbu Gurung. A third team member Kacee Schier could not make it to the interview. We also had a surprise guest join in – Dr. Stacey Bolin, Director of the Wilburn L. Smith Center for Entrepreneurship and advisor to ExBac team for Love’s Cup.

We chatted about the ExBac Love’s Cup experience, the team’s future aspirations, and learned how a phone call to the Biology department turned a talented science student into an aspiring entrepreneur.

AJF: Tell us about how you came to ECU and what that experience was like.

Larisa: I came to ECU because for one its close to home. Plus, the business school at ECU, I think is one of the top schools in the region. So it was a pretty easy decision for me to pick ECU.

Norbu: I grew up in a small town called Mustang in Nepal. Later, I moved to the capital city, Kathmandu, to attend high school. During this period, I developed a dream to study abroad and began researching universities in the USA. I chose ECU because I had a chance to connect with a senior ECU student and he had many great things to say about ECU, including the great academic environment, which was most important to me. Also, the fact that ECU was affordable compared to the quality of education offered, and the presence of a vibrant international community, helped me make the decision.

AJF: What are you currently studying and what led you to choose that field?

L: I am majoring in Business Management with a certificate in Entrepreneurship. I always knew I wanted to study business because over the years I watched my dad and other members of the family, who are all entrepreneurs, start countless businesses from the ground up, and it was just interesting for me to see how the building blocks come together to form a successful business. Since I was young, whenever anyone asked me what I want to do when I grow up, I said “I want to own my own business”. That is what I was passionate about.

N: My major is Biology with a focus in Medical Lab Technician. I wanted to be in the medical field before I came to ECU. Dr. Biles guided me throughout the way.

AJF: What does entrepreneurship mean to you?

L: My family’s influence jump-started my passion for entrepreneurship. I believe entrepreneurship is innovation and growth. Businesses can do so much for the public – be it ExBac that will contribute to the medical field, or Apple that is supplying the world with latest technology. Entrepreneurship allows communities, people and the entrepreneur himself/herself to advance.

N: I learned about entrepreneurship and starting a business in preparation for this competition. I think there is a connection, and some overlap, between science and entrepreneurship because both are about identifying and solving problems.

AJF: Larisa, you mentioned that you grew up in a family of entrepreneurs. What would you say are some traits of an entrepreneur?

L: An entrepreneur must be hard working because being an entrepreneur is not something that comes easy. In order to have a successful business you must be passionate, hard-working, and be able to take the stress that comes with owning and starting a business. You also must know when to take risks since entrepreneurship is all about growth and innovation. I think the key is to be able to take the stress but at the same time be able to enjoy it and celebrate the wins while learning from the challenges and losses.

AJF: Congratulations on the big win! Could you describe the product you developed for the Love’s Cup? How did you come up with this idea?

L: “Ex-bac” is a medical grade gel surface hygienic for electronic devices. It is proven to kill harmful bacteria such as staph and E. coli as an innovative method of disinfecting medical equipment without damaging expensive electronics used by health care professionals.

It is kind of cool how we came up with this idea. I had a cold and was visiting my doctor when she said “Hey, are you going to do that entrepreneurship competition again?” I said, “I really haven’t had any ideas for it. So maybe if I can think of something!” That’s when she said, how about we try to find a way to properly clean these, and she pointed at her keyboard. Then she went on to tell me that medical electronic devices are cleaned with wipes, but they must be saturated on the surface for at least 5 minutes to kill all the bacteria. But that is not the most feasible option because leaving them on for so long will eventually cause moisture damage to the device. That is when we were able to come up with the idea of a product that would sanitize the devices efficiently without causing damage.

AJF: How did you come together as a team?

L: We tried to find team members who had specific skills. Norbu was of course the one with the technical knowledge – he helped with product testing and handled the scientific side. Kacee has experience in marketing through several projects she was a part of and helped the team in that area. Having previously competed in the Love’s Cup, I had experience in pitching a business and leading a team which helped a lot.

N: Dr. Stacey Bolin had reached out to Dr. Biles at the Biology department about an opportunity to include a student with a science background to be a part of the ExBac team because they needed a team member with technical expertise. I was a lab assistant for Dr. Biles at that time and when he told me about this project that would be beneficial for my medical lab technician career, I was very excited and said yes.

AJF: What was the most difficult challenge you faced during this competition?

L: Personally, my biggest competition is always myself. My goal was always to bring my best to the table and be in the right mindset going into this competition with my team.

N: Being a Biology major, I never had any courses in business and once I started working on this project it was all a brand-new experience for me. So, it was challenging for me to learn the fundamentals of a business plan within a short period of time. Learning how to pitch was also intimidating in the beginning, but with a lot of practice, I became more confident.

AJF: Dr. Bolin, you have several years of experience helping students prepare for this competition. What is the most exciting part about this process?

Stacey Bolin: An awesome part of my job is to help students take their ideas and turn them into a potential business idea. An idea can be cool, but it cannot be a potential business idea unless it really solves a problem. For example, Exbac will solve the problem of how we effectively and efficiently sanitize electronics in medical facilities.

A lot of times students have great ideas, but they are hesitant to talk about it. Proof of concept is an integral part of starting a business, and I always encourage my students to talk to many people and get feedback. So, that is always a difficult yet exciting task for me to help students go through that process.

AJF: What’s next for Exbac?

L: Currently we are working on finalizing a patent. We are going to continue to work on the product based on the feedback received to take it to where it needs to be. We hope to apply for an EPA certification for the product by the end of the year and be ready to launch in 2020. We have received interest from potential investors who want to help us financially, and that is exciting.

N: We look forward to spreading the message about ExBac and getting more engaged with the community to gain exposure and support.

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