Deborah Neff, '76 B.S. in Physiology, Talks Entrepreneurship: Recognizing Opportunity, Balancing Risk

Deborah Neff '76 stands with College of Biological Sciences Dean Mark Winey. David Slipher/UCDavis
Deborah Neff '76 stands with College of Biological Sciences Dean Mark Winey. David Slipher/UC Davis

Risk is inherent in the world of entrepreneurship and innovation. For Deborah Neff ’76, chief executive officer of Evanostics and principal at DJN Consulting, risk is important, but not risk of a haphazard nature.

“You need to take risks, but in a calculated, thoughtful way,” said Neff, a physiology alumna and UC Davis Foundation trustee. “When an opportunity to try something new — where you feel your background will let you really make an impact or the opportunity will expand your overall foundation for career growth presents itself — go for it.”

For more than 30 years, Neff has been a player in the life sciences industry, holding positions at both early-stage small companies and large multi-billion dollar corporations. She has provided mentorship to scientists, engineers and business leaders, including many Aggies, and has had a hand in developing cancer diagnostics and establishing a certified clinical laboratory, among other accomplishments.

“I have always been drawn to where the innovative, potentially high-impact technologies and products to the life sciences field have existed,” said Neff. “Often these are higher risk, which requires out of the box thinking, fast-paced decision making and collaborative efforts.”

Neff’s recent venture with Evanostics is poised to disrupt how forensic and clinical fields test for drug abuse. Based on patented and proprietary technology, Evanostics’ system provides highly sensitive, rapid and multiplexed diagnostic results from saliva. The product comprises three components: a sample collection device, a microfluidics assay test cartridge and sensor and an instrument to read and report results.

“I tend to be motivated by businesses and products that solve a problem, offer a solution and impact and improve health,” said Neff. “Evanostics does just that. The company is currently optimizing the core technology to apply it to the critical, unmet needs in the pain and addiction management markets, as part of the solution to address the current opioid crisis,”

Neff’s desire to create and develop innovative technologies in collaborative environments was born at UC Davis. Her laboratory classes provided her opportunities to apply what she learned in the lecture hall to real-life problems, and the open atmosphere fostered an incubator of creative problem-solving.

“UC Davis is a fabulous institution where innovation is encouraged and thrives. The multi-faceted education you can pursue because of the full breadth of fields of study at UC Davis allows you to be creative and not bound to a single field of study or point of view,” said Neff. “The results motivated me enough to further pursue creative solutions, which defines what’s at the core of the entrepreneurial spirit.”

Neff’s belief in UC Davis’ programs has led to her active engagement in the university’s philanthropic community. Neff is matching gifts of $500 or more to the College of Biological Sciences Annual Fund and Dean’s Circle.

This story originally appeared in AggieXtra.