August 3, 2018

Master network builders: Wallingford's Summit Street Medical

PHOTO | CONTRIBUTED
PHOTO | CONTRIBUTED
Summit Street Medical co-founders Matt Bomes and Brian Grasso with Merrill Debbs, mother of Oakley Debbs of West Palm Beach, Fla., who passed away at age 11 from an allergic reaction. His family started a fund called Red Sneakers for Oakley that supports research such as that conducted by Summit Street Medical.

A Wallingford company that makes epinephrine auto-injectors for people with potentially life-threatening allergies is making news.

Summit Street Medical's young founders have set themselves apart not only with their innovative drug-delivery concept, but also with their commitment to purposely build and foster an extensive network of support along the way.

Both approaches are working, say creators Matt Bomes and Brian Grasso.

Summit Street Medical had Connecticut's largest venture-capital deal during the first quarter of this year, at $1.9 million, according to a PwC/CB Insights MoneyTree Report. Word of the Series A funding came right around the holiday season, putting the founders in an enviable position as 2018 rolled around.

The Series A funding came after Summit Street Medical raised angel funds and a capital investment round of about $250,000, according to its founders. Since the Series A announcement, another $300,000 has been raised as well, according to Grasso, — with $2.5 million raised to date.

The company's success to date has been rooted in not only enthusiastic entrepreneurship by two students, but also avid, strategic network building, a passion for finding solutions, and founders who possess complementary skill sets.

The playing field

Started in 2015 when they were Trinity College sophomores, Grasso, of Wallingford, and Bomes of Wellesley, Mass., Summit began as a market need with personal insight, and just grew from there.

Both Grasso and Bomes were college athletes, playing baseball and lacrosse, respectively. Though not friends to start with, the two met at the college's weight room, and struck up a conversation. They had a few friends in common — and, more importantly, both had a drive for entrepreneurship, according to Bomes. It was through these talks in the gym that that two came up with their product, one Bomes said he "had in the queue" for quite some time — drawn on a napkin.

"The idea was based off a Fitbit," offering portability, said Bomes. "It was sports-oriented and easier to use than a solution auto injector."

Bomes himself is within the product's target market. He has exercise-induced anaphylaxis, as well as food allergies to comestibles including peanuts, sesame seeds and wheat.

"I'm a patient who has lived this," Bomes said. "Many of the people who work for us have allergies, or their kids have allergies — we really share a mutual passion for improving the lives of these families. Brian is understanding the landscape more and helps articulate to investors. It's an awesome pair."

With the productow in development, Bomes said that Summit Street Medical expects to have a Food & Drug Administration submission for the device around this time next year. The company employs more senior experts in the worlds of science and startups, and students from their college as well.

That commitment to the college appears in the company name as well:Trinity College is on Summit Street in Hartford.

Maximizing opportunity

Starting a medical-device business while in college — especially while being on sports teams that involve games and practices, as Bomes and Grasso did — may appear overwhelming. But timing seems to be a fortuitous aspect of their story.

"Honestly, it's the best place to start a business," Grasso said of the college environment, "in an ecosystem of smart, talented youth, experienced professors, investors and educational freedom. I also tailored my classes so that the content directly contributed to my understanding of how to better our company."

Bomes said that using LinkedIn to identify and connect with Trinity alumni who were willing to invest or offer advice was a major benefit. He and Grasso leveraged their Trinity ties to expand the scope of their networking to build relationships, something he suggests students do more.Bomes doesn't think students utilize enough to their own advantage).

So they pitched their concept around, sometimes traveling to New York City to do so, set up a GoFundMe page to help cover legal costs, and were open to advice any experts could offer on what their next move should be.

Grasso said that most people who invested in the company were really just introduced to him and Bomes as two entrepreneurs, with their business idea as secondary, as opposed to investors being told: "You have to check out this cool company." In the majority of cases, it was just about getting to know them, he said.

"It's really important to note that, around that time, we linked up with George Bourne," the company's president, chief operating officer and an expert in medical devices and research and development projects, said Bomes.

With that, a strategy took shape — as did a team of people to execute that plan.

Bourne came with a built-in network of the right people, and knew the right steps and when to take them, in relation to development costs and time. Bomes calls the industry experts the company gained a needed filter for the development process. That strategic guidance to wisely spend investment dollars in the right places made all the difference, as did the expansive base of knowledge.

From there, it was full steam ahead to manufacturability, gathering feedback from hundreds of people in the marketplace and positioning the product for approval from the FDA.

Vice President of Research and Development Matt LaPlaca — someone Bourne knew — also came onboard. "He's the father of our device," said Bomes. "Brian and I aren't engineers, but we have them."

In the meantime, Bomes and Grasso look to learn and grow as Summit Street Medical advances toward its potential.

"Investors know that with enough time and money, a product can come to life, but do the entrepreneurs behind it have contagious principles that will motivate the company's success? That's what is important," said Grasso.

Reach Susan Shalhoub at news@newhavenbiz.com

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