Timothy Boire and his co-founder Geoffrey Lucks were both near broke when they moved to Dallas to join the first accelerator they entered after forming VenoStent, a company that aims to improve outcomes for dialysis patients.
Failed dialysis surgeries occur in roughly 55% to 65% of patients with end-stage renal disease, according to the company. Caring for these patients can cost the Medicare and Medicaid Services system roughly $2 billion per year -- and Boire and Lucks believed that they'd come up with a solution.
So after years developing the technology at the core of VenoStent's business at Vanderbilt University, the two men relocated from Nashville to South Texas to make their business work.
Boire had first started working on the technology at the heart of VenoStent's offering as part of his dissertation in 2012. Lucks, a graduate student at the business school was introduced to the material scientist and became convinced that VenoStent was on the verge of having a huge impact for the medical community. Five years later, the two were in Dallas where they met the chief of vascular surgery at Houston Medicine and were off to the races.
A small seed round in 2018 kept the company going and a successful animal trial near the end of the year gave it the momentum it needed to push forward. Now, as it graduates from the latest Y Combinator cohort, the company is finally ready for prime time.
In the interim, a series of grants and its award of a Kidney XPrize kept the company in business.
The success was hard won, as Boire spent nearly three sleepless nights in the J-Labs, Johnson and Johnson's medical technology and innovation accelerator in Houston, synthesizing polymers and printing the sleeve stents that the company makes to keep replace the risky and failure-prone surgeries for end stage kidney disease patients.
The key discovery that Boire made was around a new type of polymer that can be used to support cell growth as it heals from the dialysis surgery.
In 2012, Boire stumbled upon the polymer that would be the foundation for the work. Then, in 2014, he did the National Science Foundation Core program and started thinking about the wrap for blood vessels. Through a series of discussions with vascular surgeons he realized that the problem was especially acute for end stage renal disease patients.
Already the company has raised $2.4 million in grant funding and small equity infusions. and the KidneyX Prize from the Department of Health and Human Services and the American Society of Nephrology. VenoStent was one of six winners.
"It's part of this whole ongoing effort by the executive office to improve dialysis," said Boire. "[They are] some of the most expensive patients to treat in the world... Basically the government is highly incentivized to find technologies that improve patient's lives."
Now the company is heading into its next round of animal testing and will seek to conduct its first human trials outside of the United States in 2021.
And while the company is focused on renal failure first, the materials that Boire has developed have applications for other conditions as well. "This can be a material for the large intestine," says Boire. "It has tunability in terms of all its properties. And we can modify it for a particular application."