2023 Most Disruptive MBA Startups: Naturacur Wound Healing, University of Washington (Foster)

Naturacur Wound Healing

University of Washington, Foster School of Business

Website Link: https://naturacur.com

Industry: Wound Care

Founding Student Name(s): Todd Cutter (Founder), Josh McDonald (Co-Founder)

Funding Dollars: $600,000

Brief Description of Solution: Effective and Low-Cost Topical treatment solutions for wound healing have not seen much innovation for the last century. Naturacur  plans to market a patented two-step Wound Healing System called Angiogenic Oxygen Therapy® that employs two crucial methodologies that optimize the environment in which wounds heal best: Effective First Aid for Wounds and Re-Oxygenation Therapy for Wounds. As a result, this allows us to release two separate but synergistic technologies that capture the total available wound healing market space and leverage one another to enhance their collective value.

The First Problem: Chronic and acute wounds require proper first aid treatment. At the moment, there are no topical first aid healing agents that have been proven to heal wounds well without complications. Our wound healing gel, called WoundCur®, has been proven to outperform the most commonly used post-surgical treatment creams. WoundCur® Gel will revolutionize the way patient wounds can be treated by shortening length of treatment time, improving outcome, and improving patient experience. The gel can be used for acute and non-healing wounds.

The Second Problem: Chronic and acute wounds do not heal as well when exposed to normal air. However, when exposed to 100% Oxygen, combined with low atmospheric pressures, it has been found that wounds heal three times as well. This method is hard to achieve and is not scalable without a monitoring device. To re- create this ideal environment, the team at Naturacur is hard at work developing a portable electronic device that controls the environment inside a custom soft chamber bag that fits around the patient’s torso. This allows the patient to breathe normal air, while the affected wound site is bathed in the oxygen concentration and atmospheric pressure required for optimal wound healing.

The novel AngioGenic Oxygen Therapy® system aims to improve patient outcome, reduce complications, and care costs, as well as reduce the risk of limb loss in diabetic foot ulcers, by combining two crucial steps in acute and chronic wound care: Effective topical first aid and Low-Pressure reoxygenation therapy. Based on preliminary studies, the AGOT System has the potential in healing over 95% of diabetic foot ulcers, chronic, necrotic, and acute wounds. In addition, the AGOT wound healing system will be a low-cost and highly effective technology. Not only is this disruptive to the expensive and inaccessible wound care industry, but this also has a huge social impact for underserved communities and countries that do not have access to effective wound care.

What led you to launch this venture? Our team at Naturacur takes the concept of wound healing very seriously. Our team has worked in positions where they were exposed to the realities of wound care in nursing homes and veterans’ hospitals. Once people develop a diabetic foot ulcer, a pressure sore, a sacral ulcer, a surgical wound, or a severe contusion, these people tend to be hidden from society until they heal. However, what if they never heal? These groups are often in low-income households, have less than high-school education, uninsured, elderly, or disabled. Many times, they are not even captured in the unemployment data once they leave the workforce due to their condition. We decided that we would be on a mission to start a company that could help people gain access and awareness to effective and affordable treatments.

In our first year of enrollment in University of Washington’s Foster School of Business Executive MBA program, we needed to develop our Capstone Project. We looked no farther than our own family of entrepreneurs.

Clinical Professor of Medicine from UCLA and Wound Healing expert, Madalene Heng MD, FRACP, FACD, FAAD is Todd Cutter’s mother-in-law. Dr. Heng developed a unique wound healing methodology while Chief of Dermatology at the VA Hospital in North Hills, CA. Her methods were used in military application, but never commercialized.

Naturacur received exclusive licensing to design a wound healing system based on Dr. Heng’s methods, and the AngioGenic Oxygen Therapy system was born in the Winter of 2022. During our second year, Team Naturacur was notified about a patient that was suffering from dementia and non-healing foot, hip, and sacral ulcers, each the size of a golf ball. The hospital discharged her after the 6-month time limit, where she accumulated over $500,000 in Medicare costs without any success in treating the wound. She was treated with the AGOT System and healed at home within 3 months.

