By: Scott Nishimura1
Gone to Market
It was an interesting question, and one the co-founders of the Fort Worth life sciences company Eosera had been pondering. “I don’t know how people did this 30 years ago,” said Elyse Dickerson, CEO of Eosera, which a year ago launched its Earwax MD solution that dissolves stubborn earwax. Earwax MD is now for sale nationally in CVS stores and on Amazon and its own website, and the company this year is pushing out related products.
The web brought easy access to information, sales platforms, and cheap and targeted advertising. Used to be, “at Alcon, we could only buy the print or TV” advertising, Dickerson, who launched the company with fellow ex-Alcon veteran Joe Griffin, said. “As a young company, you can’t do that. We can target the people who are searching in earwax solutions and get in front of them for pennies.”
Eosera’s fast ascent has been somewhat unusual. But the company is among a number of Fort Worth-area life sciences startups that are coming to market with products and services.
Eosera co-founders Elyse Dickerson and Joe Griffin, with their Earwax MD
Catching An Ear: Eosera Dickerson and Griffin decided on Earwax MD as their new company’s first product after hearing from physicians who said earwax was a persistent problem, with only ineffective solutions available on the market. In April last year, they launched the product simultaneously on Amazon, on their website, and at the American Academy of Audiologists conference. A kit – a half-ounce bottle of solution and a rinsing bulb – costs $19.99 on a one-time purchase and is discounted on Amazon with a subscription. Eosera also sells a replacement bottle of the solution, without the bulb. In August, CVS took Earwax MD on in all of its 9,800 stores, after Dickerson had asked for a 4,500-store launch during a short meeting with a buyer at a retail conference. "Retailers that carry Earwax MD have seen about 18 percent growth in dollars and 13 percent growth in units in the ear care category," Dickerson said.
Eosera had a third-party manufacturer produce the batch for its launch and has since taken production in-house, opening a small office and production center off of West Seventh Street on Fort Worth’s Near West Side. The company has Amazon fulfill all orders so Eosera can offer free shipping. A surge in buys resulted in a two-week period early on when Eosera wasn’t able to move product. “We were down two weeks,” Dickerson says. Amazon, at Eosera’s prodding, “finally put up a pre-order button.”
The sales success has triggered a raft of new products, most of which Eosera wasn’t contemplating. A customer called into the company wanting to buy Earwax MD by the gallon. “We thought, what kind of ear takes a gallon of this stuff,” Dickerson says. It turned out the caller was a veterinarian who was using Earwax MD on his canine patients; Eosera this summer will launch Earwax Pet. The one vet isn’t alone. “We have some local vets that are using it,” Dickerson says.
Eosera will launch EarItch MD on Amazon and in CVS stores in the fourth quarter, and Earpain MD in July on Amazon and in September in CVS. The itch treatment is meant to help people with allergies, dermatitis, or psoriasis. The pain treatment numbs nerves in the ear canal. Both ideas came up in conversations with physicians. “Our background is to ask the doctor what they want,” Griffin says. “We don’t try to create opportunities where they don’t exist.” Griffin, who ran clinical studies for Earwax MD so Eosera could back up its product with research, is designing clinical studies for the new itch and pain treatments.
Eosera also plans in August to launch WaxBlaster MD, a $29 higher-volume dispensing bottle, on Amazon and is talking to CVS about selling it, Dickerson said. Eosera has been sourcing the plastic parts for its kits from China, which took trial and error. For one, the caps didn’t fit on the first round. “Pretty much nothing was as expected,” Dickerson said.
Dickerson and Griffin launched Eosera just by themselves. Since then, they’ve hired four managers who handle marketing, operations, production and finance; a bookkeeper; and part-timers for production, assembly, packing and shipping.
What’s next for Eosera, which raised $2.1 million over two rounds to launch the company: Getting into other retailers. Major retailers like to hold up payment on startups to protect themselves, Dickerson says. “I met with all the major retailers,” she says. “We turned down one national retailer because of the terms. They wanted to hold our money even longer. It would put us out of business. We expect within the next year, we’ll be in most of them,” nationally or regionally.
Nurse anesthetist Jay Tydlaska, with the video laryngoscope he and partner Amy Sheppard developed.
Tydlaska and Sheppard recently sold their invention.
Scoping Opportunity: Magaw Medical Jay Tydlaska and Amy Sheppard, nurse anesthetists in a Fort Worth practice together, came up with the idea for a new business after Tydlaska had a routine surgery turn difficult when he couldn’t see to put a tube in a patient’s airway and couldn’t ventilate her. “The facility had a video laryngoscope,” Tydlaska says. “I’d never heard of the technology.”
In researching it, he found the product cost $20,000, and the hospital owned one. “They had it in a storage closet,” he says. “Being a tech guy, I knew there’s no reason they needed to be $20,000. We decided to develop our own. We thought, how hard could it be?”
