Onera: developing next generation sleep diagnostic solutions
We spoke with Onera Founder and VP Product, Soukaina Adnane, and Project Coordinator and Engineer, Ketki Chawla, about their recent EIC Accelerator grant win of €2.5 million. They shared the challenges of applying to such a prestigious grant, their perseverance in applying 3 times before winning, what they learned along the way, and how their collaboration with Catalyze helped them to reach success.
Image: Onera’s patch based approach for sleep disorder diagnostics.
“[Catalyze consultant] Ashley was in Australia when we were selected for the EIC pitch. This meant when she led us through our practice pitches, she was up at 4am! We really appreciated that.” – Ketki Chawla, Project Coordinator and Engineer
Onera’s solution for sleep disorder diagnosis
Applying for a European Innovation Council (EIC) Accelerator grant is all about high-risk, high reward. Only small and medium-sized enterprises with the most radically innovative products, services and business models, stand a chance. Onera are one such enterprise, winning €2.5 million to fund their bold new vision for the diagnosis of sleep disorders — a growing issue around the world affecting over 280 million people, with 80% remaining undiagnosed. Undiagnosed sleep disorders often have serious implications, as they are linked to major chronic conditions (such as stroke, obesity, heart failure, depression), poor well-being, and low quality of life. Furthermore, they contribute to significant losses in productivity in the workforce, accounting for 400,000 lost working days each year in Germany and UK alone. Despite the ongoing impact of undiagnosed sleep disorders around the world, sleep clinicians are limited by the high expense of current diagnostic technology. In addition, these devices contain high numbers of wires and electrodes, making installation procedures very time-consuming. For patients, this makes the diagnostic experience uncomfortable and often stressful. Furthermore, patients must face long waiting times before being referred to a specialist, and even longer for admission to a sleep clinic.
With Onera’s clinical-grade diagnostic solution, patients and clinicians will no longer need to go through lengthy installation times, and neither will they be required to wait for an appointment to spend the night in the clinic. Onera’s solution is designed for use at home, and consists of comfortable adhesive patches that are non-intrusive and as simple to use as applying a bandage. Thanks to its innovative sensors and machine learning algorithms, the solution is valuable for home monitoring of brain, heart and lung function, and will help to relieve the already overburdened healthcare system.
Applying to the EIC Accelerator Programme
Applying to the EIC Accelerator can be a daunting experience, especially for a young start-up with a big vision like Onera, who won on the third occasion. Ketki shares how the experience of applying to EIC evolved from their first application, and how the relationship with Catalyze grew throughout.
“It’s definitely a learning process when you apply for such a prestigious grant like the EIC Accelerator for the first time. In multiple meetings with our Catalyze consultant, we were able to convey who we are as a company and our vision. From there, Catalyze was able to help us get a clearer idea of what information we needed to collect internally and how to structure the proposal.”
The collaboration with Catalyze grew considerably during this process, leading up to the third application, “With each submission our proposal went through a deep iterative process, making it more concise and clearer to the readers. That is what helped us in being successful with our third submission”, Ketki says.
Onera’s success came during a challenging and competitive EIC call, with the 18th March 2020 submission deadline arriving as the COVID-19 pandemic swept across Europe. Resultantly, the number of applications more than doubled, largely in response to the EIC’s special call for ideas to tackle the coronavirus.
Team Onera. Soukaina Adnane – front row right, Ketki Chawla – front row second right.
A challenging journey towards a successful application
As a start-up with limited time and resources, applying for the EIC was challenging. Together, Onera rose to this challenge, as different departments stepped up to provide their unique expertise. This collaboration proved to be crucial for the success of their final application. Soukaina describes this journey as an important experience for Onera, “For our third proposal, we took our time to get input from different teams across our company. Our strong collaboration paid off.”
Ketki adds, “Managing and coordinating inputs and feedback between various teams and Catalyze was quite demanding. This process came with its challenges, but the result shows it was worthwhile.”
On a personal level, Ketki experienced working with Catalyze as a wonderful collaboration. She reminisces of long calls, as Onera sought to improve their proposal prior to submission of the application. After a successful third application led to an invitation to pitch the project to the Jury, their thorough preparations provided them with the platform to tackle the unknown of an EIC pitch.
Soukaina highlights the unpredictability in this process, “We practiced our pitch twice with Catalyze and then also with the RVO. Each practice, we were given different questions, and when it came to the actual pitch day, it showed that it was exactly the right approach. Entirely different questions again!!”
The value in applying for EIC? Developing your company goals…
“Applying for EIC helped us work on our future goals”
Applying for the EIC requires so much preparation, not only in writing the proposal, but further if invited to pitch the project. This provided Soukaina, Ketki, and the rest of Onera with a brilliant learning opportunity, as a team and company.
“We had to look into every detail of the company and the project itself. We had to sit together and think beyond now, beyond next year, and start planning our future goals, already at this early stage of the company.” Soukaina says.
She continues, “When you are a start-up, you have big visions, and grant applications push you to start planning them at an early stage. The learning we did with the EIC application was invaluable.”
EIC winners enter a supportive community
Winning the EIC comes with more than just an essential (non-dilutive) funding source. There is a rich and supportive community of winners, which now provide Onera with numerous opportunities. Ketki described the great value of being an EIC winner beyond the grant money:
“We are now part of the EIC community, which comes with benefits that extend far beyond the monetary aspect of the grant. It allows us to gain knowledge from experts in different areas that we might need coaching in. Furthermore, it enables us to access multiple platforms, to build a great network and find strong partners for our promising future.”
Looking to the future
Onera have grown rapidly over the past 4 years, after being founded by four colleagues as a spin-off imec research institute in 2017. Today the team stands at >35 employees and strives for further growth.
Soukaina says: “We are presently gearing up into taking our first-generation product through CE and FDA marking. This and other milestones are part of the bigger roadmap that we pitched to the EIC and we will achieve thanks to the EIC grant and our brilliant and dedicated team.”
Catalyze is proud to have played a role in Onera’s successful application to the highly competitive EIC Accelerator.