TLI Alumni Spotlight: Anders Olmanson
What company headed by a TLI alum was named Division Winner at the Carlson School’s 2023 MN Cup, the vaunted showcase for promising startups?
That would be REMastered Sleep, whose founder and CEO, Anders Olmanson, is a TLI grad.
Anders completed our Medical Device Innovation program in 2017. It’s a busy time for Olmanson, who is working hard to expand his business in both the B2B and direct-to-consumer markets. He credits the MDI program with helping him gain the skill set and the confidence to move forward with finding a vital need in the marketplace and being able to bring it to life. He was kind enough to sit down with us and answer some of our questions.
Q: Hi, Anders! Tell us something about your background – where you grew up, where you went to school, and where you worked after graduation.
A: I grew up in Eagan, Minnesota, and went to the University of Minnesota. I had always gravitated towards math and science -- I was strong in that. So that's how I wound up studying biomedical engineering.
After school, I worked at Medtronic. I was not really looking for a graduate program, but I heard about the Medical Device Innovation program at TLI. I always had a passion for wanting to innovate in the medical space. I was like, this program sounds perfect. I started talking with different coworkers and my boss at the time. I asked everyone, what do you think of this program? How does this fit in to what I’m doing? They all thought it sounded awesome. It kind of goes along with some aspects of black belt training for Six Sigma, and they were really supportive. I had a friend who I found out was in the program, so I talked with her. She said yeah, this would be perfect for you. I wasn’t planning on going back to school, but I figured I could go part-time while working full-time at Medtronic.
Q: What were you doing at Medtronic at this time?
A: At the time, I was working on implantable drug infusion pumps. These are complex devices, a mechanical system that's implanted for seven years. The problems I was working on is why would this certain subset of products fail with this exposure, and how can we prevent that from happening? The failure rates were very very low, so it was kind of complicated problem. I got really good at root cause analysis because of it.
Q: How did you first hear of the MDI program?
A: I'm guessing maybe an email, or maybe it was on social media. I'm not really sure. I just suddenly heard about it and I thought, oh, that sounds interesting. And then I dug into it a little bit and it seemed like a good match. After that I signed up for one of the info sessions.
Q: How did the program change how you looked at the world?
A: I was very fresh into working when I started the MDI program. I’d done an internship and then worked at Medtronic for two years. I really enjoyed all the technical stuff I was doing at Medtronic, but the MDI program really opened up my mind -- how does a business work, what are the needs? And once you’ve identified a health need, what is the process of taking it and coming up with a solution and commercializing it? It shifted my thinking to a much higher level. I got in the habit of thinking about how everything
fits together -- the regulatory systems, the financials, the marketing and sales, the structure of a company. So it really changed my perspective on all that.
Q: What classes or instructors had the biggest impact for you?
A: Figuring out how to identify needs was big. The clinical immersion and needs finding really opened up my eyes to how many health problems there are. Finding a viable one was really important to me, and I was determined to do that. After the program I traveled the world for nine months in Asia and Africa to continue studying health needs to get better perspective. When you grow up and you go to college and then you work at Medtronic, you get a fairly narrow view of health problems. You are working on complicated systems, medical devices that are for very severe conditions, and often very expensive solutions. For me, it just opened my eyes -- there are a lot of health problems out there that still need to be solved, and I need to better understand what they are and how severe they are, what's important to go after and what's not.
Kirk Froggatt's class, which includes a lot of self-reflection, really helped me understand what I wanted to do, and what was I passionate about. I wanted to make my own unique impact on the world by solving meaningful health problems.
After I finished the program, I was still working at Medtronic, but my perspective had changed. There were many things I wanted to do that I could see myself doing maybe in 10 years in the future at Medtronic. But I felt like I could do it then. That furthered the self-reflection: I had an idea of what I wanted to do, but then how do I actually communicate that to others? So I think each class was relevant. The financial class is important to build the financial part, the regulatory one's good to build the regulatory part, so you kind of get all these different pieces of it. But all of them were important, and all the instructors were good as well.
Q: Have you kept in touch with people from your cohort?
A: Yes, both the cohort and the professors. The main group I was in still keeps in touch. We don't see each other as much, but we try to get together every now and then. It's probably been a couple of years now.
Covid kind of made things difficult, and we’re kind of spread out geographically, but we're planning on meeting up. We keep in touch if some big news comes out that you know your old group would be talking about in class or if there are big life events.
Q: What about your professors? Did you keep up with them as well?
A: I had already been in touch with my professors, but when I started this company, that’s when I reached out to them the most, to get their thoughts and guidance on different areas we’d learned about in the program. That was really helpful in building the foundation. They pointed me in the right direction for resources and programs available at the state and federal level. I still come back and do a talk for the needs finding class. I usually speak for one of those classes for an hour or so each year.
Q: What is the elevator pitch for your startup company, and your role there?
A: I'm the founder and CEO of REMastered Sleep. Our mission is to eliminate preventable airway health issues. Due to our modern soft food diets, we're eating much softer and more processed foods. As a result, we're not developing our jaws as much as our ancestors did. We have smaller mouths as well as weaker airway muscles. And because of that, our mouth and throats are more collapsible when we’re sleeping. Over a billion people suffer from sleep-related breathing disorders caused from airway collapse among other things. What we've developed is an easy-to-use exercise device. You just drink water and it exercises muscles in the mouth and throat to tighten them up and reduce the risk of vibration and collapsibility. We’re competing for the MN Cup right now. What we’re offering is a simple, preventative solution to a pervasive problem.
Q: Where is REMastered Sleep based, and how many employees currently?
A: We’re based in Eagan, and depending on how you count employees, we currently half a half- dozen-ish full-time people, plus some part-time people.
Q: Who are the customers for your venture, and what's the business model?
A: Some of our customers are healthcare professionals -- myofunctional therapists, speech language pathologists and airway dentists, among many others. Many of the therapists that use it do so because it makes their job easier. It allows them to get consistent exercise therapy and, in some cases, speeds up results.
But we also have a big direct-to-consumer market. About one quarter of the business is B2B, and three-quarters are direct to consumer, and that's people that are more using it for improving their airway health, sleep, and/or snoring. We're doing a study with Mayo Clinic for obstructive sleep apnea so that is huge and will open more possibilities. People use it to help their breathing and their sleep and their overall health. The business model is two pronged where we sell to healthcare clinics in bigger quantities, or we sell direct to consumer on our website.
Q: Is there a physical device that you’re marketing?
A: Yes, basically the REMplenish Myo-Nozzle is a drinking spout that you can only drink out of a certain way. It makes you do guided exercise with applied resistance. It targets certain muscles like the genioglossus, the soft palate, and your pharyngeal dilator muscles. It’s a simple device that leverages natural biomechanical motions.
Q: As a CEO and entrepreneur, what would you tell someone who was considering enrolling in the MDI program?
A: It set me on the path that I'm on. I don't think I would be on this path if I hadn’t done the MDI program. Depending on what you want to do, if you want to learn more about how to solve health problems or if you want to start your own company someday, or even if you want to continue working inside of a bigger company, it will help you build the foundation you need, and give you a high-level view of the business.
I went through the MDI program, and each program I’m sure is a different flavor. But I’d recommend the MDI program because there are lots of health problems to solve in this world and we need more people solving them.