John Cox had heard that Octane’s LaunchPad program could be tough on the ego, but he was intrigued by the opportunity to go through the prestigious business accelerator program, a top 5 Small Business Development Center (SBDC) in the US. “As a first-time CEO, I wanted an opportunity to have rigorous and honest assessments of my pitching skills, my presentations, and my fundraising materials”, John observed, “but that feedback is hard to get.” John’s sentiment is not unusual: CEO’s often complain that potential investors rarely take the time to give detailed feedback after a presentation, constructive or otherwise.
One of the goals of Octane’s LaunchPad program is to develop the local startup ecosystem, and a key to this is to help local startups raise money and scale in the Orange County area. As part of the program, they provide startup CEOs with a 4-month series of pitching and review exercises, overseen by a committee of local entrepreneurs, executives and investors. They review the company’s materials, make suggestions on style and content, and then schedule a series of ever-more-challenging presentation sessions for the startup CEO. After each presentation, the committee asks the CEO typical questions he or she might field in a venture boardroom, and they provide immediate, constructive feedback. At the end of the program, the CEO is given a written summary report showing the cumulative feedback, ratings, and analytics, where the company is rated against all previous LaunchPad companies in a dozen categories.
Somnera, founded originally as “Fresca Medical,” is a “passion project” for John. The company has developed a new treatment for Sleep Apnea, a condition that not only affects millions of Americans, it plagued his uncle for his entire adult life. “I think almost everyone knows someone with Sleep Apnea, and when I met the founders of this company, I knew immediately that I wanted to be the CEO. Improving the treatment of Sleep Apnea could be a game-changer for millions of people, and a great opportunity for the Company’s shareholders.” Sleep Apnea doesn’t just cause exhaustion and missed work: left untreated, it causes a three-fold increase in all-cause mortality, and it also has been shown to make a wide variety of other conditions, from diabetes to dementia, worse. “The problem is that most people can’t tolerate or don’t want existing treatments, so there is clear space for innovation.”
During the LaunchPad feedback sessions, John improved his materials and his presentation deck substantially, and worked on his timing and delivery. “Over time, I found that I could actually get more across with cleaner slides and slower delivery. By focusing more on the audience, I could get immediate audience buy-in, which really makes the entire pitching experience more enjoyable for me,” observed John. “Our technology is a real breakthrough for Sleep Apnea sufferers, and I learned how to make my passion for the opportunity come through in all of my communication.”
After completing the program, Somnera was chosen out of over 300 entrants to be one of the Elite Eight medtech companies featured at the Medical Technology Innovation Forum (MTIF) in 2017. The event culminated in an 8-minute presentation delivered to a crowd of over 600 investors, bankers, colleagues and executives. John also won the “elevator pitch” contest that year, and Somnera went on to close two rounds of fundraising as he took Somnera from early-stage to launch stage. John was honored to be the Master of Ceremonies of the 2019 MTIF, having cemented long-lasting relationships with many members of the Orange County medtech ecosystem.
The company secured its first FDA clearance in 2018, followed by the clearance of its commercial-ready Somnera™ System in June 2020, and will launch the product in the US in November 2020. Over the last three years, Somnera has completed a Randomized-Controlled Trial, secured 6 US patents, 2 international patents, two regulatory approvals, US reimbursement authorization, and completed manufacturing and supply chain setup. John and Somnera are now working with Octane Enterprise Solutions on a new capital raise to finance launch, scale-up production and optimize the customer capture model. “If you get the opportunity to go through LaunchPad, take it,” John concluded. To find out more about Somnera or to be one of the first to own a Somnera™ System for Sleep Apnea, visit www.somnera.com.