Sonavi Labs, in its first official seed fundraising round, has raised over $1 million from investors. In securing the funding, while avoiding the more traditional venture capital route, CEO and Co-Founder, Ellington West has solidified her place in history as one of the very few African American leaders in the healthcare technology industry to raise more than $1 million in funding. The Johns Hopkins spinout has been building excitement over the past two years across the Baltimore startup community and is now positioning itself on a global stage.
The Sonavi Labs team leveraged their personal and professional networks and recent traction to attract investors from all over the country. Earlier in the year, Sonavi Labs secured an exclusive license from Johns Hopkins University to develop Feelix, the company’s inaugural suite of products, for which it placed 3rd overall in a global startup competition, the Startup World Cup. The company also received NIH funding to support clinical studies in Baltimore.
“The team secured almost half of our goal in the first few weeks of the round.” said Chief Executive Officer, Ellington West. She continued, “We were ready to move forward with the regulatory approval process and prepare for our commercial launch, so you can imagine receiving such overwhelming support was really encouraging for our team.”
It is rare for a diverse startup, like Sonavi Labs, which is also helmed by an African-American woman, to raise $1 million in funding. Recent initiatives by venture capital firms and government agencies alike have endeavored to carve out space and resources for women and minority-led businesses in an effort to increase diversity in their portfolios. For Sonavi Labs, raising $1 million in funding without obtaining venture capital was an accomplishment that the team is confident will position the company for even greater success in future rounds.
“I was elated to receive so much support from colleagues, family and even former students.” said Chief Innovation Officer, Ilene Busch-Vishniac who joined the company in July of 2018. She continued, “We were cautiously optimistic when we started the round, because you never really know how things will end up, and we found ourselves having more interest than we were even prepared for.” Sonavi Labs received so much interest in their $1 million fundraising round, that it eventually had to be extend to accommodate the additional investments.
Chief Financial Officer, Jaishree McLane noted “This kind of traction is exactly what we need to make a huge impact and I’m so excited about what we’ll be able to accomplish.” She, and Chief Technology Officer, Ian McLane pitched over 30 times to help raise the funds. “I didn’t care how many times I had to give our pitch, I was determined to make this happen.” Said Ian McLane, who has been working on the Feelix project for over 5 years.
The Feelix project is the result of Ian McLane’s Masters and PhD research at Johns Hopkins University, which was originally funded by grants from the NIH, the Gates Foundation, and NASA. Ellington West, who’s father, Dr. James West spearheaded the development of the technology at Hopkins with Ian McLane, his research student, and colleagues Mounya Elihali and Dimitra Emmanouilidou, noted the importance of this work in relation to his previous research at Bell Labs, which resulted in the invention of the electret microphone, “This company was created to make progress, to propel people and science forward. We embrace the diversity, legacy and contributions of our parents, teachers, mentors, and colleagues www.sonavilabs.com because without their work we wouldn’t have a legacy to carry forward.” Ellington West and Ian McLane founded Sonavi Labs together in 2017 to commercialize the technology and deliver low-cost diagnostic tools to emerging and developed markets.
Since the company’s inception in 2017, Sonavi Labs development work has been bootstrapped by the founding team, but with additional funding will now be able to move on to complete the launch of the Feelix platform in the very near future.
The Sonavi Labs team has aggressive plans to bring the Feelix product to market in the coming months. Ellington West stated “We’ll be using every penny to make sure our technology is better than anything else on the market and that our company is more successful than any of our competitors.”