Industry Professionals Counsel Emerging Entrepreneurs at NeuroDesign Workshop

by James Cavuoto, editor

October 2021 issue

Representatives from the neurotechnology industry, clinicians, and academics assembled with 32 students, post-docs, and neurotech entrepreneurs for the 2021 Cleveland NeuroDesign Entrepreneurs Workshop. The weekend event was held on the campus of Case Western Reserve University, which sponsored the workshop along with the Cleveland Clinic.

The would-be entrepreneurs were grouped into eight teams of four and tasked with building a startup to address an unmet clinical need. Each team then spent the weekend researching technologies and market opportunities relevant to their particular startup. Along the way, they conferred with neurotech industry professionals assigned as mentors. Each team then presented their pitch deck to the audience of professionals, who judged the presentations and awarded prizes to the best ones.

Andrew Cornwell, associate director of the Case Coulter Translational Research Partnership and director of industrial and strategic collaborations for the Cleveland FES Center, kicked off the workshop with advice for the teams. “Display your product concept and the core underlying technology,” he said. “Show the kind of evidence you will pursue to show that your approach works. List the major remaining risks and you plan to address them. Explain how your solution will integrate existing practices without significant training of physicians and support staff, or explain how training is part of the solution. What is the value to the major stakeholders?”

Rob Barnes from Amazon Web Services spoke on the importance sharing and protecting information. “Data wants to be free—that is liberated,” he said. “So consider how you’re collecting that data and how you share that data.” He warned that email presents risks when used as a means of sharing data.

Among the presenters offering advice to the entrepreneur teams were VC professionals Amy Kruse from Prime Movers Lab and Karen Spilizewski from RiverVest. Kruse advised entrepreneurs to know what type of VC firm they are pitching. “The slides won’t change, but the emphasis will, and certainly their questions will vary,” she said. Kruse also advised entrepreneurs to prep before making a call or taking a meeting to know your audience. She also recommended tracking responses so you’ll always know who you spoke to. And she also advised entrepreneurs to follow relevant VCs on social media. She recommended that you ask VCs at the start of the meeting how they want to proceed. “I personally don’t like walking through slides on a call, I can do that on my own time and would prefer to engage the CEO or team in a conversation. I learn a lot more that way.”

Two neuromodulation industry veterans, Jeff Kramer from Medtronic, and Dan Powell from Spark Biomedical, shared their career trajectories with the audience. They both claimed to have “fallen in love” with neuromodulation early on.

Another industry veteran, Dan Brounstein from Saluda Medical, gave a talk on neuromodulation market analysis. “Neuromodulation is missing objective measures to create algorithms and improve therapies,” he said. He advised entrepreneurs to look for gaps in treatment, such as loss of efficacy, explants, and reproducible clinical results.

David Hoagland from Blackrock Neurotech gave a presentation on business plan development. He recommended that entrepreneurs leverage the BioDesign process—first described at Stanford University—to create their business plan. He cautioned entrepreneurs to address big risks early in the process to avoid a costly “oops” moment later on. With respect to commercialization strategy, Hoagland advised, “Look beyond the initial product—the product roadmap, the product family, the product lifecycle.

Tim Marjenin from MCRA gave a talk on regulatory and reimbursement issues. “A sequential strategy is high-risk—and common,” he said. Instead, he advised entrepreneurs to pursue an integrated strategy that looks at both regulatory and reimbursement issues together early on in the commercialization process.


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