Written By Amanda Mollindo

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Serving Phoenix entrepreneurs and Arizona’s startup ecosystem is always CEI’s priority, but we jump on any opportunity to expand our network and support international founders who dream of entering the U.S. market. Doing so helps us stay aware of how entrepreneurs with diverse backgrounds are thinking about problems and how their home countries are using their resources to encourage innovation.

Living in a globalized world, emerging technologies can have different applications for different regions. A discovery that’s made in a small Eastern European country may fulfill a big need in the U.S. Similarly, we’ve seen our clients take life-saving technology overseas to help communities abroad. By hosting international groups — whether it be through entrepreneurship programs or visiting delegations — we can share our knowledge and learn from new perspectives. “When you ask international entrepreneurs to name innovation hot spots in the United States, the major hubs like Silicon Valley, New York and Boston usually come to their mind, said Tom Schumann, CEI Executive Director. “Here at CEI, we enjoy showing our guests the benefits that Phoenix has to offer in our uniquely nurturing and collaborative startup ecosystem.”

This year, we had the opportunity to host three bioscience entrepreneurs through the GIST Program, delivered by VentureWell. One of the longest international programs we’ve participated in to-date, these innovators joined us for four weeks. Following that, Patti DuBois, our Assistant Executive Director, flew out for the GIST Convening in Washington D.C. on November 20th. Keep reading to learn about the program, and what serving an international network of entrepreneurs means to us!

What is GIST? 

Global Innovation through Science and Technology (GIST) is an initiative by the U.S. Department of State that empowers science and technology innovators from over 130 emerging economies. GIST has partnered with VentureWell to implement Startup Boot Camps, TechConnect interactive online programs and incubator residencies. We were thrilled to be a part of this program to offer mentorship, connections, and resources to our visitors. 

Meeting the International Innovators

We hosted three ambitious biotech entrepreneurs from different countries in Europe. As a part of the founding team for early-stage startups, each of our guests were eager to learn about business in the U.S. Find out more about each of them below! 


Malika Shertay

Product Marketing Manager at Astana Biomed Group
Location: Kazakhstan 

“When I arrived in Phoenix I was not sure about our future market entry strategy, but in these last four weeks, I found that there is still a market need for our product in the US. Now I have a clearer path to entry.”

Astana Biomed Group is developing AmnioSkin, an amniotic membrane and synthetic polymer-based material for efficient wound healing applications. This product has regenerative properties that can work with burns, cuts, ulcers and more.


Alyona Glushko

Chief Communications Officer, iCardy
Location: Ukraine

“After my time at CEI, I’ve learned that one of the most important things in business is your team, because 90% of your startup’s success depends on them.”

iCardy is a medical device that detects hidden atrial fibrillation (AFib) more accurately and faster than any other product on the market. iCardy consists of a slim patch that continuously monitors the wearer’s heart, and a smart bracelet that analyzes heart activity. 


Diyora Dalimova

Chief Communications Officer, LiPatch
Location: Uzbekistan

“What makes Arizona’s startup ecosystem stand out is that you can get feedback and advice about your product and make a lot of connections to your business.”

LiPatch is a protective, spray-on film that protects damaged skin from contamination and helps relieve pain. LiPatch replaces standard adhesive bandages with a solution that is more flexible, comfortable and hygienic than traditional methods.

A Month of Adventure, Community, and Education

Week 1

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Our visiting entrepreneurs arrived mid-October, and CEI advisors immediately got started with conversations about strategy. Tom and Patti know the importance of setting a strong foundation in business, so they walked through foundational content to prepare Malika, Alyona and Diyora for a successful month.

Their first week was a crash-course in Arizona’s startup community. They got to hear from marketing expert and CEO of WireBuzz, Todd Hartley, who gave us a sneak preview to some of the content he will be sharing as a presenter at Tony Robbins Business Mastery Tour next year! During October’s Founders Forum, Todd spoke about using video storytelling to speed up sales and shared his tips for resonating with potential customers. 

