1. What is Sonostics?Sonostics
is a startup company based in Vestal, NY working on vibromyography (VMG) devices that measure muscle force and muscle imbalance. VMG is a bioengineering technology that Sonostics is about to make commercially viable. Using VMG, Sonostics will manufacture and market devices for the non-invasive assessment of muscle performance and strength balance. With Sonostics’ products, such as AccuForce 1000, there is no need for special skin preparation; there are no electrodes, no disposable parts, and no worries about artifacts such as sweat corrupting the signal. This really sets the technology apart from electromyography (EMG).
As a person exercises, Sonostics’ patent-pending technology records muscle vibrations and converts that information into absolute force by means of wavelet packet analysis. The process involves three main components: first, multiple MEMS accelerometers are used as muscle vibration surface sensors; then, data processing hardware monitors the signal data; and finally, proprietary software captures muscle force data in real time and provides users with biofeedback, which can be compared to prior activity and is actionable in rehabilitation regimens or sports training programs.
The company plans to incorporate this technology into several products: a bench-top device for lease by physical therapists and trainers; a portable device for rent, to be used by patients at home; and a consumer product device for purchase by sports enthusiasts for optimizing athletic performance and reducing risk of injury. Future clinical applications may also include the use of VMG to help stage and monitor neuromuscular diseases.
2. How was Sonostics created? Can you describe the relationships and collaborative efforts that were involved in bringing the technology to market?
Binghamton University professor Kenneth McLeod founded Sonostics in 2005 as a spinoff from the university’s Bioengineering department, and for four years, the company developed the technology to measure muscle balance, particularly around a person’s knee. Dr. McLeod, who also chairs the department, focuses much of his research on understanding the interaction of biophysical factors in tissue development, healing, and adaptation. Sonostics products are based on proprietary technology developed in Dr. McLeod’s lab at the State University of New York, Biomedical Engineering at Stony Brook University and Bioengineering at Binghamton University. The intellectual property underlying these developments is assigned to the Research Foundation of the State University of New York and is being licensed exclusively to Sonostics. Also, the Center for Advanced Technology at SUNY Stony Brook (CAT) was engaged to produce three versions of a working prototype. This CAT is particularly skilled in sensor technology and is funded by the State of New York specifically to further the commercialization of innovative technology by NYS companies. Thus, the collaboration of Sonostics and the CAT was an excellent fit.
Last July, Chuck Schwerin joined Sonostics as CEO. Prior to that, he worked at MapInfo for nine years as senior product manager for licensing technologies. Mr. Schwerin and Dr. McLeod shared a similar vision of how start-ups ought to be run, each having a fair share of entrepreneurial success behind them. A third partner, Steve Pittari, had extensive experience managing large electronics manufacturing enterprises in the United States and Southeast Asia. Thus, the team brought complementary parts to the new venture.
3. Would you briefly describe Sonostics’ business plan?
Sonostics is still an early-stage venture and needs about a half million dollars to go through the next couple of stages of prototype development and field testing before the AccuForce 1000 can be made available to sports clinics and physical therapists. These funds will also be used for third-party engineering, Beta unit fabrication, EU patent prosecution, building out R&D and sales and marketing.
In terms of funding, Sonostics has received $275K from its founders and $164K from 12 angel investors and is currently looking for institutional investors. In March 2009, Sonostics was named the ‘Best Early-Stage Company’ at the New Jersey Venture Conference, where they sought the involvement of investors.
Currently, Sonostics is running a pilot program for AccuForce 1000. The testing process is expected to last approximately four to six months. Once this process is completed, Sonostics will use the information it collects from the testers to tweak the product in preparation for commercial launch. Within five years, they hope to have a very recognized brand.
In addition to helping with healing and preventative treatment, their products also give insurance companies a way to measure that therapy is working. As insurers demand more objective proof of progress, VMG is a platform technology that will enable physical therapists to prove rehab progress and provide a key tool for their growing fee-for-service business. The initial application is targeted at knee injury patients, of which there are 2 million annually. Muscle imbalance is a key contributor to both anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears and patello femoral pain syndrome. All 26K fitness centers as well as 30K schools/college and professional sports programs are also potential customers.
The hope is that enough investors come through to help Sonostics complete its prototype development and launch its beta testing program.
4. What is the current status of Sonostics? In what publicly disclosed research and development efforts has Sonostics recently been engaged?
Dr. McLeod has already been granted one patent on vibromyography. A second application is in its final stages and improves upon the first in terms of clinical applicability.
In order to gain feedback on the technology from physical therapy practices, fitness centers and
others across upstate New York, Sonostics launched a pilot project in July which is expected to last four to six months. Initial results demonstrate that the technology is functioning even better than predicted – old injuries are readily detected and the variance between people is clear and unequivocal.
5. Who is on the Sonostics team?
CEO Chuck Schwerin, BA, MA
CSO Kenneth McLeod, Ph.D. Chief Scientific Officer
COO Steve Pittari, BS IE, MBA
CFO David Lovenheim, BA, JD, Managing Director, Keystones Global, LLC
6. How was Sonostics named?
Since VMG utilizes sound waves to determine the effort a given muscle exerts, the founders decided to name the company by playing off the words ‘Sonic’ and ‘Diagnostics’ – hence 'Sonostics'.