A former Stanford Biodesign Fellow and Fogarty Institute entrepreneur, 32-year-old Holly Rockweiler has already had remarkable accomplishments early in her career, fluently moving her startup to the next level.
Most notably, Holly has parlayed Madorra’s impressive study results into securing funding, including winning several pitching competitions, despite the chronically challenging medtech fundraising environment.
After receiving her MS in Biomedical Engineering from Washington University in St. Louis, Holly launched her career in healthcare at Boston Scientific where she played an integral role in developing next-generation products and executing clinical studies. She subsequently launched Madorra, a startup that is focused on developing solutions to improve the quality of life for breast cancer survivors and post-menopausal women, following her fellowship at Stanford Biodesign.
We had the privilege of catching up with Holly to discuss her company, some of the biggest challenges she has faced and how she addressed them, and inside tips for early-stage entrepreneurs.
Q. Tell us a little more about where Madorra is today…and what’s on the horizon?
We just closed the first tranche of an exciting Series A funding round, led by Australia-based venture capital firm OneVentures. This round will take us all the way through our FDA submissions.
We are also readying our next round of clinical studies. We have done three clinical studies since we launched the company, showing early proof of concept, and we are very excited to build on these and expand with our newly completed device design.
Our data thus far has been excellent – in our most recent clinical study we were able to show symptom improvement that was on par with the gold standard treatment that is out there today. Anecdotally, we heard from women how meaningful and important this treatment was for them and their desire to keep the device after the study ended, which we considered an impeccable endorsement of the technology.
On the provider side, we also had great enthusiasm. The healthcare providers supporting the study were surprised to see that we had a waiting list of study enrollees, which really underscores the existing unmet need since, as many physicians pointed out, it is often difficult to find people to enroll.
Q. What has been your biggest challenge to date and how did you address it?
As any entrepreneur will tell you, one of the biggest challenges is fundraising. We had very exciting data, a big market and a great team, but it took a while to find the right investor.
There aren’t as many people investing in our space, but we pounded the pavement and knocked on doors until we found the right fit, and we are very happy with our investor group.
We have also been very fortunate to attain crucial support from grant organizations. We just received two Small Business Innovation Research grants (SBIR) grants, the first one from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the second from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). This has been a great way to fill in the gaps as we fundraise and take advantage of non-diluted funding.
Q. What are your tips for finding sources of funding and winning pitching competitions as you have done successfully?
Places like the Fogarty Institute and various networks are key for learning about funding opportunities. We also hear from other entrepreneurs – most startup CEOs are very supportive, and it’s incredibly helpful to get the inside track from people who know what you need.
For competitions, the number one rule is understanding who your audience is and preparing a story that will connect with them.
For us, we like to weave in a little humor to make the audience more comfortable with our topic area. But the backbone of the pitch is what we learned at Stanford Biodesign: Describing the well-characterized unmet need, what we are doing to solve it and why that matters, and why there is an exciting investment opportunity associated with it.
Finally, of course, you have to be enthusiastic and demonstrate your passion. Part of presenting is entertaining so telling a good story and making it exciting to watch is very important.
Q. What advice would you give to early-stage entrepreneurs or those who are thinking about getting into medtech?
Always have a “patient first” mentality and understand the unmet need and the broader opportunity—let that guide your decision making. Also, find really good people to work with who are equally excited. I feel very fortunate that everyone from our employees to our advisors and board members are very passionate about our company and the impact we will have on women’s lives.