Eric Frey

Founder/CEO

MedNoxa

MedNoxa LLC is an early stage wound care startup on a quest to save life and limb with an easier, cheaper and faster way of healing wounds. Based on a novel technology licensed from the Purdue Research Foundation, the Austin, TX based MedNoxa is using the healing power of oxygen to solve the global population health problem of diabetic wounds. The MedNoxa oxygenation wound dressing is an affordable, flexible, wound dressing that generates oxygen from hydrogen peroxide and provides controllable, accurate delivery of topical oxygen to wounds in order to stimulate and promote tissue growth. Fundamentally, we believe there is a huge need for rapid and more appropriate therapy to facilitate healing and that we can disrupt the wound care market by bringing it to the consumer market.

HTA- Tell us a little about your background?

During my Senior year, while studying as a mechanical engineering major at the U.S. Naval Academy, I designed my first medical device; a composite orthopedic brace for severe forefoot injuries. Specifically, I designed and fabricated it for my best friend and fellow Navy football teammate Shane. I wasn’t able to launch it into a business (due to the lack of a market), but it allowed Shane to play in our final Army-Navy game despite what should have been a career ending injury. To this day, it is on display in his house and represents a proud moment of football and engineering coming together. After graduating the US Naval Academy, I was commissioned in the Marine Corps and went on to serve 9 years as a Combat Engineer Officer. I deployed to Iraq twice as a platoon commander. As a company commander, I was responsible for as many as 300 Marines, $30M in equipment and all operations of a small, stand-alone base in California. I spent several more years in graduate business school and in business receiving my MBA and a Masters of Science in Technology Commercialization from the University of Texas. My wife Jessica is an Austin native and after being medically retired from the Marines we moved to Austin from California.

HTA - So what inspired the creation of MedNoxa?

A few things; a significant one is that many years ago I nearly lost my right leg to a chronic wound that became severely infected. If I had not been young, healthy and well insured by the military, I most likely would have lost my leg. Certainly another was my experience designing a medical device for my teammate Shane. The third and final significant factor was the Master of Science in Technology Commercialization business school program at UT Austin. Despite already having an MBA, I went back to school specifically for the MSTC program. While evaluating technologies for commercial potential and market viability, we assessed a novel wound dressing that was developed and patented at Purdue University. We licensed the technology from the Purdue Research Foundation and began our journey.

HTA - What did your process for evaluating the technology’s commercialization potential look like?

The MSTC program teaches a number of processes that all fit together and result in a year of intense primary and secondary research in support of business planning. The big emphasis is on interviews and conversations with experts and customers. We started with technology assessment and secondary market research then moved into primary market validation by conducting 100+ interviews on top of surveys. Then we moved in the development of a business plan and pitch. Finally, we developed a launch and operations plan. Even after we launch MedNoxa I was still very focused on market validation and was in the Texas Venture Labs Accelerator (TVL) cohort for fall 2016.

HTA - Did you learn anything from you market validation that surprised you?

I learned that Diabetes is the leading cause of non-traumatic amputation and that globally, a leg is lost to diabetes every 30 seconds even though these amputations are up to 85% preventable. In the U.S. alone, the direct cost of treating diabetic foot ulcers is over $15B and yet we still average 200 amputations a day with a mortality rate higher than cancer. About 50% of patients with diabetic foot infections who have foot amputations die within five years. Frankly, these numbers are shocking. With numbers like these and with direct customer feedback it was clear that there is a big problem with the current standard of care and that the market needs a better solution. In the TVL accelerator we focused on the veterinary market and I learned that there is a big need for this on horses and the equine wound market is a great option for later expansion.

HTA - How has it been working with Purdue University and licensing a university technology?

Working with Purdue has been great!  They have been an amazing partner and have a great model for commercializing technology through startups. I’ve become a big believer in entrepreneurs using universities and federal labs as their R&D department (keep an eye out for the SXSW panel picker). Most people don’t know this is even an option let alone possible, as I sure didn’t until being a part of the MSTC program. It’s much easier said than done, but it can be done. Professor Babak Ziaie, PhD and Manuel Ochoa, PhD are the engineers at Purdue who developed the technology and now they are both also a part of MedNoxa. The Purdue Foundry, the Purdue Research Foundation, and Elevate Ventures have all supported MedNoxa as if we were in right there in West Lafayette. Plus, now we can get famous as both Purdue and a UT company!

HTA - How has your experience with fundraising been?

It’s been tough. To-date we have been bootstrapped with money from friends, family and pitch competition winnings. We haven’t formally announced it yet, but MedNoxa was selected as a recipient of the ‘Black Award’ and an investment from the Elevate Purdue Foundry Fund and we’re finalizing the terms now.  Additionally, we are in the middle of discussions for a strategic investment which could close out our seed round. However, it has been difficult, particularly in Austin, but in different ways than I anticipated. Any regulated MedTech or HealthTech has an inherently higher level of risk; it’s called the FDA. Investors want to see a lot more than proof of concept. There’s a huge gap between a proof of concept and an FDA cleared or approved device and friends and family money (more than likely) is not nearly enough to get you through it. For a HealthTech company the “valley of death” is much (much) wider and deeper than for software or consumer products. I thought our faster 510(k) pathway would be an advantage but I’ve still heard “you’re too early” more times than I can count. Another interesting comment I’ve heard several times is; “You’re not a MD or PhD, so why start this business”? I think the most important thing is to keep pitching and to learn from the questions, the objections, and the criticism in order to figure out how to improve the business to a point where investors start saying ‘yes’. In many ways, I think starting fundraising “too early” makes a lot of sense.

HTA - What is something you learned from that Marines Corps that is helping you to build MedNoxa?

You know, Bunker Labs was founded on the idea that military veterans make excellent and innovative entrepreneurial leaders. There are so many valuable skills that I consider essential. At the most basic level, I rely on the Marine Corps leadership traits of endurance and initiative. However, a caveat is that it is also critical to have milestones with go/no-go decisions. I know from experience that I can take action in the absence of orders and have the stamina to withstand pain, fatigue, stress and hardship. The key is to make sure that you are doing so in a way that moves the business forward and not making “The Charge of the Light Brigade”. To that end, we set time-based milestones with specific criteria as decision points on whether to continue the business or not. In fact, we are coming up on one at the end of June so thanks for talking with me now! It’s been great participating as a Bunker Labs ATX company since Bunker isn’t exclusive to veterans; there are many members who were never in the military and we inspire, educate and connect with each other in a way that makes us all better business leaders.