Candel co-founders
Candel co-founders

Spotlight: Raul Castillo Astorga, PhD Student, Biomedical Engineering Graduate Group

UC Davis PhD student's startup wins first place in the BRAIN Chile 2023 Startup Competition


  • Tell us a bit about yourself, your background and interests. 

I received my MD degree at the Universidad de Chile, and I am now a first year PhD student in Biomedical Engineering at UC Davis. I am also the founder and CEO of a Chilean startup called Candel, which won the First Place in the BRAIN (Business Research Acceleration Innovation) Startup Competition in November 2023. Ever since childhood, I’ve been fascinated with computers and technology. In medical school, I became very interested in neuroscience and biomedical research. My work with the startup company and the PhD program allows me to combine my passions and skillsets to become a neuroengineer and help patients recover from neurological disorders. I am pursuing a Designated Emphasis in Neuroengineering, and I participate in many of the education and training activities organized by the Center for Neuroengineering and Medicine.

  • When did you take the plunge in entrepreneurship, and what motivated you? What does your company do? 

Our startup is a neuroengineering company that developed a neurological telerehabilitation platform for people to recover from stroke or traumatic brain injury (TBI) at home, while we also deliver transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) therapy through our devices for neuromodulation. Our technology improves patients’ quality of life, allowing them personalized rehabilitation treatments and combining conventional therapy with neuromodulation techniques for better and faster rehabilitation. I took the plunge in entrepreneurship because I was frustrated by the scarcity of features of existing neuromodulation devices. During the COVID lockdown, I started developing devices for a clinical study my co-founder and I were trying to conduct.

  • Tell us about the BRAIN Chile 2023 Startup Competition. What was the timeline? 

The BRAIN Chile is one of the largest scientific startup competitions in Latin America. Its goal is to develop science and technology-based ventures that were created in higher education institutions in Latin America. A total of 33 projects competed this year. The timeline was long. Our team was involved in 4 months of acceleration, lots of meetings to develop our business plan, and getting results from our studies at the same time. We became finalists in the competition, and then Lucia del Valle, MD and co-founder, brought home the gold for Candel, with her excellent pitching skills.

As the first-place winner, we took home 16M Chilean Pesos, which is roughly the equivalent of $20,000. Overall, our startup raised over $100,000 (US dollars) of non-diluting funding through grants and prizes. We are now competing in the Big Bang Business Plan Competition at UC Davis.

  • What do you see as a successful future for your company, and in what timeframe? What are the short-term plans for your startup (1-3 years)?

We would like to finalize an agreement and execute a partnership with a major chain of Clinical Centers called “Mutual de Seguridad”, so that we can deploy our devices and tele-therapy throughout Chile. In parallel, we will be taking our first steps toward internationalization.

  • What are your long-term plans and how do you plan to manage your professional development (pursuing a PhD degree, and post-PhD plans) in parallel with your startup?

I have always been a multitasker. Undertaking studies for my PhD while coordinating my responsibilities as CEO of Candel is challenging, but I am sure I will manage. It also takes a lot of trust in our team, so we are placing a huge focus in finding people who are self-driven and motivated. A big shoutout to Sebastian Muena, co-founder and COO of the company, who is now taking care of a lot of the hands-on activities and in-person meetings.

The Candel Team
The Candel team

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