Oct. 7, 2021

Schulich alumni use technology to create health-care social impact

NanoTess co-founders among winners of Schulich Alumni Awards
Megan Leslie and Julian Mulia have been named Schulich Alumni Early Achievement Award winners. Graphic by Nicole Laursen

The path to entrepreneurship hasn’t always been a straight line for Megan Leslie and Julian Mulia.

The co-founders of NanoTess, a material science startup, have persevered through their share of trials and tribulations since their days at the University of Calgary.

On Oct. 6, 2021, they were rewarded for their efforts by being named co-winners of the 2021 Schulich School of Engineering Alumni Early Achievement Award.

They say appreciation and gratefulness were the first words that came to mind when they were told they had won.

“It’s often mentioned that a founder’s journey can be a lonely one, so it’s important to surround yourself with champions,” says Leslie, BSc (Eng)’15, BComm’19. “That is exactly what we have at NanoTess — a network of supporters and champions who believe in both of our founders and our business.”

Drawing on personal experiences

Leslie and Mulia were motivated to make a change in the world after Mulia lost his father to cancer and his mother to a chronic infection.

They created NanoTess in 2020 in hopes of solving health challenges using nanotechnology, with a focus on treating chronic wounds like diabetic foot ulcers.

“It was very difficult not being able to provide the best life-saving care to a loved one living in Mexico,” says Mulia, BSc (Eng)’15, MEng’19. “We quickly appreciated how fortunate we are in Canada with our health-care system.”

Not only were they aiming to build a business based on new technology like catalytic nanomedicine, they also wanted to provide social impact.

“Our focus became to provide affordable life-changing health care so that people don’t have to choose between drowning in debt or saving a loved one,” Mulia says. “To date, we have supported hundreds of families in Mexico to avoid those same impossible decisions.”

An opportunity in education

Both Leslie and Mulia look back on their time at UCalgary with fondness, viewing it as integral to where they are today.

Leslie holds bachelor’s degrees in mechanical engineering and finance while Mulia has a bachelor’s in chemical engineering and a master’s in software engineering.

Schulich provided the best problem-solving training I could have hoped for as a young engineer. Through the experiences I gained in both course work and extracurricular activities, I was able to develop a foundational tool kit which I have built upon ever since.

- Megan Leslie

For Mulia, coming from a low-income family in Mexico and arriving at Schulich on a full-time scholarship provided him with one thing: an opportunity that changed his life.

“Schulich opened a world of possibilities, from exciting competitions, international internships and extraordinary people who want to change the world positively along the way,” he says. “I am really thankful that the school believed in me and put me on the path that has helped shape who I am.”

Bright futures ahead

Winning the alumni award also gave the pair an opportunity to look forward.

They say they hope to commercialize the technology behind NanoTess and get it into the hands of the people who need it.

They also hope their story serves as inspiration to current and future students about how unique everyone’s path is.

“You never know what life will throw your way,” Leslie says. “Just be open and willing to see it. I’ve learned that each of these opportunities has taught me something and I’m beyond grateful for my diverse career.”

Mulia agrees, adding you have to learn to embrace the pitfalls and failures along the way.

Maybe you graduate in a downturn or a pandemic, but the key is to lift up your eyes when things get tough — and they will. It’s just a matter of focusing on the next 20 steps, even though you don’t see the summit yet.

Congratulations to the other winners who were announced during the ceremony:

Alumni Leadership Excellence - Judy Fairburn
Diversity and Equity - Monika Tamber
Entrepreneurship - Ravinder Minhas 
Environment and Sustainability - Bita Malekian
Technical Achievement - Natalie Findlay

Watch the full awards ceremony here: