Why You Can’t Build a Medtech Start-Up Without Publicity: Interview with Peter Vranes, CEO of Nutromics

Transitioning from skincare to medical devices sounds like a leap from the superficial to the super serious.

But Peter Vranes, co-CEO and co-founder of wearable smart patch Nutromics, says that building skincare brand Lapureté in his native Australia gave him insights into some of the most important aspects of founding a medtech company.

As an anti-aging line, Lapureté sat at a crossroads between cosmetics and therapeutics. This meant Peter and his team had to pay closer attention to regulations than other beauty brands.

That experience taught him a lesson: planning early can prevent disasters down the line. It’s an insight that has influenced how Peter approaches various aspects of Nutromics, including the fundraising part.

Planning ahead is also baked into the company’s mission. Nutromics is working on a digitally connected wearable patch that can track molecular targets. It will be able to send that information straight to medical professionals, so they can see if a patient is at risk for a particular disease.

The aim is to catch warning signs of conditions like diabetes, kidney failure and cardiovascular disease so they can be treated before they advance. Nutromics’ goal is that this information will motivate wearers to moderate their lifestyle in ways that can prevent these illnesses.

In this episode of Medsider, Peter explains how and why he learned to embrace publicity as a necessary part of doing business, why getting your device approved goes beyond government regulatory bodies, and why he never stops raising money.

Guest

Peter Vranes

Co-Founder and CEO of Nutromics

Chemical engineer and serial entrepreneur Peter Vranes is the co-founder and co-CEO of Nutromics, an Australian medtech company that is developing a digitally connected wearable patch to track molecular targets. Previously, Peter founded Biocore Technologies, which developed natural cosmeceutical skincare brands that were distributed in 1,500 retailers throughout Australia. He had a successful exit in 2013.

Listen to the Interview with Peter Vranes

Key Insights from Peter Vranes

  • Making a great medical device is just the first challenge of building a successful medtech company: you also have to build brand awareness in the industry. Widely publicized competitions and accelerators are one way to do that.
  • Two things to start working on early: funding and meeting regulatory requirements. If you fail to build a runway, you’ll run out of money. And the regulatory process has immovable timelines that could hold you up — at great cost.
  • It’s not just regulators whose approval you need. You have to convince a diverse array of committees in hospitals and healthcare systems that your device will save them money. Frustratingly, there is no one-size-fits-all approach for this process.

Publicity Matters — it Helps Growth

You could build the most useful medical device since the stethoscope, and your company will still fail if no one ever hears about it.

Peter hasn’t always concentrated on publicity. He says that at his previous companies, he focused on making the product, not selling it. But getting name recognition for Nutromics has proved crucial for networking, especially with potential investors.

Peter says that LinkedIn is the primary spot for the company’s day-to-day publicity efforts, in the form of posts and videos. Nutromics recently joined Twitter as well.

Offline, one of the major motivations for entering the MedTech Innovator Accelerator program was to promote Nutromics to the medical device industry. Peter’s plan worked and in June 2021, the company’s participation in the accelerator program was highlighted in an announcement where Nutromics was noted among the top 50 medtech startups.

Peter credits these PR approaches with producing quality inbound leads, from hospital networks and strategic partners, to venture investors as well.

“It makes it so much easier for us to facilitate these connections, as opposed to Hey, you don't know me, but are you happy to have a Zoom call?” he says.

Putting conscious thought into publicity has been an eye-opening experience. Peter says that even though publicity can be expensive — especially if you need to outsource it or hire someone — it’s worth it in the long run.

Raising Capital Never Ends

Another potential catastrophe: you could build the most useful medical device since the X-ray machine, and your company will still fail if you run out of money.

From the start of Nutromics, Peter and his co-founder Hitesh Mehta have planned their business strategy around capital. They started plotting out a runway early, and they never stop trying to raise more money.

When one round is closing, Peter is already working on the next. There are a handful of investors he keeps in regular contact with.

“We're not waiting six months before we start talking to them: we're talking to them on a regular basis now,” he says. “We're developing that relationship.”

Finding investors who can deliver more than capital is critical. Peter says that most VCs will claim that they want to be strategic partners, not just a check-writing machine. He has a way to test which ones are serious.

While you’re discussing a potential investment, ask the VC for a fairly straightforward favor: an introduction to someone in their portfolio, for example. If they don’t follow through at that point, chances are they won’t be forthcoming once they’ve actually signed on the dotted line.

Factor in the Regulatory Process as Early as Possible

Jumping through regulatory hoops is part of working in medtech. But it’s not just government agencies holding those hoops.

You also have to convince value analysis committees at different hospitals and medical groups that your device is safe, effective, and — most importantly — will save them money.

In many ways, getting certified by regulatory bodies is actually easier than impressing these committees, Peter says.

Regulators have a tried-and-true path for proving that your device does what you say it does, and does it safely. Since the company’s early days, Nutromics has been consulting with a U.S. regulatory firm that works with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to make sure everything is on track for approval.

However, there are so many different hospitals and medical groups, all with different criteria for approving a device, that getting buy-in can be quite challenging.

The key to winning over those committees is large, accurate data sets that prove the device not only works, but has clinical value, particularly for the hospital’s bottom line. That requires a lot of clinical studies and trials, which represent a significant cost.

Given this lengthy, expensive, Wild West-esque process, Peter recommends factoring in regulators and hospital approval committees as soon as it’s feasible.

“One of the biggest problems you have as an entrepreneur is doing something too late, and then you try to scramble,” he says. “One thing you don't want to have problems with is your regulatory process, because there are fixed timelines, and it's really hard to speed it up.”

Trust Your Instincts

Being a startup in any industry means going up against well-established companies. When you’re mired down by the many challenges that come with being the newcomer, it’s easy to believe the corporate giants know more than you do.

Peter argues that this perception is faulty. “As startups, we are more nimble and innovative, and we’re faster and more productive than most of these [giant] companies will ever be,” he says. That’s why big corporations spend so much money buying startups!

Trust your gut when it tells you that you really do know what you’re doing, and that you can provide a service, experience, or product that your much bigger competitors can’t.

Peter says this is the one thing he would change if he could go back and talk to his younger self. But other than that, he says, he wouldn’t trade the experiences that brought him to where he is today.

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