Senior Engagement Officer
SPIRIT OF MARQUETTE AWARD
Dr. Yi Sherry Zhang, Grad '07
A molecular biologist by training, Dr. Sherry Zhang also has entrepreneurship in her DNA. Her latest startup company, GenoPalate, combines genetic and nutrition analysis to offer insights for eating smart and healthy. It also combines Sherry’s expertise in human population genomics with her strong desire to help others.
Sherry arrived in Milwaukee in 2001 from her native China having launched two startups back home. She was drawn to Marquette for the strength of the research faculty in her field and the faithful aspects of a Catholic, Jesuit university. Her Marquette experience gave her just what she was hoping for, she says, preparing her “professionally and spiritually,” and helping her become a strong and courageous “independent thinker and doer.”
With a research focus on using DNA technologies to understand obesity and metabolic disorders, Sherry says she entered the life sciences field because she wanted to pursue a career where she could make a positive impact in people’s lives.
After finishing her doctoral studies at Marquette, Sherry went on to a postdoctoral fellowship followed by a research and faculty position at the Medical College of Wisconsin. There, as an assistant professor of medicine, her lab led pioneering work in understanding genomic and epigenomic mutations that naturally occur from environmental factors over generations, including what people eat.
Wanting to more efficiently transfer scientific discoveries in the research lab to insights consumers could use every day for better health, Sherry started GenoPalate in 2016, when she was still teaching and researching full time. She realized that, much like the popular ancestry-research companies examine DNA to determine family origins, she could analyze an individual’s genetic makeup against thousands of nutritional variables and determine which foods and nutrients contribute most to each customer’s optimal health.
GenoPalate was her side gig until the end of 2017, when she left the MCW to turn her full attention to what she calls her “other baby” — the first is her 12-year-old son, Ryan. In a little more than one year, GenoPalate has grown to include 10 employees.
The company has generated plenty of buzz along with its dietary data. Leaders at gener8tor, a Wisconsin-based startup accelerator that has invested in the company, say GenoPalate could become one of the region’s breakout startups. The company was listed as one of 2019’s best startups in Milwaukee by Tech Tribune, and Sherry has been named one of 2019’s “40 under 40” top business and community leaders by the Milwaukee Business Journal.
“I love what I do, because I feel I grow personally,” Sherry says. “It feeds my brain, my spirit and my soul.”
In the past, GenoPalate has employed two Marquette undergraduates working as interns to assist with areas including customer relations and product development. “I look forward to hiring more,” Sherry says.