Meet the Founders — Chief Scientific Officer Jennifer Steger
Meet Jennifer Steger. Scientist. Entrepreneur. Glacier traverser. Proud member/alumna of the world’s best (and only) ice skating band. Equestrian enthusiast. Chief Scientific Officer of Nanodropper.
Jenny is one of the four co-founders of Nanodropper. She brings credibility to the team with her knowledge and research prowess! Read on to learn more about her background.
Jenny’s inquisitive mind and entrepreneurial roots led her to join Nanodropper’s mission. She recently completed her PhD in pharmacology at the University of Washington, and she has nine years of scientific research experience at top academic institutions, including her alma mater Brown University, Harvard Medical School, and UW. She is the author of seven peer-reviewed research publications on various topics spanning pharmacology, neurobiology, and endocrinology.
Jenny grew up in the shadow of Silicon Valley in Half Moon Bay, California. She comes from a family of entrepreneurs, including her cousin, uncle, and late father. Jenny is excited to follow in their footsteps, and utilize her biomedical research background to develop innovative solutions to long-standing global health problems. Her biggest conquest to date will be with Nanodropper, where she will lead all research-related pursuits of the company, including securing grants and collaborating with academic laboratories to spearhead clinical trials evaluating the safety and efficacy of the Nanodropper adaptor relative to standard-of-care treatments.
Following the Science
“I remember Allisa (Song, Nanodropper’s CEO) telling me about the ProPublica article she read, and how she and Elias (Baker, Nanodropper’s COO) were interested in innovating a solution,” Jenny recalled, citing Allisa’s initial inspiration for the Nanodropper and its potential to help patients with diseases such as glaucoma.
As a PhD candidate at the time and an experienced researcher, Jenny knew that many research initiatives can prove fruitless in terms of immediate impact. With Nanodropper, she saw an opportunity to make a difference right away.
“I started by conducting a comprehensive literature search to ascertain whether smaller volume eyedrops compromise the safety and efficacy of various drugs. I was eager to apply my skillset to solving a problem that we would be able to make immediate headway in addressing.”
It was a vital step to ensure Nanodropper’s viability — as it turns out, there are decades of research demonstrating that smaller eyedrops, or microdrops, are just as effective as the typical drop that we’re all used to. She will continue that line of research in her role as Nanodropper’s CSO.
“Being part of a startup, as well as conducting research, forces you to be resourceful and to think creatively about problems that you need to solve,” Jenny said. “I’m thrilled for the opportunity to work with our academic partners to guarantee that our device undergoes rigorous clinical testing. This will ensure that our company is on sound scientific footing, allowing us to build trust with patients, providers, and healthcare organizations.”
Tackling Challenges Head-On
Jenny and her family learned about health-related challenges early in her life when her sister, Laura, was diagnosed with focal segmental glomeruosclerosis (FSGS) in 1998. Laura was just four years old at the time. FSGS is a disease in which scar tissue develops in parts of the kidney where waste is filtered from the blood.
Laura ended up needing a kidney transplant at eight years old. The donor? None other than Jenny and Laura’s mother, Joanne Brown. Both did well through the surgery, and are thriving to this day! Helping her family through this process inspired Jenny, compelling her to take on challenges she might never have thought of. She had played a lot of sports and took on music growing up, along with being an avid horseback rider. But as high school came around, she was ready to push her limits.
So in 2008, Jenny decided to go to Alaska for 10 weeks.
This wasn’t just any trip — it was the Juneau Icefield Research Program (JIRP), one of the longest-running field study programs in the nation. She was one of two high schoolers on that year’s expedition. The rest were college-age. That year’s group inspired an article by The New York Times about JIRP and its long-lasting impact in the environmental movement.
“I heard about the program from my AP biology teacher whose kids had participated in the past,” Jenny said. She described backpacking onto the glacier where they were doing research as one of the most physically strenuous days of her life.
“There was a section of the trail called the ‘vertical swamp’ — a very steep embankment that we had to climb and, at some points, crawl on our hands and knees. It made me regret bringing my AP textbooks for summer homework! It was a very eye-opening and humbling introduction to life on the icefield,” she recalled with a laugh.
Despite the physical hardships, the trip represented a formative experience for Jenny.
“It was a life-changing experience for me. Putting myself so far outside of my comfort zone and seeing how much I thrived, and truly loved it, opened my eyes. I came back feeling like I was stepping back into a box. I didn’t want to limit myself anymore.”
While the trip cemented her love for the outdoors, hiking, and backpacking, it also represented Jenny’s first taste of doing research.
“I was hooked.”
Jenny continued to make bold, intentional decisions to challenge and push her limits — like moving across the country to attend Brown University, where she majored in neuroscience and conducted research on the neuroendocrinology of obesity and energy balance. She also honed her musical prowess, drawing on her experience playing the piano, clarinet, and saxophone as a child to join the Brown Band, known as the world’s best, and only, ice skating band. She hopes to tackle the violin next!
She then spent two years conducting research on the neural circuitry of appetite and feeding behavior in the Lowell Lab at Harvard Medical School before returning to the west coast. Her decision to attend the University of Washington to earn her PhD in pharmacology would prove to be a pivotal choice.
“This is when I met Allisa and Mackenzie (Andrews, Chief Commercialization Officer for Nanodropper).” This was also where Jenny met her partner Harrison Fontaine, a fellow scientist who shares her enthusiasm for research and the outdoors.
It Runs in the Family
Jenny’s family has a bit of an entrepreneurial streak — they even seem to all gravitate toward medical device companies. Her cousin Dan Magy recently put together a team of engineers and designers to create unique solutions for mobility and pain issues. Her uncle, Ed Steger, who worked with Jenny’s father on this, harnessed his own experience battling throat and mouth cancer and the dysphagia it caused to create an at-home swallowing training device for people with swallowing disorders.
“Right now these devices are only available for in-clinic use in physical therapy sessions,” Jenny said. “My uncle is such an inspiring person. His last normal meal was in 2006, and instead of allowing this to get him down, he used it as motivation to help others dealing with dysphagia. His company’s mission aligns with Nanodropper’s — to make healthcare more affordable and accessible.”
All of these influences have continued to inspire and motivate Jenny — but no entrepreneurial influence was greater than her father, Hal Steger. He started several companies throughout his career and was working with his brother to develop the swallowing training device until, in late 2017, he received the devastating diagnosis of a glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer. He passed away in October 2018, but not before he saw his daughter follow in his footsteps as a business owner.
“My dad was so happy that I was involved in a startup. It was a really special thing for us to share,” she recalled.
As Nanodropper pushes into its third year of existence, Mr. Steger’s lifetime investment in his daughter’s curiosity has certainly produced incalculable value for this company, and those around her.
“I think he would be very proud of how far we’ve come,” Jenny said.
Click here to learn how the Nanodropper delivers you value-based care, one drop at a time. It’s time to take back control of your eye health.