We then knew had a great technology and could not help but share the results with interested parties. We were often discouraged from including photos of these ulcers in our presentations, as they were “too rough” on our audiences. However, this did not discourage us from deciding to launch our venture as a wound healing company. Although technological innovation and growth in many fields have led to human capabilities we never could have imagined half a century ago, the human body still has its biological limitations. Wound care is not cool, beautiful or sexy, but the market space is wide open, and getting wider.

With diabetes alone, over half a billion people are at risk of a diabetic foot ulcer, and this number will grow at a CAGR of 6.5% each year. Up to 30% of these people will develop a diabetic foot ulcer in their lifetime. Of this group, 20% will lose their limbs and 10% will lose their lives due to complications. Over 16 million people may die each year due to a non-healing wound! That is not acceptable to us, not when we know many of these complications are preventable. While incumbents in the wound healing sector are most likely spending more time improving existing technologies and chasing higher profitability, we are targeting overlooked segments and gaining a foothold by delivering lower-cost, yet more effective solutions. As of 2023, the wound care market is valued at over $25 billion dollars.

What has been your biggest accomplishment so far with the venture? We believe entering into business competitions has been a big accomplishment in itself. It forced us to get to know our target markets, our competition, marketing strategy, and value proposition. We obtained crucial and critical feedback from advisors and peers, and this led to a continual revision of our pitch and business plan. To this day, we are still revising and perfecting it to align with the criteria for investor funding, grants, future competitions and accelerator programs. Most importantly, these competitions increased our brand exposure to an entirely new startup ecosystem. We understand that in order to separate ourselves from the crowd, we need to execute our vision with grit, humility, and teamwork, as well as continue to reflect and revise.

Our biggest accomplishment so far, however, was actually seeing the fruits of our labor pay off in winning the awards we were aiming to receive.

  • University of Washington’s 2023 Dempsey Start-up Competition “Best Innovation and Technology Idea”
  • University of Washington’s Foster School of Business Executive MBA “2023 Capstone Business Plan Competition”

What has been the most significant challenge you’ve faced in creating your company and how did you solve it? Our biggest challenge is learning to be patient and staying positive. Because innovative technologies take time to gain traction to disrupt existing markets, it is easy to get discouraged or become impatient when we reach a phase where progress is slow. In the meantime, we have to stay focused, resilient, adaptable, risk-tolerant, and competitive. If we can give any advice to a fellow founder, it would be this: Believe in yourself, take care of yourself, embrace temporary failures, and surround yourself with like-minded people who will support your vision. It is easy to talk yourself out of pursuing your venture without a tenacious mindset. How do we motivate ourselves daily? We think about all those people we could be helping to save their dignity and save lives.

How has your MBA program helped you further this startup venture? For team Naturacur, our MBA definitely gives us access to a stronger professional network, access to viable investor opportunities, and a bigger funding pool. In addition, the University of Washington’s EMBA program has been integral in giving us the right resources and experience to feel confident in our executive decision- making and applying the key concepts that we learned to create a competitive and sustainable business. We have been given an amazing amount of support and guidance from the professors, program staf,f and our classmates. Anyone can certainly start up a business without an MBA. However, for disruptive businesses, the MBA degree provides not only greater confidence and resources to increase chances of success but provides the tools to better mitigate risk.

What founder or entrepreneur inspired you to start your own entrepreneurial journey? How did he or she prove motivational to you? It has often been said that it is easier to launch a startup when you come from a family of entrepreneurs. All of us at Naturacur can say that we have been inspired by Dr. Madalene Heng’s entrepreneurial family. Dr. Heng and her husband, Ming K. Heng, MD, Professor of Medicine (Cardiology) at UCLA, both run their own medical clinics. Their daughter and Todd Cutter’s wife, Siana Cutter, is the owner of a cosmetic manufacturing lab, Omnicure Inc.  and their son, Hwa Heng, is a Founder of Carlsbad, CA engineering firm, Innogoative.

Their family motto for all their businesses is: “Knowledge & Trust”. The Heng family has a strong culture, which resonates within their respective communities. Their business practices involving life-long learning and the continual passing-along of knowledge. They emphasize a “culture of candor” characterized by truthfulness, accountability, transparency, and communication, which affects the way they approach every aspect of their company cultures from marketing to conflict resolution.

