For over 17 years, CBIC and the local tech community has bestowed honors on Charlottesville’s most interesting tech companies and entrepreneurs. We thought it was time to check in with some of these award-winning ventures to find out what they’re doing today.
Our first story features the very successful PocketSonics, a company that won the CBIC Breakthrough Award in 2006.
A group of professors from the University of Virginia had been working on what they called the “Sonic Window,” the concept of an intuitive, handheld ultrasound device designed to help vascular access procedures. In 2005, they had already formed a company to commercialize their invention, and at the time of the CBIC Breakthrough award the next year, Jeff Pompeo joined the company as president. I had the chance to interview him on how the company has progressed since then.
According to Pompeo, PocketSonics focused their efforts on three main goals after winning the award:
- Raising growth capital
- Expanding their engineering employee base
- Progressing the Sonic Window from a prototype to an FDA-approved medical device.
The recognition that PocketSonics received in winning the 2006 Breakthrough Award helped them immediately with recruiting and fundraising. And it continued to help them over the next several years. “The glass trophy looks great sitting in our lobby for investors, candidates, and partners to see when they visit our office!”
Pompeo is a local, having studied at James Madison University and Virginia Tech. He first moved to Charlottesville in 1996 where he was bitten by the entrepreneurial bug. His experience with building successful startups, along with being located in Charlottesville, played to PocketSonics’ advantage in completing their first two goals, as they were “very successful in finding and recruiting great talent to the beautiful Charlottesville area and raising capital.”
The technical aspects proved to be most difficult as the company spent the new few years trying to “package the fine-pitch components in a way that addressed very tight acoustic, electric, and cost constraints.” Through 2010, they were able to meet the technical challenges towards commercialization by mustering just enough capital through sources such as a Friends & Family round, CIT, and U.Va.’s T-100 Alumni Mentoring program.
Their hard work soon paid off in 2010, when the health care and security technology company, Analogic, made an investment in PocketSonics that included capital as well as collaborative development resources. This enabled them to work closely with Analogic’s resources in Boston, State College in PA, and Denmark, to develop the company so far that Analogic acquired them in 2013. The Sonic Window is now fully FDA-approved, and the core team from PocketSonics is still working here in Charlottesville as an Analogic research & development office.
Pompeo left Analogic one year after the acquisition to start his fourth Charlottesville-based startup, CareTaker Medical, which is “developing a non-invasive wireless remote patient monitor to provide real-time Vital Sign and Hemodynamic information to caregivers so they can better manage patient outcomes throughout all phases of patient care.”
He has stayed here in Charlottesville because he loves the area. “Not only is it a great place to raise a family, but the entrepreneurial community is very strong and collaborative.” Being located around a world-class university, “there are many small technology-based firms here working on some really advanced technologies, especially in the areas of biotech, medtech, and electronics.” Besides some incredible talent, there’s also money. “There are plenty of seed-stage investors in Charlottesville looking for great teams with great ideas, and there are plenty of great ideas looking for funding.” The one simple thing Pompeo thinks we need here is more direct flights between the Charlottesville airport and Boston.
Pompeo has some key advice for anyone trying to lead a biotech or medtech startup:
- “I have found that in the entrepreneurial world, ‘Plan A’ almost never happens, so having a solid ‘Plan B’ and ‘Plan C’ is critical to a company's success. In 2006, our predictions were to quickly advance our Sonic Window prototype to commercial viability and have a commercial distribution partner selling the product within 3 years, while we began designing the next-generation product. Along the way there were many unexpected roadblocks, but through perseverance and a dedicated group of engineers, we were able to pivot and overcome the obstacles. We view our acquisition by Analogic as a big success, although it happened a bit earlier than we had expected."
- Raise more money than your business model calls for...many things are outside your control.
- Maximize your involvement in community and networking events... you'll find investors, employees, mentors, and customers in the most unlikely places. My largest investor in CareTaker Medical is a local Charlottesville resident.
- Reach out for help, advice, and mentorship. Learning from the mistakes and successes of others will save you time, money, and headache!
Keep on the lookout for more Charlottesville success stories to come in our Grounds for Innovation and Where are they now series.