Hi there, I’m
I was born in the Ukraine and educated in America and the U.K. with stints in China and Ghana. I've used my multicultural upbringing to see problems from different angles and solve them in creative ways. My early experiences in molecular biology, led to my interest in infectious disease education through games. I later used game based methodology to teach kids computer science in revolutionary ways. Along the way I started and exited several companies. Currently I'm is an investor at NZVC, a New Zealand focused VC fund helping bridge the gap between innovative kiwi founders and bigger markets in North America and Asia.
New Zealand's first
operator run fund
I came to New Zealand a day before the border closed in March of 2020. I was originally intending to visit for a few weeks, but given the superb handling of the pandemic on the part of the NZ government coupled with remote working, I ended up staying 3 years and becoming a permanent resident. I saw New Zealand as being early on the innovation curve, similar to what Silicon Valley looked like 30 years ago. Hungry, talented yet humble and hard-working founders coupled with a politically stable environment struck me as an emerging ecosystem with much underrated talent. My two partners, Ajay and Glen and I started NZVC as a small, early-stage NZ focused seed fund, helping NZ companies reach global markets and investors.
Learn With Mochi:
After exiting my first company, Piper, me and 2 cofounders started Learn With Mochi to create coding tools for kids as young as 3 years old. My co-founder Mihran was struggling to teach his young daughters coding concepts without having to resort to screen time. We created revolutionary product that combined hands-on tactile play with real-life coding concepts and coupled with experience with a 15 book story library to contextualize these concepts through a fun and friendly bear named Mochi. To date we have shipped close to 20,000 units to date across 6 continents and our products have won top industry awards for STEM and computer science.
inspiring the inventors and creators of tomorrow
I began tinkering with single board computers (Raspberry Pi) in my Oxford dorm room and was inspired by my experience in Ghana to teach kids the basics of computing and programming using these revolutionary devices in a game-based way. We got funding to turn our prototypes into a business and I dropped out of my Oxford PhD to move to San Francisco and build the company. The company narrowly avoided death many times, but in the end we launched our product, got support from Steve Wozniak and orders from Elon Musk, and eventually shipped over 100k units to schools and kids all over the world with the help of over $15m in funding from investors. I exited Piper to my investors after 5 years and the company continues to operate and delight kids to this day.
Games in Ghana:
infectious disease prevention
Wanting to branch out from research in the lab, I proposed a project to test game-based methods to teach kids about infectious disease prevention. Princeton funded this project through the Adel Mahmoud Global Health Scholarship and I spent a few months in a tiny Ghanain village (Humjibre) assessing whether games helped make malaria prevention more interesting and memorable to kids. Our results showed that games had a significant impact on retention, and beyond the quantitative stuff, kids actually had fun learning. I think for many of them that was the first time they had fun in the classroom. That experience showed me that correct information wasn't enough. That good user experience was critical in enabling behavior change.
“That going somewhere in person isn’t the most effective solution. So I decided to learn to program, to build something capable of helping thousands or even millions of people”
from worms to brains
I started molecular biology research at the age of 16 when a kind professor took a chance and let me try doing some experiments with microscopic worms (c. elegans). That experience whet my appetite for tinkering, and I spent the next 6 years doing research in many different fields: see-through solar panels (material chemistry), ocean acidification (geoscience), how cells divide (molecular biology at the Coller Lab), the proteins behind mice memory (biochemistry), how fly's perceive the world (computational neuroscience), unique ways in which RNA can be transcribed into proteins (molecular biology), and ways to grow cancer cells in 3D structures (bioengineering). These experiences gave me the full breadth of experience and understanding about experimental science and yielded several publications. Yet I felt a need to work on something that had immediate, real-world applications.
“I went to Oxford and worked on a doctorate about applying computer science and machine learning in biology”