Welcome to another edition of PIE, where we interview the brightest entrepreneurs and VCs from Princeton and beyond. This issue’s featured founder is Miles Cole, a sophomore undergraduate Princeton student and CEO of Invictis Technologies. His biotech startup builds portable and automatic intravenous injection devices that reduce needlestick injuries, wounds caused by accidental puncturing of the skin, which cost the United States healthcare sector over $3 billion a year. Invictis Technologies makes injections safer by using state-of-the-art vertical injection technology (VIT), allowing them to make their devices small, portable, and accurate.
What got you interested in needlestick injuries and the biotech industry?
I was diagnosed at birth with severe hemophilia A, a bleeding disorder where my blood has no ability to clot unless I infuse a specialized medication intravenously every day. Even so, I bruise easily, can get joint bleeds, and have constant aches and pains. One night when I was injecting myself last year, I was having a very tough time hitting a vein. I had to needle stick myself at least four or five times before I was able to successfully access the vein. I realized that this difficulty of hitting a vein is a huge problem in my life. This is not just a problem experienced by hemophiliacs, but a problem experienced by many others who require daily intravenous injections such as people with cancer, Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis, etc. After doing some research, I found that needle injection technology hadn’t changed in the past 100 years and 25% of venipuncture procedures performed by trained nurses or healthcare professionals are unsuccessful on the first attempt. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention also estimates that an average of 1,000 sharps-related injuries are sustained by hospital-based healthcare personnel per day nationwide. These needlestick injuries result in the transmission of blood-borne viruses and are estimated to cost the healthcare sector in the United States over $3 billion a year. Additionally, according to a new research report by Global Market Insights, blood-borne infections in American hospitals account for around 99,000 deaths per year. Such injuries and infections are 100% avoidable. Despite these challenges, millions of Americans require IV injections every day for a wide range of infusion therapy treatments and a large percentage of these require the person themselves or another untrained assistant to perform the venipuncture. Because of this, I wondered, there has to be a better way. I envisioned some kind of device that I could strap to my arm and press a button to automatically and safely do the injection. That is when my interest began and I started to work on Invictis and the device.
How does your company, Invictis Technologies, make these handheld automatic intravenous injection devices?
The main difference in our device from others is that we use state-of-the-art Vertical Injection Technology (VIT) that we developed here at Princeton. We are aware of four companies seeking to address the same problems as us, Veebot, Haemobot, VenousPro, and SAGIV, yet none of these technologies have moved beyond the prototype stage. The main problem with these companies’ methods is that they attempt to use robotics to mimic the actions of a human attempting venipuncture rather than taking full advantage of what advanced technology has to offer. Such technologies are limited because they are stationary, cannot be used without the help of a certified care physician, pose a high risk of injury, and remain in clinical trials. Our device seeks to overcome these challenges by changing the fundamental method of injection in a simple and effective way. Similar to how the EpiPen changed the landscape on how to deliver epinephrine by making the procedure virtually fool-proof, our device is poised to change the landscape of how IV injections are administered by automating the process with cost-effective and accessible technology. Our approach to this problem is to simplify the injection process by introducing Vertical Injection Technology (VIT). Rather than trying to create a robotic device that attempts to mimic a human in performing an injection, we take advantage of the precision and sensing capabilities of advanced robotics. In particular, all other injection technologies attempt to inject a vein at an angle of approximately 45 degrees and parallel to the target vein. Such an angle makes sense for a human as the angle allows one to gain additional control over the depth of the needle within the skin while the parallelism enables a greater chance of hitting the desired vein as the needle is inserted. However, for robotics, such angles and alignment are expensive in terms of complexity, size, and cost. In contrast, our IP is based on the direct detection and insertion of a needle into a vein perpendicular to the skin. Although this may sound like a simple approach, it is only with the power of precise robotics positioning and novel sensing approaches that we can control the depth as well as the lateral position of the needle with micron-scale precision. Our technology has a number of advantages over other competitors in terms of reduced complexity and costs allowing it to be portable. We envision a device the size of an arm cuff that contains all the necessary manipulation and computational architecture. A user needs only place a needle into the device and the VIT will automatically inject the needle into the vein for the patient to deliver medication or to extract blood as needed. Most importantly, since our device does not offer a fundamentally different way to deliver medicine (e.g. we are simply assisting with the venipuncture process), our device would be considered an FDA Class I device and therefore would not require the extensive clinical trials that has plagued other biomedical technologies (as confirmed by a Johnson & Johnson Medical Device specialist).
What is your long-term goal?
Our long-term goal is to partner with a larger medical company whose resources and distribution chains could effectively get our device out to as many people as possible. Among the many applications, our device could be used by general patients like myself, military medics or EMT’s in high-stress emergencies, aid workers helping victims recover from a hurricane in a third world country, or by a hemophiliac traveling around the world with nothing more than a backpack. Specifically, just for a hemophilia patient, this device can save insurance companies between $2K and $3K per year by obviating the need for surgically installed portacath devices which are prone to infections and the corresponding treatment costs. When looking at the chemotherapy infusion market, our device could save the average chemotherapy infusion treatment center almost $350k per year. With the right strategic partners, one could easily envision rapid global penetration in these markets and many others alike.
As CEO of your company, what qualities did you look for in a partner?
When I first had the idea for Invictis, I was specifically looking for a partner that would be very technical in order to compliment my non-technical skills. So, I cold emailed many MAE and ELE professors at Princeton asking if they would like to discuss my idea. Craig Arnold, Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and Director of the Princeton Institute for the Science and Technology of Materials, responded. He loved the idea and offered to help. Professor Arnold is a seasoned entrepreneur and prolific inventor and has been the driving force behind our novel technology. He has won a number of industry awards for his patents and successfully co-founded and sold a start-up that commercialized one of his technologies. I explained my problem and he helped develop solutions. Together, we worked with the Princeton Office of Technology Licensing to file a patent while in parallel we were developing the business plan and path forward to commercialization. Since then we have been working tirelessly to move the technology and business forward as partners. In addition to myself and Professor Arnold, we have assembled a team of knowledgeable advisors, bringing additional entrepreneurial expertise from the biotech and software industries. Throughout this adventure, I have realized how important it is to find people who complement your weaknesses with their strengths, which is why Craig has been the perfect partner. When talking about different personalities or qualities, I personally value dedication and someone who believes in the long-term goal and vision of the company.
Based on your experiences with Invictis Technologies, what’s the biggest piece of advice you’d give to someone interested in starting their own company?
The biggest thing is that you just have to get after it. I have noticed that most people are naturally scared to share their ideas because they are nervous that they might be put down. I also think if you want to start your own company you have to have to be extremely optimistic about everything, not caring what others think or say about your idea. This is especially important in the beginning stages when your idea, and confidence about your idea, is very fragile. Even if you know your idea has a very small chance of being successful, you need to approach it with the confidence that it is invincible. If you do not have this mentality, then it is very easy for you to let the criticism of others get in your head and stop you from even pursuing your idea in the first place. Just get started, if you fail, who cares?
What is the best book you’ve read related to entrepreneurship, business, or success?
Tools of Titans by Tim Ferris. This book is a compilation of interviews showing “The tactics, routines and habits of billionaires, icons and world-class performers.” I really like this book because it gives you an inside perspective on how some of the most successful people in the world operate and think. Another great entrepreneurship book is Zero to One by Peter Thiel.
And that’s it for this issue! Feel free to reach out to Miles Coles on his LinkedIn profile at https://www.linkedin.com/in/miles-cole-bb03b5152/ or me at firstname.lastname@example.org for any questions or comments.