Leading the Charge in Stem Cell Research​​


John Chi​​​​​​

Campus: Cal State Fullerton

Major/Program: M.S. in Biotechnology, ’1​5

Company: Synova Life Sciences

Launched: 2014

Sales: Recently closed $2 million

At the start of his time at Cal State Fullerton, John Chi had ​​difficulty presenting in front of his classmates. “He had stage fright and was a little embarrassed,” says John Bradley Jackson, director of the Center for Entrepreneurship at Cal State Fullerton. “He worked on it and worked on it and became really proficient.” By the time graduation rolled around, Chi was not only winning pitch contests, he was earning tens of thousands of dollars for his startup in the process.

His company, Synova Life Sciences, creates a device that extracts stem cells out of fat to be used in the regeneration of tissue. “It's 30 times faster than what's out there and gets more cells,” Chi says. “We've got a couple of clinical trials coming online and a regulatory clearance that's slated for this summer.”​

Chi has come a long way, and he attributes much of it to his time at CSUF, where he earned his master’s in biotechnology (MBt) with an emphasis in business. “Very early on, I realized I didn't know how to do any of the business stuff,” Chi says. “I learned how to develop a business plan, make a spreadsheet with financial projections, put a deck together and communicate the story of the company so people would understand what we were doing and be excited about it. That was key to being able to raise investment money.”

John Chi works in a lab.

John Chi, founder of Synova Life Sciences, works in the lab.


Home to the largest accredited business school in California, CSUF’s approach to entrepreneurship is to help students experience the marketplace firsthand. “Books are great, but students learn the most by doing,” Jackson says. “All of our classes have a traditional lecture with books and articles, but probably 50 percent of the class is dedicated to the projects. They leave campus—virtually right now—and engage in teams with local clients to help them solve problems.”

In addition, students, alumni and community members can make use of the CSUF Startup Incubator. In the last five and a half years, it has helped launch 80 companies. “When a startup is ready and meets our screening criteria, we’ll begin a six-month period of incubation,” Jackson explains. “We assign them a mentor. I have 700 volunteers who’ll help out; some come every week in the classroom and work with those students, some work at the incubator, some are guest speakers and some are panelists. It's a remarkable gift to us from our community.”

Many of those volunteers include former students like Chi, who was invited to present to students at the incubator. “I talked to them about what to expect from the start-up road, the things you run into,” he says.

The foundation Chi set at CSUF continues to pay off. After recently closing $2 million in funding, Synova Life Sciences was able to hire three people. It will also get the company through testing, FDA clearance and manufacturing stages. “Once we have our clearance, we'll be able to sell the device the way we want to,” he says. “And then the clinical trials are to support the other uses of the stem cells, for orthopedics, pulmonary fibrosis, long-term COVID damage and many other areas.”