On Wednesday, Patti joined the GIST crew at DesTech AZ in Scottsdale. There, they watched the 2019 Arizona Innovation Challenge winners pitch and met co-founder of Apple, Steve Wozniak. A few days later, they attended Seed Spot’s Impact Entrepreneur Meetup to get a taste of the Central Phoenix startup community. 

Over the weekend, Malika, Alyona and Diyora decompressed from a busy week by joining Patti on a 5K fundraiser walk and a trip to Sedona — a must for any first-time visitor to the state! 

Weeks 2 & 3


The next two weeks were packed full of mentorship sessions with Subject Matter Experts like CEO Mentor, Tom Zender; Lou Ferrina from the AZ SBDC; Ron Kisicki from Woods Oviatt Gilman; and Ben Smith, CEO of Xcellerate Biomedical Technologies. “I was impressed by our meetings with Tom Zender. He is an amazing business mentor. We spoke with him about communication and conflicts, which was very useful to me,” said Alyona. Later on, met with award-winning innovator and entrepreneur, Mohammad Albanna; regulatory and quality assurance consultant, Amy Stoklas-Oakes; and marketing expert, Greg Bullock. Diyora said, “it was really helpful to speak with Amy about regulatory affairs and quality assurance systems because I was able to understand the key requirements necessary for biotech products into the U.S. market.”

They attended a networking event at the AZ Co-Work Center called Getting in the Mind of Angel Investors. “I really enjoyed the networking event. I learned what Investors expect from startup companies, said Malika. “In particular, I found out that they are more interested in your team members and how they work with each other to run a successful business.” 

They also met with Mitzi Krockover and Carrie Borgen, from Golden Seeds who shared their experiences as female business leaders and investors. Around the same time, the GIST entrepreneurs toured the ASU Biodesign Institute and joined the CEI community for our Annual Chili Cook Off and costume contest!

Week 4

Malika, Alyona and Diyora’s last week in Phoenix included meeting with Claudia Whitehead and Martin Perez from the Economic Development Office of the City of Phoenix. They also spoke with co-founder and CTO of RexPay, Harlow Burgess, on the importance of HIPAA Data protection. And before their visit wrapped up, they met with Katie Boddy and Carol Laisure-Pool at the AZ SBDC to learn about conducting business internationally. Following that, they had a discussion with Ulya Khan on being a successful international CEO and angel investor.

Finally, all the GIST entrepreneurs, including the cohort at the UofA in Tucson, came together for a small pitch event here at the Center. They presented to a panel of judges that included:

  • Anita Hill – UofA and Tucson GIST host
  • Don Weber – CEO of Beacon Biomedical
  • Wiley Larsen – ASU Program Manager & VentureWell Representative
  • Anthony Bajoras – Managing Director of the Cancer Impact Fund
  • Tom Zender – CEO Mentor

This was a great opportunity for all seven participating entrepreneurs to learn about each other’s businesses, practice their presentation skills, and get feedback on their pitches! 

Wrapping Up in Washington D.C.


Before they headed back home, Malika, Alyona and Diyora had the chance to meet with Patti one last time during the Washington D.C. Convening. International founders who participated in the GIST program across the country had an opportunity to pitch and network with fellow participants and U.S. business leaders. 

“28 founders courageously got on a plane, flew halfway around the world to learn, be challenged, and discover how their products might do in the U.S. The event was inspiring,” said Patti DuBois. “Global entrepreneurs shared experiences from their month with incubators and accelerators across the nation.”

Overall, this was such a rewarding experience for the CEI team, and we couldn’t have done it without all of the Subject Matter Experts and local entrepreneurs who helped make their month in Arizona a success.

We hope that our three international innovators can apply what they’ve learned now that they’re back home and look forward to future opportunities to collaborate with and support entrepreneurs from all over the globe!

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