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Learn more about NEXT’s entrepreneurs in our “Member Spotlight Series.” Members share their origin stories, challenges along their journey, and the insights they’ve gained along the way.

Stomagienics is changing the lives of ostomy patients, helping to restore dignity and providing better quality of life. We interviewed Stomagienics CEO, Bruce Johnson, to hear the story behind the company and to learn the insights he’s gained as he and the Stomagienics team build the company.

Can you share your elevator pitch with us? 

People with colon cancer, bladder cancer, and Crohn’s disease often have ostomy surgery to surgically reconfigure their digestive or urinary system to expel waste through their abdomen. Following surgery, they must wear an adhesive pouching system on their abdomen 24/7 to capture waste. The adhesive pouching system must be replaced every few days and introduces sanitary and hygienic challenges to care. Many patients develop skin complications, lose confidence and withdraw from activities. Our products help ostomy patients gain control of the ostomy care process and regain their independence. We provide a one-time-use disposable cartridge to capture the ostomy output during the replacement process, and we are developing an ostomy prosthetic to allow them to capture output without an adhesive pouching system.

What is the size of the ostomy community? 

There are about one million people with an ostomy in the United States, and over 120,000 ostomy surgeries performed each year. Over one-third of ostomy patients develop skin complications within 90 days, and ostomy surgery is second only to kidney transplant in leading to hospital readmission. 

What’s your origin story? How did you come to create your company?

None of us knew about ostomies until my father-in-law developed bladder cancer and had urostomy surgery. Following surgery, he was given a brief training in self-care and sent home to manage his own ostomy and supplies. As it is for all ostomy patients, it was a process that was difficult to manage and fraught with opportunity for failure. Every three days when he proceeded to replace his adhesive pouching system, he would be frustrated by uncontrolled output, and had difficulty getting his skin dry before attaching the new adhesive. He finally went to the hardware store and fashioned his own device to manage the process and make it more hygienic. He was a new man. His mood improved and he enjoyed a much better quality of life. When we saw the impact that the device had on his life, my wife Theresa and I wanted to help others in the same situation. My brother, Reed, developed a progression of prototypes, and we began testing the product with ostomy patients. In 2018 we previewed our disposable capture cartridge with nurses specializing in ostomy care. The nurses were wildly enthusiastic and gave us advice for improvements. We developed patents around the solution, filed with the FDA and worked through Medicare and insurance reimbursement. We are planning a broader launch for early 2020. 

What’s your vision for the future? What change are you trying to make?

We want to give ostomates their lives back — give them the independence and dignity that they had before their ostomy surgery. It is often said that the surgery that saves a life, changes the lives of ostomates and their caregivers in dramatic and traumatic ways. We want to see a new protocol for replacing the ostomy pouching system. The current method creates an unsanitary environment that demeans a person’s dignity. Advancements in pouching systems have provided new materials and adhesives over the last fifty years, but the replacement process was left behind. We are encouraging ostomates and healthcare professionals to embrace a movement known as “Capture during change” making the replacement process a sanitary and hygiene-friendly experience. We envision a point when nurses will teach ostomy patients before they leave the hospital, how to use a disposable capture cartridge to manage this process easily and safely.

What has been your biggest challenge when starting a business and what insights are you gaining from it? 

We were new to the medical device industry, so FDA registration, Medicare reimbursements, and the regulatory side of things were all new to us. Also, engaging hospitals and healthcare providers has been a challenge, understanding their unique structure and decision-making process. We learned to take it one step at a time and keep our focus on delivering value to the patient.

Who inspires you? 

The legacy of my father-in-law drives us. Seeing how he personally experienced serious challenges with his ostomy care, and how he found a way to overcome them, showed us that we can help others do the same. We’re inspired by the people we meet who deal with ostomy care – ostomates themselves, their partners and spouses, and the amazing nurses who provide guidance and relief.

What would you say is the most valuable part of being a member of NEXT? 

The greatest benefit has been the community and what it brings in terms of connectedness. Greenville and the State of South Carolina provide an incredible environment and tremendous resources to build and grow a medical device company. Being a part of NEXT puts us at the center of that community, making it easy to connect with fellow entrepreneurs and vital resources such as GADC, SCRA, SC Department of Commerce and SCBIO. Scheduled and ad hoc meetings and events have helped us engage and learn from the collective experience of NEXT members and the business community at large, and facilitate engagement with a wide range of partners. This community is a great place to develop an idea and build a company.

What advice would you offer to new startup founders or those who are in the early stages of starting a company? 

Engage the community and get connected. Reach out and have a wide range of conversations across all aspects of your business. It’s amazing what you can learn when you seek insight from others. Getting connected will help you validate your idea, gain product-market fit, and build a team to execute your idea.