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VOL. 132 | NO. 151 | Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Nashville Friends Launch Medical Device Startup in Memphis

By Andy Meek

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Sinead Miller is the kind of entrepreneur that stakeholders in Memphis’ business ecosystem are hungry to see more of.

After finishing her Ph.D. in biomedical engineering at Vanderbilt University a few months ago, she decided to forgo Nashville and come to Memphis to launch a medical technology startup here. PathEX is the company she co-founded with friend Alex Wieseler. They are creating a device that can capture bacteria from blood that allows for the diagnosis and treatment of sepsis.

Sepsis is a potentially deadly condition characterized by the body injuring itself in its own reaction to infection, something that affects millions of people a year. Miller’s company is designed to help fight that and has been working to get set up and building relationships here since May 1 – which was Day 1 for this year’s ZeroTo510 startup cohort.

ZeroTo510 is the medical device-focused startup accelerator program operated by the Memphis Bioworks Foundation. The program operates like a kind of entrepreneurship boot camp, putting participants through a rigorous schedule of mentorship and hands-on training in everything from developing a business model to the launch of a product.

The program culminates this year on Aug. 10 with a “Demo Day” pitch to investors. Miller said ZeroTo510 has proven indispensable to the launch of her enterprise.

“ZeroTo510 and Memphis Bioworks have helped us so much,” said Miller, who added that her company’s next steps include lab testing, prototyping and performing pilot studies. “We didn’t have any of the business developed at the beginning of the summer. We had nothing in terms of a business model or anything like that. I just graduated from Vanderbilt in May, so Alex and I weren’t really working on the company at all. I was just working on school, finishing up and trying to get that in order.”

Things change fast for startup entrepreneurs. It wasn’t that long ago that Miller, an avid cyclist who raced around the world, thought her life was already mapped out – that she was set to be a professional road cyclist. An injury nixed that ambition, however, which led to her pursuing an interest in biomedical engineering.

Wieseler, who met Miller when they were both students at Marian University before Miller pursued her graduate studies at Vanderbilt, shared Miller’s affinity for cycling.

He wasn’t as good a cyclist as her, he admits with a laugh, so he already knew the future would take him elsewhere. Wieseler got his undergraduate degrees in finance and accounting from Marian and is now finishing up his MBA at Belmont University.

He ran the finance department for a nutrition company that brought Miller in to do some testing, which is how they started working together professionally.

Once they had the idea in place for PathEX, it became apparent that they needed the help ZeroTo510 could provide to take the idea all the way to fruition.

Miller said the team has already met more than 100 people through the accelerator alone, including at companies that could potentially function as strategic partners down the road.

“Everything they do at ZeroTo510 is very specific and tailored to the medical device and health field,” Wieseler said. “They’ve helped us a lot with reimbursements, which are an enormous part of getting paid through a hospital system. They’ve helped us understand how to price our product based on how hospitals are being reimbursed and how we kind of fit into that whole situation.

“And that’s just absolutely critical as a medical device company. We can’t just make something and sell it on a shelf. There are so many more steps that go into it. The series of those steps and the timing of those steps is absolutely critical.”

Miller said the team has also met with representatives of several hospitals in the Memphis area that the startup is trying to work with now to set up pilot studies.

Next on the list is gearing up for Demo Day, for the presentation to investors that will help determine not only the company’s financial picture but where it goes from here.

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