College Inventors to Startup Founders — How Nanodropper Was Born

by | May 15, 2020 | Our Company | 0 comments

When Allisa Song read the October 2017 ProPublica article featured on NPR titled, “Drug Companies Make Eyedrops Too Big, And You Pay For The Waste,” it was the first drop of many that would cause quite the ripple effect. It would lead to the creation of Nanodropper.

The article had popped up on Allisa’s Google feed — reading through the news was just part of her morning ritual. The article shed light on a distressing problem that millions of eyedrop users are facing. You see, current eyedrop bottles dispense about five times the liquid an eye can absorb. This even includes over-the-counter drops like Visine, as well as prescription drops. With this much wasted, it’s no wonder that 25 percent of patients run out of medication before their next refill.

And here’s the kicker — prescribed eyedrop medications can cost up to $500 per bottle. Virtually no insurance company foots that entire bill. This is causing you, the eyedrop user, to spend even more money out-of-pocket. If you can’t afford to do that, the doctor’s orders are out the window and your eye health suffers.

The article stated, “Often, large swaths of the medical and pharmaceutical communities know about this waste — even about solutions to it — but do nothing. Those who end up paying the bill, in one way or another, are consumers.”

As she read, the gears in Allisa’s mind started to spin.

“I kept coming back to the question of, how do I bypass the whole mess? There had to be a better solution,” Allisa says. “It had to be an aftermarket part, giving the power back to the patient. The patient’s ability to weigh their options and choose in healthcare has been stripped. I wanted to change that.

An idea sparked and Allisa began to envision a simple, patient-centered solution to a global problem. The eyedrop adaptor that would become known as Nanodropper.

That same day, Allisa pitched her design idea to Elias Baker, who was working as an industry mechanical engineer. Together they began to sketch out potential prototypes on a whiteboard.

Nanodropper was born.

A Brief History of Nanodropper

Building Team Nanodropper

Allisa began to approach fellow students and colleagues with various expertise to help bring the idea to life. As the team stands today, Nanodropper has four co-founders:

One of the first in-house injection molded tip prototypes. We’ve come a long way!

“I remember when Allisa first approached me to talk about the problem of oversized eyedrops. I could hear the frustration in her voice. It fueled her vision to create a simple solution,” recalls Mackenzie, Nanodropper’s Chief Commercialization Officer. “When she began talking about her idea, I started to visualize the hope it could create for people. I knew that the eyedrop adaptor had great potential.”

Nanodropper wouldn’t be where it is today without the dozens of mentors and other crucial team members who have helped us grow and develop.

“We had gaps in our core team in the financial, marketing, and regulatory spheres, so we brought on various team members along the way to help us grow,” Allisa says. “Robert Madel, Josh Cohen, and Cristina Sainati were instrumental in our early success as a student team, and we wouldn’t be here without them.”

Gaining Traction in the Industry

With funding and mentorship from the Arthur W. Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship, we entered our first competition in March of 2018, the Hollomon Health Innovation Challenge. We won one of the runner-up prizes called “Judges Also Really Liked” Award that first year, but we returned a year later in 2019 and took home the $15,000 grand prize sponsored by Intuitive X

We met Bronco Dahlem at the HIC competition. He soon became one of our greatest supporters.

“Nanodropper found their niche in conquering an age-long problem that eyedrops were too big,” says Bronco. “The beneficiaries of this cohesive and focused team are those who had been told the norm was to have an expensive solution only partially hit the target. The best ideas tend to be simple and overlooked, and Nanodropper is delivering the answer.”

Nanodropper wins 2019 HIC
Photo courtesy of Matt Hagen / UW Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship

From 2018 to 2019, we continued to enter various competitions including the Dempsey Startup Competition, Unite for Sight GHIC Innovation Prize, and Baylor New Venture Competition. But our first big win was the 2018 Johns Hopkins Student Healthcare Design Competition. We took home the first prize for the Global Health/Humanitarian Design category. 

During this time we spoke with Marshall Allen, the author of the ProPublica article that started us on this path. Behind the Headline: Allisa Song, a follow up article, was written. Then something amazing happened. More news outlets started showing interest in Nanodropper.

The Seattle Times. The American Academy of Ophthalmology. Mayo Clinic. Organizations we could’ve only dreamed of speaking with wanted to hear more about our invention. We were thrilled and excited for the attention, of course, but what it truly meant was we were one step closer to achieving our goal: improving the eye health of millions of people with our simple solution.

Even though we were early in our careers, these competitions and news articles helped us gain traction in the market and with investors.

One of our earliest supporters and investors was Jonathan G. Drachman, MD, CEO and President of Neoleukin Therapeutics.

“The Nanodropper Team identified a real-world problem,” says Dr. Drachman. “They came up with a simple solution, and demonstrated the right blend of confidence, humility, and energy to make it happen. I was impressed that these entrepreneurs believed in themselves and developed a realistic plan to execute quickly, on a tight budget. The progress they have made since that first meeting is impressive.”

With Dr. Drachman’s support, other investors, mentors, and the various contributors, the vision for Nanodropper took form.

“Most of our early investors were in the healthcare sector like optometrists, ophthalmologists, and other physician specialists. Being supported by the people who are on the frontlines troubleshooting the problem that we’re hoping to alleviate with Nanodropper was so validating for us,” says Allisa. “We’re always so grateful for the early support we received, and we can’t wait for them to see our finished product!”

Making a Difference


Nanodropper wins 2019 HIC
Photo courtesy of Matt Hagen / UW Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship

You never know what you’ll read or see that might inspire your next big adventure in life. Take the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, for example. The foundation’s direction was influenced by a New York Times article about children dying needlessly of diarrhea and other ailments. Several decades later, the foundation is one of the largest nonprofit organizations on earth and has saved millions of lives. 

Are we Bill and Melinda Gates? Not quite. But we’re inspired by the work they do, as fellow Seattleites! We are striving to do our part to make a small impact on the eye health of millions of people.

Come join us in making a difference and learn more about how the Nanodropper delivers you value-based care, one drop at a time. It’s time to take back control of your eye health.

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