Career Path: From piano to entrepreneur | Crain's Los Angeles

Career Path: From piano to entrepreneur

Nanxi Liu is the founder of Enplug and Nanoly Bioscience. | Photo courtesy of Nanxi Liu.

At 27-years old Nanxi Liu has already founded two successful companies.

The first, Nanoly Bioscience, was founded when Liu was still in college. The company developed NanoShield, a polymer that allows vaccines to survive without being refrigerated. Liu's second company, Enplug, is a digital software display company.

Crain's Los Angeles spoke with Liu about her childhood, education and starting two companies. 

Growing up

I grew up in China and then in Colorado. Growing up in China, I was living with different grandparents and relatives. My parents were in Europe. I don’t have a lot of memories [of that time] except for what my relatives have told me.

I moved to Colorado when I was five years old. My parents became grad students at Colorado State University. They got scholarships to study there. My dad was getting a Ph.D. and my mom was getting a second masters.

We were super poor. We lived in subsidized housing and couldn’t afford anything. We lived by a regional airport. I’d see the planes fly by and hoped that one day I’d get to go on a plane and travel.

The first cool thing I got to do was play the piano. My parents got me a piano from a garage sale for $100. It was very old and needed tuning. I played and ended up getting music scholarships for college.

Going to UC Berkley

I wanted to study business, I wanted to study international relations and I wanted to study engineering and Berkley’s great for all three of those things.

I had an academic scholarship and music scholarships, a lot of them from foundations for piano performances and winning piano competitions. 

Starting Nanoly

While I was in college I had different internships that ranged from engineering to working in investment banking.

I started Nanoly Bioscience my senior year of college during winter break. I met my co-founder at a bar. I thought he was cute and realized later on that he was a genius so I said, "let’s work together."

He went to MIT, had a Ph.D. and was working on his MD. In his Ph.D. research we found an opportunity to commercialize a product, working on this one polymer.

Starting Enplug

About half a year later I met another brilliant guy named David who was looking for a co-founder for a company. It was a general idea having to do with displays. We realized displays show content to us, but what if they could interact with each the screens around them? We wanted to build a network of smart screens. So we built our own software to power content on different screens.

None of us came from a digital signage background, so we had fresh eyes and perspective on building it.

I moved to L.A. right after I graduated. A week after graduation I took a U-Haul down and drove all my stuff to L.A. I had very few things. The only thing I had of real value was my piano.

We found a place in Koreatown, the cheapest apartment we could find and fit in. I roomed with my co-founders. We lived and worked out of that little apartment. We eventually upgraded to a house in Bel Air. And then outgrew that house and now we have offices internationally.

Growth and next steps

I want to keep on building Nanoly and Enplug. I get excited about the customers that use our software. From YouTube to GE to Hilton to startups. their screens run on Enplug software.

There’s always a side project here or there too. I was a producer on an Amazon TV show and ended up wining an Emmy for it. It was called “The Bay.” The director, Gregori Martin, is a very talented director. When he asked me to be a producer I said yes.

February 23, 2018 - 12:45am