Mays Business School, April 12th, 2021
Written by Meredith White ’21
Every once in a while, a new invention is created that makes consumers and investors pause and wonder at the genius in its simplicity. Around seven years ago, Dr. Albert Huang was removing part of a diseased colon from a patient’s body when he struggled to find and avoid cutting the patient’s ureter. This is a common occurrence with pelvic surgeries and even the most experienced surgeons struggle to identify and avoid the small muscle hidden under multiple layers of tissue. By the end of the procedure, Dr. Huang found himself thinking up new ideas that would make locating the ureter much faster and safer. His ideas began to solidify during a quiet moment in front of his computer. The next thing he knew he was building a prototype and scouring eBay and radio shack looking for spare parts. He was making progress towards solving this monumental problem, but he was going to need to make some tough decisions in order to go from Frankenstein prototype to full-blown startup. Dr. Huang resolved to leave active practice in order to pursue his idea, a daunting task considering the lifetime of training it took to become a surgeon. He knew the rare opportunity that he had to make an impact and save lives.
Dr. Huang came to view the pause in his surgical career “[…] as an opportunity rather than a sacrifice.” His unique background as a practicing surgeon has proven invaluable in the development of his company, Allotrope Medical. He knows the atmosphere of the operating room and he understands the needs of the doctors, assistants, and most importantly the patients. Dr. Huang is also keenly aware of the standards medical professionals have for new technology. He used all of this information, in addition to his expertise in human anatomy, to create StimSite.
StimSite simply but elegantly helps surgeons identify and work around the ureter during pelvic surgeries and procedures. The ureter is a muscle. However, when a patient is under general anesthesia it blends into the surrounding tissue making it difficult to see. Each year, 10% of procedures result in accidental harm to the patient’s ureter. Dr. Huang concluded that by generating an electrical signal, similar to that created by the brain of a conscious patient, he could make the ureter move and become distinguishable among the pelvic tissue. This small movement would make it easier to locate the ureter, decreasing the time surgeons spend trying to identify and avoid the ureter and also significantly decreasing the risk of accidentally injuring this small but vital muscle.
After much trial-and-error, StimSite was finally ready and it was time for Allotrope Medical to seek outside investment. “Taking and sharing your vision is always hard to do,” commented Dr. Huang, “How do you [take] what’s in your brain and share that passion?” Dr. Huang’s idea is obviously good, but his mindset is even better. He has the drive and creativity to support his ambitions and the charisma required to make others believe in his company as well. It should come as no surprise that Allotrope Medical and StimSite quickly caught the eye of investors, in particular the Aggie Angel Network. In June 2020 Dr. Huang competed in the virtual Texas A&M New Ventures Competition (TNVC) during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and won first place and $50,000. In addition to the first-place winnings, Allotrope Medical received the Aggie Angel Network Special Investment Prize.
The TNVC prize money combined with other investments meant that Dr. Huang had finally secured the funding he needed to move forward with manufacturing StimSite. However, the device was not yet FDA approved and due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the FDA was flooded with approval appeals. StimSite would have to wait until the summer of 2021 for approval and it seemed that their momentum had suddenly run out.
In a complete stroke of luck, Dr. Huang was notified in November 2020 that StimSite was awarded FDA approval making Allotrop Medical the singular startup within the Houston medical center to receive approval to bring their technology through hospital doors. Luck was certainly on the med-tech startup’s side and Allotrope Medical was racing through a system that usually took years. Their timely FDA approval put the company ahead of schedule by six months. Better yet, they had surgeons from across the world asking to test StimSite. To meet this sudden demand Allotrope Medical would need to seek additional investment so that they could manufacture more devices. After his positive interaction with Aggie Angel Network (AAN), Dr. Huang approached the angel investment group and offered an exclusive investment opportunity for AAN members as Allotrope began to close on their Series A. AAN members have a keen sense for a good opportunity and invested an additional $300,000 in Dr. Huang’s startup in early 2021.
Dr. Huang commented that StimSite is already having an impact on the medical field. Doctors he has never met on other continents he has never been to are using his technology on patients he’s never seen. Some surgeons filmed themselves using StimSite and presented the recordings at classes and symposiums. This emphatic adoption from the medical community further validates the major need that StimSite is filling for surgeons around the globe.
Dr. Albert Huang grew up asking questions and with a desire to understand how the world around him works. He restored vintage cars and motorcycles during his years in medical school. He has always been looking behind the curtain, trying to learn how things work and can be made even better. He worked hard to become a doctor to help other people, but when he found another way to assist mankind, he was willing to focus everything he had on an innocuous thought that grew into something more. His advice to other entrepreneurs is to tell them it’s doable. That dream you’ve had since you were a kid, that passing idea that you came up with during lunch, it’s all doable. And there are people out there who are willing to help you. There are people out there that want to make the world better and will listen to you as long as you, too, are asking questions. If you too are also pulling back the curtain and looking at the world around you with a perceptive eye. To those who are ready to follow in the steps of Dr. Albert Huang, it may be time to take that leap of faith.