No pain, just gain

Houston company creates portable device that eases pain without the use of drugs

For years, Squid Compression has helped ease the pain of patients in doctor's offices. Now, anyone can get the treatment on the go. Photo via squidgo.com

Many of the estimated 50 million Americans who suffer from chronic pain turn to drugs — including heavily abused opioids — to relieve their symptoms. Houston-based startup Portable Therapeutix LLC's drug-free solution to pain management seeks to put a dent in the market for prescription painkillers.

In 2018, Houston-based Portable Therapeutix introduced Squid Go, a portable device that's designed to ease the pain and swelling of sore joints and muscles. It's a follow-up to the company's Squid Compression, a pain management device launched in 2013 for patients at rehabilitation centers, hospitals, doctor's offices, and the like.

Squid Go enables consumers to apply two approaches — cold therapy and compression therapy — to relieving joint pain and swelling caused by arthritis, bouncing back from athletic activities, or recovering from an injury or surgery involving muscles and joints. Variations of the device can treat ankle, back, leg, knee, shoulder, or wrist pain.

To reap the benefits of Squid Go, a consumer uses the device for just 15 minutes. Squid Go — which combines a cold gel pack with proprietary compression technology — features special air pockets that inflate and deflate, gently massaging the body part needing treatment. That massaging boosts circulation and reduces swelling.

"Increased circulation brings more nutrient- and oxygen-rich blood to the area, promoting recovery," says Sam Stolbun, co-founder of Portable Therapeutix. "Meanwhile, [the] gentle compression also drives the pain-relieving cold from the gel pack deeper into the tissues to alleviate soreness and discomfort."

The coldness of the gel pack fights inflammation.

Stolbun says someone can take the lightweight, portable Squid Go device to the office, to the gym or anywhere else for on-the-go pain relief. It even can be used without the cold gel pack for compression-only therapy to improve circulation and decrease swelling. The Squid Go pump delivers about 15 treatments before it needs to be recharged.

Squid Compression received clearance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a prescription-only device in 2013 and gained over-the-counter status in 2014. The consumer version, Squid Go, employs the same technology and operates the same way as Squid Compression, so a second FDA stamp of approval wasn't required.

Pricing for the heavy-duty Squid Compression system starts at $700. The consumer-friendly Squid Go system goes for $300 or $350, depending on its purpose. Users can buy extra wraps and gel packs to supplement the system.

Stolbun says he and co-founder Shai Schubert developed the Squid devices after realizing that existing pain-fighting cold packs provided only superficial relief, while water-based treatments were inconvenient and offered no compression advantages. Still other cold and compression therapies on the market are expensive and generally aren't covered by health insurance, he says.

Stolbun says that "it became apparent that a reasonably priced, well-made, portable, and effective pain relief and recovery device would meet a need for a broad range of consumers — from athletes to seniors."

Stolbun, a sports enthusiast and bakery mogul, and Schubert, a scientist and entrepreneur, established Portable Therapeutix in 2011.

The company's debut product, Squid Compression, still enjoys success, but Stolbun says the company has shifted its focus to Squid Go. Portable Therapeutix plans to pump up sales for Squid Go via its online presence, he says, as well as through physical therapists, sports trainers and other professionals who've used Squid Compression but want to offer the less pricey Squid Go model to their clients for in-home treatment.

Portable Therapeutix is backed by private investors; the amount of funding it has received isn't available. The company doesn't release revenue and profit figures.

Today, the company employs just one person in Houston but will add workers as its distribution pipeline expands, Stolbun says. Sales, marketing, and customer service representatives are scattered around the country. Stolbun, the CEO, is based in Houston, while Schubert, the chief technical officer, is based in Boston.

Portable Therapeutix relies, in part, on word-of-mouth praise to promote Squid Go. Among those hailing the device is Lee Ward of Houston, who describes himself as a competitive tennis player.

On the Squid Go website, Ward explains that he'd been suffering from progressively worsening tendonitis in his knees for a couple of years.

"I tried a number of remedies, including ice and gel packs, immediately following my tennis workout, but both remedies were ineffective and difficult to use," Ward says in his online testimonial.

He then discovered Squid Go and became a fan.

"The best thing about [Squid Go] is its ease of use. It provides a quick, effective treatment that makes it ideal for daily use by both the serious and recreational athlete," Ward says.

