At NeuraLace Medical, there is a world free from chronic nerve pain. For over 10 years, Shiv Shukla worked with top experts to develop a non-invasive pain relief option that works, starting his entrepreneurial journey as a Clinical Research Manager at UC San Diego Heath.
At UC San Diego, Shukla studied multiple chronic pain modalities in veterans including mild Traumatic Brain Injury-related headaches and chronic nerve pain. Emboldened to find a cure, Shukla developed Axon Therapy, a pain management treatment that targets post-traumatic chronic peripheral nerve pain. This type of pain is often experienced from limb loss, a motor vehicle accident, a fall or sports injury, hernia repair, certain invasive surgical procedures, localized burns and more.
Read more on his journey through the UC San Diego innovation ecosystem, committing his research and career to providing sustainable pain relief to patients globally.
What has been your experience with UC San Diego and its diverse entrepreneurial culture?
In my rotations at UC San Diego’s Jacobs Medical Center, I was asking a lot of questions, since much of the research in chronic pain was done in the 70s. Through my persistence, we discovered new mechanisms. Having chronic headaches myself, I was motivated to find a cure. UC San Diego gave me the freedom to explore and access the resources and support I needed. I never got pushback. There is a spirit of collaboration and idea incubation that is incredibly unique to this campus.
I built the device out of my apartment, while continuing to defer medical school. It ended up taking me three years to build the device but when I was ready to license the company, the Office of Innovation and Commercialization (OIC) was so open to feedback. Everything I suggested they took care of. It is rare for an innovator to launch a company but the startup community was hungry to fund something.
What excites you about your work?
We are delivering value that was not in the realm of possibility for many people dealing with chronic pain. When I was learning about nerve pain, I would ask what was the solution. Many times there simply wasn't. There was an unending timeline. I was interested in finding something tomorrow. The patients at the VA Hospital have an incredible amount of courage.
Even though it took us ten years, we are able to bring something to reality, for patients that don't have access to a solution. I work with physicians that are probably 10x smarter than I ever could have been! If I had finished medical school, I wouldn't be here. Everything I learned was from the community.
Describe a typical day in Startupland. What does your day look like?
It's literally never the same. Over the last quarter, I’ve been working with the FDA while fundraising for Series A and supporting clinical trials. I haven't stopped thinking about this work for ten years. I always figure out what the team needs first, then the company. Team members are so important. I get 10x as much joy working with our team. I think it's the fastest I could have grown personally and professionally.
How do you define innovation in the 21st Century?
We are innovating on every front, to make things happen faster. There are so many amazing resources available. Innovation is about creation - building and imagining what was not in the realm of possibility and making it possible today.
The San Diego startup community is super supportive. The level of experience and talent in San Diego blows my mind. Every other investor for my company has been from San Diego - they invest in me, the idea, and the passion.
What role have mentors played in your success/journey?
William J. Mazzei, MD, Vice Chairman of Technology Development and Professor of Anesthesiology was an incredible resource for me. I had so much support at UC San Diego. I worked really hard in undergraduate and graduate to get to the point I was, so it was scary tossing medical school aside but having the support of fellow doctors allowed me to make the leap.
Mazzei was doing the work I wanted to do - he even helped us negotiate our agreement with UC San Diego. He has dedicated his career to protecting inventors and I am so grateful for his wisdom along the journey.
What are some of the biggest challenges you faced in the startup process? How were you able to overcome them?
The innovation piece was easy, fundraising was hard! When I was raising money, there was a lot of uncertainty of how to start. I really didn’t know what to do or how to raise funds. My first round of funding took me 18 months to raise, but we were persistent and kept applying to every pitch comp. We then won six in a row. Keep promoting yourself - fight tooth and nail, all the pain is worth it.
What advice would you give to a UC San Diego student thinking about starting a company?
We actually have multiple University of California interns - they are great! Start interning with a local startup. You will learn some of the basic skills. Even if you're ready, the support from this experience will form around you.
Don't be afraid to ask for support. This is the fastest growing experience I can think of. Momentum is the lifeblood of startups...once the seed starts you can't stop it.
Follow your passion, the lack of internal resistance other people can feel. It’s contagious and they will want to be part of it.