2016 SEP Pitch Competition Profile - First Place
Many of us smile at the saying “My heart skipped a beat,” imagining young love. For Ya-El Mandel-Portnoy, a doctoral candidate at Mount Sinai, the literal idea of a heart skipping a beat could signal a dangerous chronic health condition. Her company, Cardea Sciences, is dedicated to improving treatment and quality of life for people with atrial fibrillation.
“[Atrial fibrillation is the] most common cardiac arrhythmia and it is a chronic condition, but it won’t kill you,” says Mandel-Portnoy. “However, the conditions associated with it, like stroke or heart failure, might.”
Patients are often in and out of the hospital frequently as doctors work to keep their hearts steady. It’s stressful for both patients and hospitals, which spend billions of dollars per year stabilizing the same patients over and over. Mandel-Portnoy's inventive assessment and treatment program will better measure the needs of patients with AF and provide a more comprehensive course of action.
“Cardea Sciences is trying to answer the unmet need of identifying those patients who won’t tolerate the arrhythmia well...We want to identify those patients who are about to deteriorate clinically so we can do a more aggressive treatment early in the course of the disease.”
Mandel-Portnoy has presented at scientific conferences to promote her technology, but she was on the lookout for more chances to share her ideas. When Mandel-Portnoy connected with Fon Powell, the 2015 WBENC SEP pitch contest winner, at New York City incubator ELabNYC, she leapt at the opportunity for exposure and interest outside the scientific community.
“Right now, I’m bootstrapping this because I really think it’s going to be a game-changer in how we treat patients with AFib. It’s all about getting the early investors...the people who truly believe in this technology. They don’t have to be from the scientific community at all,” she says. “My goal was to network, to win the pitch competition, and to get brilliant advice. As a woman CEO it’s hard enough, so I wanted to hear their stories. We have to face so many challenges, and on top of that we have to face being a woman entrepreneur, and a woman scientist. I wanted to learn from their experience how they did that.”
She achieved all three goals through SEP. Even though she was a veteran at pitching in scientific conferences, when it came to explaining her company to a general audience, she had work to do. Her mentors, Bev Jennings of Johnson & Johnson and Leah Brown of A10 Clinical Solutions, helped her refine her presentation.
“[Most people] don’t know what atrial fibrillation is unless they know someone who lives with it--and how difficult it is to live with this condition,” says Mandel-Portnoy. “I took out the technical terms and revised my slides over and over. If my mentors, who work in clinical areas, don’t understand a term, then my audience won’t understand. At the end of the day, it was perfect, and everyone was able to put themselves in the shoes of a patient with atrial fibrillation.”
Mandel-Portnoy took home the first place prize of $5,000. The money will help her develop a new prototype and strengthen her algorithm to determine how serious a patient’s condition is. Her mentors are helping her network to raise the next round of funding to take the new prototype through validation studies, bringing it one step closer to helping patients in the real world.
As for brilliant advice? Mandel-Portnoy’s favorite piece of wisdom she heard through SEP is helpful for WBEs in any industry.
“[That advice is that] it will get dark and low and very, very hard before I see the fruits of it...so I should expect that. I need to have faith and believe in what I’m doing and keep pushing,” she says. “It’s been one of the best experiences as an entrepreneur to be exposed to so many strong, powerful women.”