North Carolina-based entrepreneur Ashlyn Sanders says she wrote NBA legend Charles Barkley “on a hunch.”
She’d just seen him appear as a guest on ABC’s Season 10 of “Shark Tank,” and she wanted to tell him about her MedTech startup.
Much to her surprise, he replied back.
“I was invited down to pitch to him and several of his advisors,” recalls Sanders, 28. “A few months later, I was actually given the call that he would invest.”
Flash-forward to today: Sander’s startup NeuroVice, which has developed a tongue protector for seizure sufferers, has raised an additional $300,000 from new angel investors.
That’s on top of an undisclosed amount raised from Barkley last year.
Sanders says it’s enough capital to complete the product.
PATI is a single-use, disposable medical device that prevents oral injuries during seizures.
It is currently in the final stages of product development at the Morrisville-based medical device design and manufacturing company Gilero.
“It’s thrilling that Ashlyn’s company and one-of-a-kind device has garnered the attention of investors and supporters,” Barkley says.
“She’s on the fast track to revolutionize medical support for those suffering from seizures while simultaneously saving lives, I couldn’t be more proud of her diligence and tenacity.”
Collectively, Black women founders raised $700 million in 2018 and 2019, up from $289 million raised in 2009 to 2017, according to ProjectDiane. However, that accounted for just 0.27 percent of the $276.7 billion in startup funding raised by all companies during that period.
Barkley is well known as an angel investor. Back in 2017, he pledged $1 million to fund Alabama black women’s tech startups.
He says investing in Black-owned businesses — especially those in the tech field — is imperative to growing diversity in that space.
“Ashlyn is a burgeoning example of what’s possible with a little bit of help from old veterans, like me,” he said.
William (Tré) Clayton is another angel investor.
“I was truly stunned to find out that no such item was available for medical use, despite the comparatively large portion of society that lives with reoccurring seizures,” Clayton says. “She truly found a gap in the market.”
It’s estimated that 3.4 million people suffer from epilepsy, or seizure disorder, in the United States. Symptoms include uncontrollable twitching, which can often cause oral injuries.
Sanders has experienced this firsthand.
In 2014, shortly after starting graduate school for bioethics and science policy at Duke University, she was diagnosed with a Chiari malformation, a condition in which brain tissue extends into your spinal canal.
She required emergency brain surgery. However, to this day, she still lives with the residual neurological effects, which include seizures.
“My perspective was from as a patient living day-to-day with the symptoms,” Sanders says. “I started to think about a device that could be used to safely and effectively prevent that from happening during the seizure.”
Enter PATI, what she calls “a disruptive, first-to-market” solution to address this unmet need, especially for those with medication-resistant epilepsy, which is estimated at around 40 percent of all epilepsy patients.
How it works is simple: Before sleep or the onset of an “aura,” often described as the beginning of a seizure, the patient inserts the protective device into the mouth, preventing injury to the tongue during an episode.
After the seizure, the patient removes the device, discards it, and restock it with a new PATI.
Additionally, it can be used as an emergency medical intervention for paramedics, and in hospitals and clinics as part of “seizure precautions order” and before EEGs [electroencephalogram tests].
“Our goal is to exit by the end of this year with commercialization by the acquiring company in 2022,” Sanders says.