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Engineering and Medicine Combine to Save Babies: Turning a Product into a Company

May 06, 2022
by Rosalind D'Eugenio

Respiratory distress is a leading cause of death related to premature birth: the more premature the birth, the more likely the newborn will need respiratory support. Entrepreneur Anjelica Gonzalez, Ph.D., and a team of engineering researchers at Yale had a vision to help premature and in-distress babies breathe. They created technology for a respiratory device that warms, oxygenates, and sterilizes delivered air for newborn babies at 1/10th the cost of other devices, making it accessible to populations in lower- and middle-income countries (LMICs).

The research team named the device PremieBreathe and built relationships with hospitals in Ethiopia. While the team had a definite mission and goal, they didn’t have a real way to implement the idea in the clinical setting and scale it successfully. Enter the Yale Institute for Global Health Sustainable Health Initiative (SHI). As one of the first participants to enroll in the SHI program in 2019, the group was transformed into a new Delaware C-Corp, Aero Therapeutics. The Aero team had to learn how to take what was just a research idea and build it into a company capable of scaling in a global setting. This meant thinking beyond just the scientific and clinical aspects. SHI provided mentorship on how the startup company could secure financing and enter the market in the best way to scale the device.

“SHI helped us make connections who guided us in the best ways and places to test our product in middle-income country health care systems which we could then apply to use in less developed and underfunded countries,” explains Gonzalez, co-founder of Aero Therapeutics and creator of the respiratory device. She says the feedback and contacts made in India through SHI were invaluable in teaching her how to go beyond presenting research and data to potential partners. “As engineers, we knew how to make our device sustainable in a hospital, but we needed to translate the data into a conversation with potential investors and partners who could help us manufacture and distribute the product while still keeping it at a price point that made is accessible to LMICs.”

SHI introduced Gonzalez to Aero’s current CEO Jamison Langguth, who was a Blavatnik Fellow in Life Science Entrepreneurship. “At that time, we didn’t truly know what we wanted to be and how we wanted to structure a company. These initial thoughts were as simple as: should we form as a non-profit or a for-profit entity?” says Langguth. “The SHI program enabled us to test out business models, strategies, and an overall design for a company to ensure solving urgent unmet needs overlaps with generating a return for investors.” Langguth and Gonzalez pivoted the company and drafted a whole new presentation no longer directed at infant mortality rates and saving babies’ lives, but more focused on the value of the product for potential financial partners to understand why this is a good investment and what they can expect from the company.

“I had to learn to think like a businessperson, and this was all new to me,” says Gonzalez. With a new pitch geared toward venture capital funding, the Aero team was able to present in front of larger investors, gaining valuable feedback and networks over time. Participation in SHI’s program helped the company expand its networks, form an advisory board, and put the breathing device in front of national audiences. Aero secured early funding within Yale’s venture capital ecosystem to move forward with creating a prototype and small-batch manufacturing with Synectic Product Development and is now close to securing its next financial milestone: a $1M seed round. Aero has also been approached by two large companies that see a gap in their global portfolio. “One future option would be to license the product and have it produced and distributed by a big company who knows how to enact global distribution,” explains Gonzalez. “But, before we make any agreements, our priority is to make sure any partner has the shared mission of getting the device to people most in need who have little or no budgets.”

Aero Therapeutics is just one of several entrepreneurial groups that have utilized SHI to secure partners and funding that allowed them to bring their products to market.

“SHI is adding to the entrepreneurship and ecosystem at Yale, focusing on impact and health outcomes, creating new options for students, faculty, and alumni to address critical challenges in global and public health,” reiterated Nikole Allen, senior program director, Yale Institute for Global Health.

To learn more about Aero Therapeutics, Inc please visit https://www.breatheaero.com/.

Submitted by Alyssa Cruz on May 05, 2022