Second chances and dream teams: Jeremy’s quest to change the world, one innovation at a time

Royina Bakshi Lock

In April 2020 Jeremy Van Eps received difficult news. For the last few years, he had been working with a start-up in Ohio, USA to develop an innovative technology that provided real-time, continuous insights for medication through sweat. The synthetic DNA-based technology had showed promising results, and it had the potential to revolutionize healthcare. However, the start-up was out of funding and had to shut down. The news was especially difficult because Jeremy, like others at this company, had put in his heart and soul to unlock that potential, a task he felt was still achievable.

A year later, Jeremy got a call from a small start-up in Australia called Nutromics. Nutromics was using the same synthetic DNA-based technology to develop a wearable biosensor that could track clinically relevant targets continuously and in real time. The technology had shown promising results and had the potential to save millions of lives. They wanted Jeremy to be a part of unlocking that potential.

“To quote Michael Scott ‘I was ready to get hurt again’”, Jeremy said with a laugh. He is the Lead Electrical Engineer at Nutromics. This is the story of how his personal purpose, to transform healthcare and save lives, resulted in his dream role 9890 miles (15,916 kms) away from home where he and his team are building a breakthrough wearable technology.

Tiny tech, big innovations

Jeremy was the first hire in Nutromics’ Embedded Engineering team. During his time at the company, he has helped set up the company’s Engineering and Electronics lab, grown his team, and directed the technical work on the wearable’s circuit boards. His team successfully miniaturised these boards from a device the size of two external hard drives to the size of a credit card to eventually the size of a coin. In 2023, they deployed these electronics in wearables used in the company’s first-in-human clinical study.

Looking back on this journey Jeremy said “A beautiful thing about working in start-ups is that you can start things from scratch. At other companies you’re usually building on things that have already been developed – you’re tweaking or reconfiguring it to work for a new application. I did have the benefit of building a similar platform at the last start-up I was a part of, but here we had very different goals of how we wanted to execute that. Being able to start from scratch, take a different viewpoint, and build something as fast as possible was challenging but exciting.”

Innovation always seems deceptively linear and simple. The reality is that to create a board that could be deployed in studies under two years entailed long hours, multiple challenges and pivots, and most importantly, perseverance. For many this may be daunting, but for Jeremy it is exciting, “When I come back to work after time off, I always feel like ‘Yes, this is it This is what I want to do.’  You’re putting so much of yourself in all the time.”

Pioneering Leadership

At Nutromics, Jeremy understands what it takes to be a great people manger. A driving force behind this is his awareness that innovation doesn’t happen alone. He helps set a technical direction for his team and trusts them to execute on the vision while taking ownership of their work.

Commenting on his leadership style, Jeremy said “I think of myself as someone who can point people into the direction they have to go in, but I like to give people ownership in the work that they do so that they can grow. It’s about being really supportive – give people the resources they need and build good culture within the team.”

Jeremy and his team practice collective ownership. “While people are responsible for their individual projects, they are encouraged to feel ownership in other people’s projects in that if they see something that needs help, they help out. If they see something that’s wrong or needs to be done a different way, they speak up”, he said. He routinely encourages his team to speak up, acknowledging that they are experts in what they are doing and that he may have blind spots that they can help with.

Jeremy is a big advocate for “sweeping the floors”. Elaborating, he said, “I’m not asking people to work ten hours while I just direct and leave after eight. If there is work to be done, I’m here working on it. If I’m asking someone to do a lot of work, even if I’m not working on it, I will be here to direct and support them.”

This is a practice he has seen demonstrated time and time again by the senior leaders at Nutromics, starting with the Head of Manufacturing Garry Chambers. “During an especially technically intense period Garry was always here with us helping, talking through problems we had, investigating with us. So, I see the effort being put in everywhere”, he said.

The secret sauce

To build a breakthrough technology, you need the best people in the world performing at the highest level they can. This is only possible if they have trust. Google found that trust is the single quality most effective teams attribute to their success.  Jeremy believes that Nutromics’ culture, that focuses on people connecting beyond work, helps achieve this elusive factor.

“Outside of work, a lot of people have become friends. There are different social groups based on shared interests. One group just went on vacation together and I think that’s quite rare that people would want to go on holiday with friends from work. I’ve often gone out for dinner with them. A lot of people will attend weekly drinks, even when they don’t drink, just to talk. I think what pulls us all together is this incredible mission that we all believe in and are working towards”, he said.

These personal connections help the team see each other as more than just colleagues. It allows them to be vulnerable in the workplace, which means that they are comfortable sharing failures, asking for help, or even giving difficult feedback. It creates a positive loop for collective ownership that extends beyond a person’s team or department, allowing for cross-functional collaboration. It’s the perfect environment for someone who is passionate, inquisitive, and open to learning.

“You get to know the people, you love the people, and you know that they believe in the potential of the technology as much as you”, Jeremy shared.