More difficult than they thought, it turned out. “We didn’t know anything about business; we didn’t know anything about manufacturing,” Tydlaska says. Tydlaska and Sheppard incorporated in 2008. It took them four years to design, develop and bring the product to market in 2012. They self-funded an initial $100,000 and then ultimately raised another $3 million – $1 million from friends and family, $1 million through an SBA loan, and $1 million from a Michigan investor.
“We blew past $100,000,” Tydlaska says. “Fundraising is the worst part of it. When you go in front of investors, they flat out tell you you’re not going to be successful.” At one rocky pitch, a prospective investor told Sheppard that she and Tydlaska needed to visit TECH Fort Worth, the Fort Worth incubator run by entrepreneur Darlene Boudreaux, who built and ran her own contract pharma manufacturer before selling it. Boudreaux has nurtured numerous life sciences startups through the incubator.
Tydlaska and Sheppard developed a $3,300 unit – video display and laryngoscope with camera. Their laryngoscope simplifies the functions of competing units, Tydlaska says. The product works with a disposable sheath ($10) and one-time use guidewire ($5), which is where Tydlaska and Sheppard figure the biggest piece of the market is, given intubations occur an estimated 50 million times annually worldwide.
In December, the company’s assets were acquired for undisclosed terms, and Tydlaska and Sheppard agreed to stay on and run it. “We get royalties for sales,” Sheppard says. “And they don’t know airway,” Tydlaska says.
Richie Petronius and Jerry Boonyaratanakornkit, of Exact Diagnostics in Fort Worth
Exact Diagnostics’ Exact Science Richie Petronis was a political science major at Texas A&M, who subsequently earned an MBA from Tarleton State University. Jerry Boonyaratanakornkit is a biochemist who thought he’d “do something really big, like cure cancer.” The two met each other while working for a pharmaceuticals company that sold external controls to diagnostic laboratories for quality assurance of the tests the labs run. “I’m still in diagnostics,” Boonyaratanakornkit jokes.
The two left their former employer and started their own company, Exact Diagnostics, in 2015, believing they could produce a better product for the quality assurance market and provide better service. The company launched its first products in October 2015, focusing chiefly on molecular diagnostics and its clinical applications in infectious disease, oncology and other areas. Exact Diagnostics produces and sells samples of viruses that labs use to test their equipment.
“We focused on internal capability; we also focused on providing the absolute best customer service,” Petronis says. The company today has 15 employees and produces its products at labs at the University of North Texas Health Science Center in Fort Worth, through UNTHSC’s partnership with the TECH Fort Worth incubator.
Petronis and Boonyaratanakornkit have built the company with no investors. The company would send free samples of its products to labs to help build goodwill and business. “We had a good product, and we had good service,” Petronis says.
Cleared Up: Nuvothera’s Prosoria Nuvothera is one of Fort Worth’s newest life sciences companies to move its first products to market in a nonprescription treatment system for psoriasis called Prosoria that it launched in February on Amazon and its own website. The 30-day supply is for sale at $79.95, but Nuvothera is offering it to first-time users at $39.95. “We want to take the risk out of trying,” CEO Art Clapp says.
The pricing is based on a subscription – Prosoria is meant to be a maintenance medication – but Nuvothera is flexible on how consumers can use the subscription. “You can change the frequency; it’s really easy to change the frequency,” Clapp says. “And you can pause it if you want to.”
Clapp, a former Galderma executive who left the skincare products company to go out on his own, came up with the idea for Prosoria, based on the perceived ineffectiveness of current treatments on the market and lack of innovation. Some patients in the past have even resorted to radiation treatments. “If you go on blogs, 30, 40, 50 percent of the time, they’re talking about home remedies,” says Clapp, who, six months before the launch, took Prosoria to bloggers to get the word out.
“We saw a lot of buzz,” Clapp says. “There’s a real need. We’re in the right place at the right time.”
Clapp raised more than $2 million to launch the company, including two convertible debt rounds and a third round, in which he converted the debt to equity.
Clapp has aggressively outsourced various functions, using the third-party manufacturer Swiss-American in Carrollton and the packaging partner Global Packaging Systems in north Fort Worth that assembles the three-piece kit for Amazon and the company’s website. “They work for Alcon and Galderma,” Clapp says. Global ships to Amazon, which handles all fulfillment for Prosora. Clapp also uses Schaefer Advertising Co. and the Social Factor agencies, both in Fort Worth, for advertising and social media, respectively.
“It’s great to have a very active team,” he says. “We have three people who are the brains of the company, but we have 30 people who are doing things outside the company. You’re sharing overhead. You’re using the best of the best. Everything’s high quality.”
What’s next for Nuvothera? Look at new products for conditions such as eczema, warts and toenail fungus, Clapp says. “Continue to launch additional products for derma conditions,” he says. “Focus on tough to treat.”
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