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The Salt and Science Trailblazer: Fon Powell, #HerOwnBoss #StudentEdition

Fon Powell is a PhD Candidate in the Biomedical Sciences at Cornell University, a Ford Foundation Fellow and US Amgen Scholar. She is a native of St. Louis, MO and earned a BS in Neuroscience from Duke University. She is also founder of Sodium Analyte Level Test (S.A.L.T.), which is empowering 78M Americans to manage hypertension at home with the first device on the market to measure daily salt intake. Fon and her early-stage startup have been featured in Startup Weekend Powered by Google, the Women's Business Enterprise National Council and recently won a grant from the New York City Economic Development Corporation. Learn more about S.A.L.T. at http://www.saltcounts.com/.

What motivated you to start your business?
High blood pressure affects 78 million Americans. That’s 1 in every 3 US adults! It also disproportionally affects minorities, several of my own family members included. I wanted to use my strong background in science and tech to create a device that could truly change lives. My device, which consists of a disposable stick and mobile app, measures daily salt intake from a single evening urine sample to increase compliance to a low salt diet for improved blood pressure control.    

What is the greatest barrier you faced in launching your business and how did you overcome it? 
The greatest barrier I’ve faced so far in launching my business is limited money - a common issue with startups. I overcame it by getting a job teaching English to Japanese students via Skype in the wee hours of the morning. Though random, it was lucrative and I funded the first $10,000 for my startup that way. After I earned that initial $10,000, I made sure every business decision was smart and strategic, in order to stretch that money as far as possible. Those smart decisions paid off. With time, I won several pitch competitions and government grants to fund my startup. We are also currently raising money from investors to further fuel growth.   

Do you have a mentor? How did you find him/her? 
I have 2 strong female mentors. One mentor, Dr. Jahan Ali, is an experienced bioscience and health IT executive with over 16 years in the industry. She provides me with sound input regarding my company’s business strategy and development. We met via a healthcare incubator program I participated in last year called Entrepreneur Lab NYC. My second mentor, Adela Cepeda, is owner and president of A.C. Advisory Inc., a major financial advisory firm. As a fellow woman of color with a thriving business, she is a role model for me and also provides additional motivation and support. 

If you could go back in time to when you were first starting, what would you tell yourself, with the intention of avoiding mistakes and heart ache? 
If I could go back to when I was first starting, I would tell myself to be a little more patient with the entrepreneurial process and not to be discouraged at times. Opportunities present themselves when you least expect them and you will hear “No" at least 3 times before you hear a “Yes.”

What does success look like for you? 
HWe have a B2B business model, selling to corporate wellness programs at Fortune 500 companies so they can have healthier employees. High blood pressure and heart disease is the #1 health expense to one Fortune 500 company, costing $25 million per year. Thus, for me, success in the short term means I have several corporate clients buying the S.A.L.T. device for thousands of their employees with high blood pressure. Our company will break even and become cash positive with just 5400 active users, so that’s the immediate goal. In the long term, success is my company becoming a household name. 

What do you do to recharge?
I volunteer twice a month with America Needs You, a nonprofit that provides mentorship and support to first generation college students in New York City. For a full Saturday every-other-week, I work one-on-one with a female student, April, to help achieve her goal being the first medical doctor in her family. The experience recharges me because it reminds me to step outside my own dreams and instead, help a younger, deserving girl achieve her dreams.  

What's your advice for a young woman that's considering starting her own business? 
My advice to a young woman that’s considering starting her own business is to first do her homework. Start researching and learn your industry in and out. Learn who your competitors are, why your idea is particularly special and if people are actually willing to buy your product. After the homework phase, if you find you still have a rock solid idea, start executing on that idea and getting things done. Stay motivated and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t. 

 

During the month of May, National Women’s Business Council will be profiling young women entrepreneurs—many of whom are still students.  Visit the NWBC Blog every Tuesday of the month to learn more about these inspiring women.

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