Having only one word in the English language to describe the creator of a business – entrepreneur – sometimes feels inadequate. The founder of ‘Lino Ritchie Carpets’ (tagline: ‘Hello, is it me you’re looking floor’) is an entrepreneur. The founder of Microsoft is an entrepreneur. It’s a word so flexible it can lay carpets, dance on the ceiling and revolutionise home computing, all at the same time.
The co-founders of Vectorious Medical Technologies also stretch the word to breaking point. Here is the story of entrepreneurs with an idea so massive and apparently out of reach, that it took them years of hard work before they knew their goal was even possible. Yet on they pressed into the darkness, creeping forward, seeking switches that would throw a little more light on their vision. Slowly, for over more than a decade, they flicked them all on, one by one. In so doing, they turned their company, Vectorious – which co-founder Dr Eyal Orion, MD, believes had a 1% chance of success before launch (it was pretty dark back then) – into a beacon of hope, on course to change the lives of millions, including one million Britons.
So, what’s their big idea? Well, in 2011, Vectorious co-founders Dr Orion and Oren Goldshtein – based in Tel Aviv – set out to revolutionise the treatment of one of the world’s biggest killers: chronic heart disease. Thanks to their expertise, they knew what they needed to do – create a device that doctors could safely and simply implant in the left atrium of a patient’s heart. Once in place, the device would measure and transmit pressure readings. It would have to be tiny and wireless, have longevity and work without an internal battery.
If they could invent, make and market such a thing, they predicted they would achieve three enormous goals: save lives, leave a historic mark on global medicine and create a hugely successful business. Entrepreneurial prizes do not get much bigger. Especially when you consider the stats: Earth is home to nearly 27 million heart failure patients who cost global healthcare systems more than $108bn annually. In the UK, the disease accounts for 63,000 emergency admissions a year.
“Chronic heart failure is a big problem,” says Eyal. “And there is no way to manage the disease smoothly. Yes, effective medications exist, but unless a patient is wired up in a hospital, it’s hard to know what medicine to use, how much to give and when to give it. So, could we find the holy grail? Could we create a sensor to provide accurate heart-pressure readings as patients went about their daily lives? If so, doctors could manage the disease remotely and effectively. Many emergencies – and deaths – would be avoided, and huge amounts of money would be saved.”
However, no one had developed a device like this before. Making one might be impossible – a fool’s errand. But such negative thinking was not going to stop these entrepreneurs. No risk, no reward.
“In 2009, two years before launch, we started to investigate the technological feasibility,” says Eyal. “We convinced ourselves that it might be possible, so we started to raise finance.”
However, they were in a classic chicken and egg situation. Without proof of concept, who’d want to invest? And without cash, how would they get proof of concept? They needed to pitch like pros and find investors willing to take a big chance.
Happily, the duo have as much talent for selling as they have for medical science. They quickly found backers and won them over. Indeed, since its 2011 launch, Vectorious has attracted $18.6m of funding from the likes of Broadview Ventures, The Cleveland Clinic Foundation and Fresenius Medical Care. Which makes Goldshtein and Orionsomething of an expert on raising capital. Here is his advice: “Generally, investors focus on a dream,” he says. “They love big stories, big visions. So, you have to sell the glittering prize. However, do not fall into the trap of over-exaggeration and over-optimism. Be truthful. Entrepreneurs must be optimistic, of course, but don’t go too far. If you do, backers will get upset and start calling you every day when you don’t achieve what you said you would. Honesty keeps the relationship intact and allows you to sleep well at night. If you get stress from investors as well as from the company, it will kill you.”
After securing the seed funding and carefully managing investors’ expectations, the pair focused on the tech. Four years of painstaking work later, they claimed their first major breakthrough. “In 2015, we built a prototype and successfully implanted it inside an animal,” says Eyal. “That’s when we knew it could be done.”
Four years. That is a long time for any business to wander in semi-darkness. However, the prototype’s success was like flicking on the master light switch. It illuminated the vision. Yet it would take another five years of painstaking technological development to remove all of the shadows.
That happened in 2019 when Vectorious finally unveiled the V-LAP. A titanium device weighing 5g and measuring 3.5mm in diameter, doctors introduce it into the left atrium through a 4mm tube. Once in place, the device expands to full size. The V-LAP will not corrode or react with body fluids and is charged by an external power belt, allowing the digital transmission of data without a battery. It is nothing less than a work of genius.
“We’ve now implanted the technology in 16 patients in Germany, Italy, Israel and the UK as part of the trials,” says Eyal. “It measures pressure from the left atrium every day and doctors manage medications according to these pressure readings.”
Here’s what that means on the ground. One patient fitted with a V-LAP – Margaret from the West Midlands – was unable to leave home during the recent coronavirus lockdown but thanks to her Vectorious device, her doctor could track her remotely. The V-LAP’s daily readings showed Margaret was in danger of pulmonary edema – a condition in which the lungs fill with fluid. So her doctor changed her medication from afar, which saved her life.
Margaret’s story, and others like it, means the decade-long mission to create the V-LAP is already a success. However, that is a drop in the ocean compared to the device’s mind-bending potential. Eyal says: “Within 10-15 years, the The V-LAP will change the way we manage heart patients in most of the Western world – at least. That is our vision. It will result in exact measurements and precise, effective medication. It will change everything. And the technology will be integrated into many other types of implanted device, too.”
The story of Vectorious is a remarkable one. It begins with two co-founders who have nothing but a dream; a hunch; an irrepressible desire to take a shot in the dark. It concludes – for now – with a company that has conjured up the power to prolong millions of lives and save billions of pounds. The lessons? Think big (but extremely precisely), work hard and keep the faith. A dictionary defines Dr Eyal Orion and Oren Goldshtein as entrepreneurs. But, for them, the word does not seem quite big enough…