What started as a Ph.D. dissertation at Monterrey Institute of Technology has evolved into a innovative healthcare startup.
With more than 80% of women in developing countries receiving improper health screenings, there is an immense need for innovation in women’s healthcare at the base of the pyramid. Founded last May, the startup Onko Solutions developed VitaScreen, a product designed to address this market gap and increase the quality of life for women around the world.
VitaScreen simplifies the cervical screening process. Unlike the traditional pap smear, this one-step, minimally invasive procedure provides immediate results and completely eliminates the time and money constraints connected to lab testing. Moreover, these devices are both accurate and easy to distribute.
In only five minutes, VitaScreen takes 24–32 readings around the cervix and immediately reports any medical problems. The target customers, doctors and hospitals, will save $15-$50 for each patient through foregone lab fees.
What started as a dissertation project for three Ph.D. students at Monterrey Institute of Technology in Mexico has evolved into the budding start-up that we see today. I had the pleasure of interviewing Teo Tijerina, COO & Co-Founder of Onko Solutions at the 2015 Village Capital Health Workshop. Teo explained that he and the CEO, Hector Torres, were recruited by the team to run the company.
Teo is a serial entrepreneur who used to run a technology accelerator focused on underserved areas. He also loves working on products with financial and social returns. He noted that it was an added bonus that the product is being manufactured and developed in Mexico instead of being outsourced to a more developed country.
Since the product is not yet ready for release, the company has secured distribution rights in both Mexico and Central America for a similar Australian product. This allows Onko Solutions to conduct customer discovery while generating revenue to help cover operational expenses.
Patients participating in the clinical trials have expressed that the procedure is more comfortable and much quicker than a pap smear. Doctors are happy to provide a more accurate screen. Finally, NGOs are excited to be able to deliver point of care services where results are delivered on the spot, without fear of losing track of patients due to inefficient communication systems in developing nations.
Potential customers are unaware of the inefficiencies of the traditional pap smear in developing nations, so industry education is a core component of the Onko Solution’s marketing strategy. They plan to manufacture and launch the product in Mexico during Q3 2016, then roll out to South and Central America, with a long-term goal of working in underserved communities in both Europe and the U.S.
Like many startups, Onko Solution’s biggest challenges involve raising capital. They have secured development funding from the Mexican government and are also close to closing a $2.5M Series A round to support their operations in Latin America. They are grateful for the resources and exposure the company is experiencing during the 2015 Village Capital Health Workshop sponsored in conjunction with the Hitachi Foundation. And me, I’m excited this program was able to support this venture and other organizations developing solutions that provide access to valuable resources for people around the world.