Smart tech

Courtesy of Squid Go

Squid Go combines a cold gel pack with proprietary compression technology and features special air pockets that inflate and deflate, gently massaging the body part needing treatment.

Houston-based Galen Data is growing its clientbase and just formed two new partnerships with medical device companies. Photo via galendata.com

Educated as an engineer, Chris DuPont has stepped outside his professional comfort zone to generate funding for his Houston-based startup, Galen Data Inc. DuPont's pool of technical contacts in Houston is "wide and deep," he says, but his pool of financial contacts had been shallow.

Overcoming obstacles in Houston's business waters, DuPont has raised two rounds of angel funding — he declines to say how much — that have enabled Galen Data to develop and market its cloud-based platform for connecting medical devices to the internet, including pacemakers and glucose monitors. DuPont is the startup's co-founder and CEO. Galen Data's platform meets compliance standards set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPPA), cybersecurity organizations, and others.

Galen Data's patent-pending technology lets medical device manufacturers tailor the cloud-based software to their unique needs. DuPont says his company's software is geared toward medical devices that are outside, not inside, hospitals and other healthcare facilities. He declines to divulge how many customers the startup has.

Among the startup's customers is San Clemente, California-based Fresca Medical Inc., developer of a device designed to treat sleep apnea.

DuPont says his company's software allows Fresca to perform such tasks as proactively diagnosing problems with the battery in a sleep apnea device or collecting patient data to back up insurance claims. The software even can monitor trends among various medical devices, he says. Galen Data also is helping Fresca develop its mobile app for patients.

Another customer is Friendswood-based Spark Biomedical Inc., developer of a smartphone-connected device, called a neurostimulator, that eases the symptoms of withdrawal from highly addictive opioids.

Hatched within Houston-based Tietronix Software Inc., DuPont's previous employer, Galen Data launched in 2016 but didn't roll out its first product until 2018.

Galen Data's emergence comes as the market for internet-connected mobile health apps keeps growing. One forecast envisions the global space for mobile health exceeding $94 billion by 2023.

"We want to be at the forefront of that technology curve," DuPont says. "We might be six months early, we might be a year early, but it's starting to happen."

Galen Data vies for customers in a largely untapped market, since the majority of medical devices still aren't connected to the internet, according to DuPont. As a whole, medical device makers have been reluctant to delve into connectivity, given the compliance headaches, DuPont says. That's where Galen Data steps in. It's the startup's job, he says, to ensure its tech platform adheres to myriad compliance regulations.

DuPont says a medical device manufacturer easily could spend $250,000 to $500,000 to create its own compliant, connected tech platform similar to Galen Data's offering — and that doesn't include ongoing operational expenses. Galen Data's platform delivers the same benefits at a fraction of that cost, he says.

The startup strives to accomplish its mission with minimal staffing. Between full-timers (including the three co-founders) and contractors, Galen Data employs fewer than 10 people, DuPont says. As needed, Galen Data taps the software development talent at Tietronix, which owns a minority stake in the startup, according to DuPont.

"I'm very, very capital-efficient with our cash," he says. "I don't like layoffs. We'll never have planned layoffs."

If Galen Data continues to achieve its financial goals (it's not profitable yet), DuPont says, the company's workforce could total 20 to 30 within three years. He foresees opening satellite offices in Austin (a tech hub) and Boston (a life sciences hub) at some point.

As for additional products, DuPont wants to eventually build on Galen Data's existing platform by paving the way for data to be securely transferred from medical devices to electronic medical records.

Anchored in Houston, Galen Data hopes to be a player in what DuPont calls "the next biotech corridor of the United States," encompassing not just Houston but Galveston, Austin, Dallas, and San Antonio.

For Galen Data to thrive in that environment, though, it must conquer what DuPont classifies as his biggest hurdle: raising money from investors in a region rooted in the oil and gas industry. In the first quarter of 2019, Houston startups collected less than 6 percent of the venture capital reported throughout Texas — far below what startups in Austin and Dallas reaped during the same period.

Ramping up investment in Galen Data will require educating local investors about the promising potential of the medical device sector, DuPont says. Meanwhile, he's begun hunting for funding outside Texas.

"It's challenging for a startup to raise money in Houston," says DuPont, who praises local entrepreneurs for their support of Galen Data. "We've done it, but it's been hard."

"If Galen is super successful, hopefully we can invest in other early stage companies," DuPont adds. "That's part of the vision."

Galen Concept Video www.youtube.com