Divya Nag (second from right)
sits in the audience for the Intel
International Science and
Engineering Fair 2009 Grand
Awards Ceremony, where she
won a Second Place Award in
Earth and Planetary Sciences.
Student Enterprises (SSE) Labs. Because of its name, we mistakenly thought the program provided lab space, which we were in
desperate need for. Unfortunately, the name was a misnomer,
and the program only offered a laptop and desk. Although it was
predominantly a consumer IT accelerator program, after a few
sessions, it became clear that there are some universal truths
when starting a company: the importance of picking a right cofounder, raising money, establishing a team culture and hiring
your first non-cofounding employee.
There were a lot of differences too, and so in 2012 — while I was
still running Stem Cell Theranostics — I started StartX Med, the
medical arm of SSE Labs. Start X Med sought to create specialized
resources for medical entrepreneurs, like help with U. S. Food and
Drug Administration approvals.
You left Stanford during your sophomore year to build your
company. What was going through your mind when you made
such a critical decision? Did you get any pushback?
My parents still ask me if I plan to finish my degree. In many ways,
it was the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make, but also, the
easiest because the promise of the work that we developed was
In 2014, at just 23 years old, you joined the Apple Special
Projects Group. What is your current role and what has it been
like for you having this type of position at such a young age?
I never thought I’d end up at a place like Apple. My job description
is essentially to push boundaries and dream of what the future
of health care looks like and what role Apple can play. Apple’s
cultural DNA is fueled by making products that consumers love,
and I think that focus when applied to industries like health care,
which haven’t traditionally put consumers at the center, has been
You serve as a role model for women who’d like to enter male-dominated fields like science, engineering and technology. What
advice do you have for young women like yourself?
I want to live in a world where
science, engineering and
technology have the best and
brightest minds working on some of these challenging problems
and that cannot happen if half of the mindshare isn’t even at the
table. I would like to tell women not to give up. Don’t be disheartened by being the only woman in a classroom or in a boardroom.
Own it. Love it. Be curious. Tackle problems that are super, super
hard. Fail at things, but spectacularly, and don’t be afraid of that,
and you’ll undoubtedly find not only value in all those experiences,
but grow and learn as a person.
What books inspired you when you were young?
I think that reading fiction not only builds empathy, but exposes
readers to a different way of life. You can imagine flying cars and
life in space. When I was younger, all the books that I remember
most fondly, like Brave New World, were where you empathize and
live in imaginary worlds.
You once told Fortune, “I want to put people in charge of their
health. It’s not about living with a specific disease or condition.
It’s about living, full stop.” This is a powerful statement. Can you
tell me more about what you meant?
I view health as a fundamental human right, and I’m obsessed with
empowering consumers to have a voice in their own health care.
It’s crazy to me that other people dictate what we can and can’t
know about our health. In our system, people are not thought of
as people —they are thought of as their condition. It’s all about
treating diabetes or cancer, and as a result, medical products and
innovation in this space involve horrible user experiences. These
products are being designed for conditions, not individuals. I want
to change that by putting people back at the center.
There are so many challenges in the world today. What keeps
you up at night?
I’m concerned about the growing inequalities in the world, whether
that’s the education gap, the income gap, incarceration inequity or
the health gap where the sick get sicker. So I spend my nights thinking about how technology can help close that opportunity gap and
bring us closer to an even playing field.