Naturacur has learned through this example of thriving family-owned businesses that company culture can prove to be a strong competitive advantage for a startup. As a result, we have adopted a similar culture of accumulating knowledge and building trust. In every step of our progress, we believe communication is a critical function in innovation, aligning workers, educating customers, satisfying investors, and building brand equity. This is reflected in our vision statement, culture, and our growth strategies.

Which MBA class has been most valuable in building your startup and what was the biggest lesson you gained from it? It would be difficult to attribute one class as the most valuable in building our startup, as we feel all our classes have been equally essential. However, if we must choose one, Entrepreneurship (EMBA 533A, Professor Benjamin Hallen/Teaching Assistant, Scott Taylor) provided us with the fundamentals of building a business plan, executive summary, and pitch deck. We were given clear instruction on building our business, creating milestones, gaining brand awareness, mitigating potential risks, and learning the best approach with prospective investors. In addition, the course provided us with great examples of startups that did well and others that struggled to get off the ground. Our biggest lesson learned was that regardless of whether a startup succeeds or fails, no startup succeeds without experiencing setbacks. Every failure presents an opportunity to learn, grow, pivot and adapt their strategies.

What professor made a significant contribution to your plans and why? We feel Professor Suresh Kotha made the most significant contribution to our business strategy and outlook. Professor Kotha’s course, General Management and Strategy II, focused on technology strategy and innovation and most importantly for us, competitive advantage through disruptive innovation. When we approached Professor Kotha to review our Pitch Deck for the Dempsey Start-up Competition, he laid bare our deficiencies with a brutally honest critique. This was extremely helpful in understanding what investors are looking for and how to tell our story. Initially, he was not impressed with our delivery! This motivated us to work harder and employ his valuable input, and we truly feel that with his mentorship, we were able to win our first award in the Dempsey Startup Competition, which then improved our chances of winning our EMBA Capstone Business Plan Competition.

How has your local start-up ecosystem contributed to your venture’s development and success? Our startup ecosystem consists of a medical device and tech hub that includes MBA classmates, fellow startups, established firms, top-ranking universities, law and accounting firms, venture capitalists, angel investors, and private equity primarily based in Silicon Valley and Seattle. Both hubs are focused on software and data, energy and environment, and healthcare technology, and well-known to be in the top startup ecosystems in the US. We are so grateful for the guidance and exposure we have received from our collaborative partners. We are surrounded by numerous firms, consultants, and other startup founders who are willing to share information about how to quickly assess and adapt to the current medical device space. They have helped us set realistic goals, create stakeholder maps, gain access to funding, and most importantly, provide the necessary support we need to avoid costly pitfalls and increase chances of success. Specifically, we have also been fortunate to work with industry leaders who provide clarity in defining our product development timeline and costs for pre-commercialization and 510K clearance.

Even closer to home, we have also been creating partnerships with complementary technologies where we share similar milestones. Dr. Rania Hussein, Associate Teaching Professor at the University of Washington, Associate Director of the UW Industrial Assessment Center (IAC) and Founder and Director of the Remote Hub Lab, has provided valuable collaboration. Her research focuses on embedded systems, digital twinning, IoT, image processing, and engineering education where her mission is to provide equitable access to educational technologies.

Our local startup ecosystem has provided us resources at no to low cost.

What is your long-term goal with your start-up? The strength of our existing assets will determine the final company valuation. Therefore, our next steps are to target all wound healing treatment centers by offering AngioGenic Oxygen Therapy® as a two-step Wound Healing System that combines two synergistic proven wound healing technologies. With our technology system, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, but they are not inextricably linked. The market penetration of the WoundCur® gel will allow us to easily identify the patients who need more serious treatment without increasing acquisition costs. We then continue to build value for both technologies. In conjunction with raising capital, we plan to offer our wound healing gel by Q1 2024 and build revenue that will contribute to the development and FDA clearance of our AGOT System. Once we are at the pre- commercialization phase for our medical device, we will be opening up Series A funding to investors with long-term goals to continue developing our exit strategy. Together with our startup ecosystem, we truly feel that our dual technologies will disrupt the wound healing industry and have the potential to take on the entire global market.

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