Daniel’s story

Curbing skin cancer through access to information

More than three million people around the world are diagnosed with skin cancer every year.  One of New Zealand’s emerging innovators and entrepreneurs is helping people protect themselves.

New Zealand has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world, and Dr Daniel Xu is on a mission to prevent it, by giving people the tools they need to protect themselves and their loved ones.

As if studying towards his PhD in Bioengineering at the University of Auckland in 2015 wasn’t enough, Daniel simultaneously co-founded UVLens®, a UV index and app to promote sunsmart decision-making.

Daniel's app on a mobile phone

He admits it was a constant tension to keep on top of the demands of running a breakthrough business, while balancing his PhD research. 

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We had to constantly go out to business meetings, do hackathons to build the product, and at the same time, research for our PhDs.

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“It was really hard trying to do two full-time jobs at the same time. We even contemplated dropping out of our PhDs to focus on the business at one stage.” Thankfully the University of Auckland community was committed to helping Daniel and his business partner succeed in both their studies, and their business. Peter Hunter, the director of the Bioengineering Institute, made sure they had office space in the same building, to help them focus.

Like most entrepreneurs, Daniel says there was a lot of learning from mistakes in the early stages of developing UVLens, like how to build a commercially-viable model, how to price it for consumers, and who exactly to target.

The UVLens app was recently touted one of the world’s top Android apps of 2018 by Techradar, and is available in more than 100 countries around the world. It gives a live UV report, sends alerts and offers recommendations to help users stay sunsmart whilst enjoying the outdoors. Health insurance companies are also using the interactive information to promote wellness among their customers.

UV Lens logo

Improving lives through tech

Daniel says his ultimate aim is to develop a global tech giant based in New Zealand.

“When I graduated, I realised that none of the companies I wanted to work for were based here. I want to create a company where we could attract not only our smartest people, but also talent from overseas,” he says.

He is currently based at his research and development company, Spark 64, which developed the sensor technology, software applications and cloud computing for UVLens. The team is now busy working on enhanced chatbot and AI solutions, with the aim of becoming the best conversational interface in the world. They recently launched a new tool to help people find the ideal gift for their friends, called Gift Insights www.giftinsights.com.

As part of his PhD, Daniel was also part of the team that created stretch sensors (basically pieces of rubber fabric that can be worn against the body) to capture motion. This product is now licenced to the wearable sensor company StretchSense Ltd, and it is now helping high performance athletes receive real-time feedback on their technique.

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I’m fascinated with creating new technology that improves and makes our lives easier.

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Growing future leaders

In 2017, Daniel was appointed as the Chair of Momentum, the first student-led investment committee at national research commercialisation programme, Return On Science. Momentum seeks to inspire entrepreneurship, and connect student founders to business advisors who can help them grow their ideas. Daniel sees the programme as being, “absolutely critical to the future of entrepreneurship in New Zealand”.

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