Ostoform wins AIB Start-up Academy award

Company’s product prevents output from ileostomy leaking on to patient’s skin

Dr Kevin Kelleher, cofounder and chief executive of Ostoform, is “still in shock” after winning this year’s AIB Start-up Academy, and says he has not had a chance for it to sink in with the flood of good wishes he has received. “When it came to the runners-up [Frankman and Izzy Wheels] being announced at the final I was delighted and just waiting to hear who the winner would be, in my head thinking that it would be someone else. I was completely in shock and so delighted when the result was announced,” said Kelleher.

“I won’t have time for it to sink in, there has been so much buzz created as a result of it and so many comments and feedback and more cups of coffee and meetings than I could ever have planned since we won. It’s just non-stop and it’s fantastic: there are doors opening all over the place and I’m really excited to see what’s going to happen next,” said Kelleher.

Ostoform is a device that prevents the output from an ileostomy leaking on to the patient’s skin, keeping the skin healthy and giving the patient confidence in their daily life. “Often, people suffer from skin complications as a result of output from their stoma leaking on to their skin like acidic burns and what is called chemical dermatitis. (An ileostomy is where the small bowel is diverted through an opening in the abdomen and this opening is known as a stoma. A special bag is placed over it to collect waste products),” said Kelleher.

Cash injection

Ostoform won the top prize package valued at €200,000, including a €20,000 cash injection, designed to bring their start-up to the next level. The AIB Start-up Academy is a joint venture between The Irish Times and AIB to help start-up companies with information and networking opportunities.


Sarita Johnston, senior development adviser for high-potential start-ups at Enterprise Ireland, was on the judging panel for the final, which was held in the Light House Cinema in Smithfield, Dublin, last week, and saw 14 finalists pitch to the judging panel in a bid to win the top prize. After eight weeks of training from industry experts in areas like marketing, sales, social media and finance, each finalist was given five minutes to pitch their business, followed by five minutes for questions and answers from the judging panel.

Johnston said the judges were impressed with winner Ostoform because it really seemed to solve a problem that was not currently being solved. “They positioned themselves strongly, had identified a niche market opportunity, there had been a lot of research undertaken and they were very clear on the roadmap to commercialisation and the timeline to market. On top of that, their articulation of their value proposition was extremely clear,” she said.

“I’m not a medical device expert, but I listen to business propositions every day and [Kelleher] could relay to me and I could understand exactly what he was trying to solve, what it was going to do, where the market was, where the opportunity was and how they were going to make money. He showed the pain point quite visually and how it can impact on people’s lives and the trauma associated with it, but he did it in a manner that wasn’t so much emotive, but was very pragmatic,” said Johnston.

Ostoform originated when Kelleher and his cofounder Rhona Hunt did a programme called BioInnovate together and later received funding support from Enterprise Ireland in the University of Limerick.

“We were put in a team and we gained access to clinical environments and were able to speak to doctors, nurses and even got access to patients, and were able to observe various problems. This problem of skin complications for people with ileostomies was one that kept coming up. It’s such a common problem and there is such a high incidence of it, we really felt there was an opportunity to solve this problem and with this would come a commercial opportunity,” he said.

Patient feedback

“When we thought we had a solution, we developed it and did some patient studies in the University of Limerick. The patient feedback and clinical outcomes were very encouraging, so Ostoform was set up,” said Kelleher.

Originally from Cavan, Kelleher studied for a degree in biomedical engineering in NUI Galway and then went on to do a PhD in biomedical engineering, while studying for a master’s in entrepreneurship in the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow. He came back to Ireland and joined the IDA and worked in Dublin and New York. Next he moved to TruLife, an Irish multinational prosthetics and orthotics company.

It was important for Kelleher to design products that would have an impact and a benefit for patients quickly. “I liked the idea of designing medical devices that I could get some instant feedback from. I found early on, even doing my PhD, that I wanted to design something that I could get an instant reaction from a patient for – and have an impact on patients’ lives,” said Kelleher.

“There are a lot of projects that happen where engineers wouldn’t see the direct benefits in the med-tech space because they are maybe working on a smaller part of large five- or 10-year projects. For me, I wanted to gain the satisfaction of more instant feedback from patients, having designed and developed a device,” said Kelleher.

He said there are challenges, as people can find these skin complications embarrassing, and people, in general, aren’t aware of this problem.

“It’s a difficult thing to explain [our product], but it’s also a difficult thing for people to speak about. Because it’s so difficult to speak about, a lot of people wouldn’t have, in regular life, a general understanding of the problem or of the whole area; it’s kind of kept low-key,” said Kelleher.

Kelleher is excited about Ostoform as he says there hasn’t been a lot of innovation in the ostomy industry over the past 20 years.

Huge impact

“It’s a reasonably conservative industry and I think that there are a lot of people, and even a lot of clinicians, crying out for a new product, an innovative product, in this market, so one that meets those criteria and addresses an unmet clinical need will have a huge impact in the market,” said Kelleher.

He says he found the Start-up Academy hugely beneficial because he was able to take the learnings from it and implement them into the company immediately. “I enjoyed every day of it. The key point for me was that no matter what the training each week was, be it digital marketing or building a brand, everything was being related back to Ostoform and Ostoform’s strategy, so I was constantly checking in with our approach to all [those things] and re-evaluating everything, to the point where I think now we have a strategy that is solid to watertight,” said Kelleher.

“We are solving a problem for patients and it is fantastic to be able to do that and get rewarded for it. This is exactly what we need to build a relationship with the end user and go to the next stage, where we can build the brand and build brand recognition, become a thought leader in an area that is niche, but as a main competitor,” said Kelleher.

The company is still pre-revenue, but “the plan is to get to market by April 2018. We want to be able to be on the shelves in the US, the UK and Ireland,” said Kelleher.

For more see www.ostoform.com/