Pittsburgh-based Insituvue has developed a novel vascular access imaging device but has had problems fundraising.

April 29, 2013

3 Min Read
This CEO of a Medical Device Firm Hasn't Drawn a Salary in Six Months

Joe Bjorklund, CEO of Insituvue

Pittsburgh-based Insituvue has developed what its CEO feels is a novel vascular access device that can help doctors know what exactly they are doing when they are sticking a needle in a patient.

Insituvue has developed a handheld imaging device based on ultrasound technology that reflects the internal image of a patient's arm or other body part onto a reflective mirror thereby providing an accurate picture of the anatomy within. That contrasts with current ultrasound tools where the doctor has to look up and see a magnified image, and then look down to guide the needle.

The Sonic Flashlight, on the other hand, is a visual guide to a doctor inserting a needle in a patient that provides an accurate reflection of scale at the location where the doctor is trying to insert a needle. The image is reflected on the mirror and appears to float just beneath the skin whereby the doctors can see the veins clearly. As the company website proclaims, with the Sonic Flashlight, it' s like the doctor has X-ray vision.

The Sonic Flashlight vein illuminator

The problem is while hospitals and doctors are interested in the device, VCs think the company's needs - $2 million to $4 million - is too paltry to warrant attention, said CEO Joe Bjorklund, at an interview at the 10X Medical Device Conference in Minneapolis.

Roughly three years after being founded in 2010, the company has run out of money and has basically four to six months left before it shuts down. 

"Unless you are developing something really sexy, the VC firms aren't interested," he said of his experience trying to raise capital in the last 18 months.

Insituvue hasn't conducted any clinical trials, but the company has done a phantom study that pit the Sonic Flashlight against conventional ultrasonography

Despite the miserable experience fundraising Bjorklund is hopeful. A northeast VC fund is close to raising $100 million and Insituvue is the no. 1 on the investment list.

"If we weren't confident of raising capital we would have shut the company down" he declares. "We do it not because we like it, but because it sends a message to investors." 

"We" includes the two founders of Insituvue who also have gone without a salary for half a year.

The device, Bjorklund believes, will play particularly well under the changes wrought the Affordable Care Act.

"We have a device that we think can very directly affect the infection rates" something that hospitals are very keen to reduce.

That's of course if it survives the next four to six months. After all, Insituvue has already had one episode of being left hanging at the altar by a VC firm that committed $3 million, before it diverted the funds elsewhere Bjorklund noted. But he believes that Insituvue will get the Series A funding it is looking for from a northeast VC firm trying to raise $100 million.

"We're the no. 1 investment listed and they are using our company as an example to raise money for the fund," he said. 

If Bjorkluns is successful is raising the capital, Insituvue can move to finalize the design of the product and file for a 510(k) at the end of the year. 

Here is a video of the product that was licensed from the University of Pittsburgh where the technology was invented.

-- By Arundhati Parmar, Senior, Editor, MD+DI

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