Hoping to build on the success of biotech giant Amgen in Thousand Oaks and portable oxygen-maker Inogen in Goleta, regional universities are working to embrace medical technology as part of the tri-county startup tech culture.
Westlake Village-based CDG Biotech, which makes diagnostic test kits for clinical labs, is one startup joining the biotech hub in the Conejo Valley region. The company was founded in 2015 by CEO Noel Silva, who moved to the area from Venezuela, along with his wife Llume, to attend a master’s dual-degree program in business and biotechnology at CSU Channel Islands.
The Silvas had already built a successful company in Latin America that manufactured and distributed devices, but made the decision to expand into the U.S. when they faced business difficulties during growing unrest in Venezuela in 2013.
Noel Silva said the program allowed him to further his education in biotech and business as well as network and plug into the business community within the region.
“The information was great, but I would put at the top my experience interacting with students, professors, peers and other members of the community,” Silva said.
In addition to the program at CSUCI, California’s reputation for innovation, proximity to Los Angeles, nice weather and a “biotech hub-like environment” in Westlake Village are other reasons Silva said he selected the region for the biotech startup.
Although the company is still in its incubation period, financing from Silva’s company in Venezuela as well as a distribution partnership and $500,000 investment from a European company with a similar product have contributed to its financial outlook.
“Our expectation for next year is to have $1 million in sales, and in three to five years between $4 million to $5 million in revenue per year,” he said, based on product sales in international markets.
Meanwhile, a new medical device company brewing in The SLO HotHouse in downtown San Luis Obispo and the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship has raised about $200,000 in seed money.
De Oro Devices incorporated in September and is currently in a pre-seed fundraising round, said founder and CEO Sidney Collin, who is working full time at De Oro and finishing her bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering at Cal Poly.
The device helps treat freezing of gait, a symptom commonly experienced by people with Parkinson’s disease that impairs their ability to walk.
“We didn’t necessarily invent a new technology to treat this symptom. We took the research and gave people a device they can use,” Collin said. Along with her two teammates, both Cal Poly connections who run business operations, Collin is working on testing and research.
The group has created prototypes and tested the device on about 10 patients at conferences, associations and support groups for people with Parkinson’s across the Tri-Counties, Collins said.
Funding has trickled in from The Parkinson Alliance, Cal Poly’s HotHouse accelerator program and national grants. On Dec. 14, the group will compete for thousands of dollars in funding from an Arizona State University innovation competition.
The concept of De Oro Devices started as a school project for Collin when she met a local veteran named Jack who was experiencing freezing of gait. When he came to Cal Poly for help, she helped create the device for him.
“At the time, that’s all I thought it was,” she said, but after attending Jack’s support group she realized the need was much bigger. Physical therapists and large companies were asking for a prototype.
Collin said the device doesn’t need FDA approval and the team hopes to get it out to patients within the next six to 12 months.
In Santa Barbara County, hearing aid device company iHear Medical was created by UC Santa Barbara graduates. Although the business is now located in the Bay Area and the original founder is no longer with the company, two executives and an engineer are UCSB grads.
iHear developed an FDA-approved iHeartest kit that can be purchased online or over-the-counter and is especially beneficial for people with diabetes who often experience hearing loss but don’t have it tested regularly, CEO John Luna said.
The test also recommends specific hearing aids based on the severity of hearing loss.
The American Diabetes Association announced a partnership with iHear in November, and the company has signed distribution agreements with major pharmacy distributers, including Amerisource Bergen, Cardinal Health, CVS Pharmacy and Rite Aid.
“Having home hearing assessment available over-the-counter is something that is of high interest to retailers and consumers,” Luna said.
With 25 patents pending, iHear is currently in a Series D round of financing for product marketing and distribution, he said. It plans on raising $25 million in financing in the current round.
“I’m fortunate to be one of the grads from UCSB that has been able to use his degree and experience from UCSB throughout my entire professional career,” said Luna, who graduated from the university with a bachelor’s degree in audiology in 1992.